Friday, 30 May 2014

Gardens are everywhere - veg in the verge

My broad beans are coming along very well this year, with the beans already rounding out. I plant them in among the flowers, because I have no space and anyway the bees don't categorise. The gooseberries, too. They're both vigorous plants that can see off the competition, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised to see them springing up in unusual places. However, I struggle to see how either of these plants ended up in these places:


The broad bean is in a grass verge by a busy A road.  It's not near any gardens -- a service road separates it from the houses.  So a series of questions present themselves. How did it get there (I think it could only have been planted)? How did it outcompete the grass (it's right behind the wall - possibly others did not)? and will it survive the attentions of the municipal mowers (alas no - it's gone now, though I suppose it might have been rescued by its planter)?

The gooseberry is growing in a crack in the cobbles by a community centre, a long way away from any gardens, occasionally swept by a litter of fag butts of sweet wrappers. Barring any kind of terrible jam or pie accident (which I suppose is possible) I would have to describe this one as planted by bird's arse.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Other People's Gardens: Goose Castle

Goose Castle (below) is part of the island gardens around 4 Folly Bridge, and like the entire building is somewhat dilapidated and exuberantly castellated. This photo was taken after the goslings had been hatched for a few days and they  had stripped all edible vegetation from their courtyard garden, revealing the paving stones; a nice touch. The buddleia and paint tins give the garden a worked in feel, and the Campanula, Erigeron and Alder in the side wall is a nice touch, and complements the river location very well.

gooslings closer

However, there are issues. That wall is too high for goslings, the bulk of the planting is non edible, and the garden lacks both shade and (ironically) water.

goose in goose castle

The addition of an entrance/exit ramp, a small sheltering roof over the nest, and the some low containers (perhaps paint trays?) some containing water and others loosely planted with dandelions, soft grasses and of course goosegrass  would both  provide goslings with a tasty snack and not damage the essential garden-nature of a storage area appropriated by wildlife.

Goose Castle may be viewed by looking straight down over this bridge parapet, but for this year at least the geese have flown.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Gardening requires protection part 1

I'm about to spend all day out in the garden. There's going to be rain, wind, sun, and probably that annoying column of midges that sits over the slightly bulgy bit in the middle of the patio will have a go too. I have a feisty Euphorbia that needs a Chelsea Chop (or possibly just moving somewhere else altogether, although its a Martini and they are quite fun). And I 'll need to get into at least two of the big pots, and that's always a sweaty (and fingernail destroying) job. I'm fair enough to burn in a trice and old enough to get trill markings on my forehead. My mother used to have a useful thing called barrier cream, which kept her skin from falling off after a day working on the farm. But it seems that priorities have shifted in our post-millennial world.

After a little fruitless searching, I gave up on looking for a working woman's skin cream and instead used the inclusion of a high-factor sunscreen as my starting point and found three likely products. But the idea of a skin cream to protect the skin of a woman spending the day working outside seemed out of the vocabulary of any chemists. Everything was framed around aging, and preventing aging. Aging, I am fairly sure I can do nothing about. Red skin, wind burn, flaking skin patches, sun-burn, sun patch and cracking should be solveable. Trouble was, nobody mentioned this on the packaging. In the end, I picked out three products that were under £10, mentioned "day long protection" and contained a high factor sunscreen.

Although I did have to choke back a bit of nausea as I bought this one:



Still, if it does any better than the combination of E45 and junior sunscreen (which works OK but midges and mud get stuck in it) it can be called anything it wants.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

in praise of exploding tulips

Last year I went to Capel Manor Gardens in the autumn with a friend who had recently acquired a London back-garden and needed things for it. Tucked inbetween the tiny demonstration gardens and the test beds we found a shed with three big trugs of bulbs marked "Fill a flower pot for £1" and we both did. I was hoping for some classic standards - red-and-yellow streaked tulips, big yellow daffodils, as I'm inclined to buy from the fancy end of the spectrum.

And I did indeed find standard red-and-yellows breaking up my fancy lilies and ruffles and streaks. But I had also, in my grab-flowerpot, picked up some truly, unconscionably fancy flowers; see below for an exquisite tiny pink fringed tulip, set among all of my orange and red stars and explosions.

Curly red Peachy ruffles Crimson explosion
Flaming triangle fringed pink petals Star and smoke
Hot pink sprite Green red star Fiery goblet

Friday, 16 May 2014

Trimming Spriggy

When I moved into my current place I inherited a bog-standard short front privet hedge. It was flared outwards at the top, scruffy, invaded by sucker ash, so wide it was invading the pavement space, a bit high to cut and sprouting lovely white flowers before I had got around to even looking at it hard (it was a busy summer). But when I did get to it, I realised I had a shapeable thing. On one of my commutes, I would walk past a knife-thin sharksfin hedge. There was a elephant, trunk overarching the gate, on a nearby street. When I was gardening down in Kennington, I would walk past a lovely, cloud-cut Lonicera hedge. I could prune it. I could make anything. Maybe even a dinosaur!

At first I just concentrated on getting it narrowed down to a sensible width and pointy at the top. We were going through a run of bad winters, and I wanted something the snow would slide off, not splay out. That, and killing the sucker ash. But at some point I noticed a shape in the bush, a headlike raise to the gate end, a shoulderish bulge, a tailing off on the neighbour's side. So I got out my B&Q Value shears and started with a vague idea of an abstract curve, some sort of impression of a bird in flight, suggestive yet abstract, something akin to Brancusi's Bird in Space.

Instead I got Spriggy Stardust, the Chameleon from Venus:



Not entirely my fault. Topiary is a conversation between you and the plant, and you can expect it to ramble all over the place. And early Spriggy was an awkward subject. A vestigial head, a punched-out tail, wandering legs still not quite sure what they were doing. But the hedge was always absolutely clear on one thing; that curly, perfect tail.



This year he's starting to look much healthier and fill out a bit. Still needs more height on the back, but that's a good thing, really as those growing sprigs will bear the privet flowers and both the bees and me are very fond of them.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Malvern - no tea, no watering cans, but lots of giraffes

Great news! Malvern Spring Show this year was BIGGER THAN EVER. Alas, for the many, many people attending who were of limited mobility, or with someone of limited mobility, this meant a choice. Show Gardens at the top left-hand corner of the site. Floral marquee and plant displays at the bottom right. Will you go up, or will you go down? We chose the show gardens. Life. You make choices.

Initial entrance is via a commercial zone, so we dove straight in. I found my plant supports almost immediately. Then it was time for plants. You want to buy something you really love right away  - linger or decide to come back and someone else will have decided they love that plant, too, no matter how outre or unusual your tastes. So - insane summer bulbs. I found an orange Nerine, a yellow Gloriosa lily, a creamy Roscoea and um, something I mislabelled. Bum. Jackie started her search for Geranium 'Melody' and Jo found some big dramatic things for her somewhat empty shady corner (caused by moving an apple tree). We bought three-for-two on clematis (as the answer to the question, "Do I have space for another clematis? is always, "Yes") - I claimed an aromatica while they both took pretty alpine blues. Then we wandered off for a craft-tent and ice-cream break. Jo got a puzzle showing all the counties of the UK for her classroom, I ate salted honeycomb craftelicious ice cream, Jackie continued her quest for the perfect thing.

The perfect thing was not in the craft tent. It was out in the school gardens, where a class had made a high-concept garden based on the first steps on the moon. They had set up a round garden planted in moody blues, whites and mutes, cut by a spiral path containing plaster casts of the footprints of all the kids. A dramatic fence with big moon windows in it and a space-pod shaped summer-house completed the look! Classy work, Castlemorton Primary School.

The weather closed in and refreshments became a necessity so we headed to the food pavilion. The food provider next to us had a banjo player and was only selling in Macaroni Cheese (yes, really) so we clung to our seats while Jo went and found us a sandwich from a rival food provider who uttered that sad pronouncement of doom; "I'm sorry we don't have any tea." Ouch.

This, and the gathering storm clouds, cast something of a shadow over the short walk to the show gardens, which seemed very... hierarchical. The top-tier gardens (about three) had huge spaces, the prizes, and people selling large plants out of the back of at least one of them (the one done up like a tatty Ibiza cafe - alas would have looked more at home in Westfield Shopping Centre than the Malvern hills) - I spent a while examining the size and shape of their olive pots and may make some changes for my own malingering olive at home. The little gardens (about five) were the more normal small square plots and imaginative styles look - a cosy sunken courtyard with a pizza oven warming it looked nice enough, given the weather. The tiny ones - student gardens (about seven) were on microplots too small for much, although someone had made a fair-ish stab at an American-style raingarden, complete with chains and beds cut through with water reservoirs/streams. They were OK.

Jackie was after a watering can, so we went looking for that, too, as we made our last passes through the various nursery tents.  No watering cans. I did, however, find a tiny Geranium 'Melody' for Jackie on the last stall we checked! Score. We were cold and tired by this time, so it was back to creche to pick up the plants then back to the car via the aisles of gardener knick-knacks and art pieces. There was a weird preponderance of giraffes, and surprisingly few shrubs. But I found myself a pretty orange Alpine vetch, and some Merrybells for a tricky shady spot under the passion vine, and few more bits and bobs. So not bad, in the end.



Friday, 9 May 2014

Malvern Spring Show - Prospective

I'm off to this one tomorrow and my excitement is somewhat tempered by the hard grey weather. The sight of the Gardeners World presenters swallowing sangria and forced politenesses in the freezing horizontal rain this evening in a huge elaborate show garden that faithfully reproduces a slightly scruffy Ibiza beach cafe, complete with sanddunes and "huge, architectural palms" was not enticing.

On the other hand it looks like it has a lot less of the County Show interpolations than the Autumn show, so hopefully it has a lot more for the hard core flower geek, better equipment and materials (I need plant supports, because everything is headbanging the ground in the spring gales, some decent showgardens (although if the ones on Gardeners World were the best of the bunch, hmm) and hordes of people selling pretty spring and summer flowers, and I shall be content, albeit rather cold.

The big fluffy faux gorillaskin coat, I think.


Edited to add: in the end I wore my summer grey jacket and a big scarf and was very glad I had decided to cast not a clout till may be out. Chilly!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

In praise of dead daffodils

At around this time of year, the daffodils fade. The abrupt golden cheerfulness of early spring turns into something a little more complex. Faded petals crumpling into brown rags, a stubborn scrap of death in the springtime garden. Conventionally one deadheads, but in this case it seems brutal. The daff won't flower again for having its head chopped off. So I let them stand.






These are from my own garden, of course, but across the UK there are Marie Curie Fields of Hope taking the same short walk from one kind of beauty to another, hope into memories. Mournfulness tempered by the beauty of faded petals.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Deckchair evenings have begun


ready for summer
It's time.

Reading matter for the deckchairs; old copies of New Scientist, the Guardian, Cathrynne Valente's new Fairyland book, Sarah Raven Catalogue, Local Authority Building And Maintenance (Green issue!) and Teenage Mothers on Drugs, which I am reading for my course.

This photo of course taken last year - it's a little later than now. You can tell by the poppies.