Saturday, 28 February 2015

Potting on

My propagator stayed on overnight accidentally again, provoking the annoying drying which leaves you desperately trying to remoisten suddenly hydrophobic compost... but to be honest, I should have potted on the seedlings days ago. Three things always step in to stop me. One, I have no space for young tender seedlings in my dark house with its narrow windowsills and black mould tendencies. Two, how big is "big enough to handle" anyway? Three, I'm rubbish at potting on seedlings.

Krim seedlings

Still, there they are, crammed onto one of those narrow windowsills, doubtless growing their own little mould garden under their tray. That one at the front suffered damage to its stem in transplant (shaky hands, an old kitchen spoon and lots of swearing describe my potting on style fairly accurately) and I was expecting it to shrivel and die. Instead it's growing better than all but two of the others - with a permanently kinked stem.

That's Krim; we also have Peppers, Dahlias and Marigolds, all of which are shrivelling in various dark corners. And Foxgloves, but they're really not big enough to pot on yet.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Eden out of season

There isn't really an out-of-season for Eden, under its huge bright canopies of not-glass. But even the Tropical Biome responds to the lower light levels; and so do the visitors, who are quieter, fewer, less crowdy and more inclined to be locals on season tickets.

The birds at Eden are cheeky beasts; we were buzzed by Blackbirds, mobbed by finches, and watched a three-way robin fight on he path just ahead of us. Even the Dunnocks were not shy. We fed them scraps of pasty outside the café (doubtless contributing to their overall domesticity). In the Tropical Biome, a Blackbird took care to squawk loudly and get our attention before chowing down on a mango buzzing with fruit-flies (below, bottom left).

The place is crammed with art items, some (a giant sailor you could make rock by pulling on a rope,  a giant seed made of granite, and the mirror-faced lady (below, right)) more readily explained than others (a greenhouse full of faded globes, a giant bee, and a bacchanal of bronzes (top middle) which is probably covered with vine leaves in summer). I like the jammed-in feel of it all; that junglish sense of too much cool stuff to curate.

Under the canopies of the biomes, the warmth was calming and the plants were profuse. Little walkways everywhere lead all around and through the plants; up into the canopy and down between walls of green. Early spring bulbs jostled with tropicals overwintering. Tree ferns overtopping formal clipped box. Agricultural rows and installations interrupting riots of overgrowth interrupting formal border planting. Quails creeping through the forest litter, and ants creeping up our arms as we waited for our turn to look down on the jungle.

Exit via the giftshop; we bought dried chillies and baobab chocolate to eat, and I bought a camellia and a dwarf acacia to plant (both now cowering in the greenhouse while they get used to the chill of the Midlands).

Saturday, 21 February 2015

East of Eden

Spring creeps closer as we head down South, and the grey and brown woodlands cracked only by drifts of snowdrops and aconite steadily become more flushed and florabundant, daffodils creeping in stem by stem. As the miles drop away, rolling coastal winds smash rain over the car and inexorably the temperature creeps up; the Midlands gives way to the South West, wet and warm. We are headed for Cornwall and the Eden project, but east of Eden it is spring already, if spring ever went away. We are in Plymouth, and the front gardens are in flower.

Nobody has fleece on their palm trees round here; their cheerful spiky top-knots are open to the sun and showers. Below them yellow daffs star the gardens; not yet in their multitudes, but as the first few trumpets of spring. Here and there the soft blue flames of crocuses hover over the wet soil, and of course there are snowdrops, snowflakes, and the green strappy leaves of all the other bulbs coming soon.

But the real action is up in the bushes, where the last of last year's roses (seeing and seizing the opportunity to continue all the way through a mild winter) are colliding with the glossy flowers of camellias, creating a sumptuous mass of storybook bushes, dark glossy leaves dripping with a ridiculous abundance of pink-red-rose-white flowers, leaning over fences and sprawling over sun-warmed walls, and flumping drunkenly around gates and doorways.

We reach our destination, a precipitously steep terrace where the warm soil is already green with the rude bright growth of spring, and my nieces show their first daffodil of 2015.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sloane Square to Soho

Visiting the Saatchi Gallery for the first time necessitated getting off at Sloane Square for the first time this century. The main drag had had a 21st Century makeover; the sloanes were skittering on serious granite and steering their partners and/or pushchairs around futuristic recycling bins. But we turned left at the first corner to walk round the block. At the corner a clothes shop had decorated itself with pots of fancy dwarf conifers:

A slight hint of the suburban privacy hedge cutting their customers off from the street; although you'll notice that the taller plants coincide with columns, and the ones over the windows are short and diaphanous, the privacy hedge given the commercial tease makeover; keep the wares visible, but make sure the punters have to peer over the hedge if they want to see them.

Plants here are commercially defined, a service bought in alongside the maid and the nanny and the doula and the au pair, and the endless parade of builders. Flowers are perfect and live in windowboxes, trailing ivy and cyclamen (nothing so common as primulas). We threaded past very tidily scaffolded town-houses opposite a run of mature tree where an urban blackbird was laying down some sounds at maximum volume, as the gardens decreased from sunken courtyards to pots on pillars to windowboxes, and eventually disappeared altogether. Porsches parked nose-to-nose; a spatter of vomit against the wall, and all greenery tucked away into private places behind walls.

We went to the Saatchi Gallery. It's not a place much concerned with gardens (the entertainment of the old and conservative, two labels it would fight most determinedly) but in the "Habitat" section of the vast and sprawling Post-Pop exhibition there was a chapel made of twigs, steel barriers and gorgeous futurist stained glass. Dimensions variable.

Later we went to another chapel: a dimly-lit poured concrete rectangle in the basement of a shop converted for art. Against the far wall was BLK NANONSQR, a square of carbon nanotubes so fragile we could only approach it attended, lest our breath should flake the art back to soot on the floor. In the windowless space, disturbed only by the repetitive rantings of the video art upstairs, it had taken on a windowlike quality, but one looking out on infinite blackness.

Skipping through Soho to a date with a thick wodge of comics we came suddenly upon plastic pigeons in poppy bright colours perched on lampposts. Initially I thought they were ?3D graffiti or ?Guerilla sculpture, but by the time I saw the third set I'd concluded that they were some sort of official installation. The poppy pigeons of Soho, bright among the plain trees and the dark and serious shrubs.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

gigantic frilly pants

From time to time Tim Science claims that the flowers I like look like gigantic frilly pants. I cannot imagine what he means by that.


This is Amaryllis Dancing Queen, which has the added bonus of installing the mournful yet uplifting sound of a million discos slowing down for the night every time you walk past it.

I was delighted by how well Dancing Queen matched the print of the cover of Electricity (picked up on our wild holiday in Liverpool (three museums in one day!!!)). An Amaryllis is always astounding (even if it's the £2.99 Amaryllis from Lidl) but it's extremely rare for it to go with something else.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The snow is on the dinosaurs

Winter is a real flirt this year. Day after day of warm weather, then suddenly, bam! A hard frost. Or a faintly ridiculous clumpy snowfall. Or bitter eastern winds. That daffodil (bottom middle) is a cheat, of course; it's inside the window, a forced winter narcissus (Jetfire). The dinosaurs (OK, one is a Guineafowl, but they're pretty much Microraptors really) live outside all year round and are a mixture of charity shop finds and fancy Schleichs bought for me by Tim Science. The seed heads with their huge beehives of snow remind me ever so slightly of Marge Simpson.

Gardening is mostly tiny scraps of work at the moment; a greenhouse run here, leaves onto the flowerbed, raspberries chopped to the ground, a fleece on the Agapanthus. But three hours of sun last weekend meant a chunk of hedge could be removed, seed stalks flattened, old woody stems of congested wallflowers removed. Let in the light!

Oh no! I didn't include the snowdrops. Here they are.

They seem to have wandered a bit from last year.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

new varieties

I got home to find a catalogue waiting for me, from a popular plant supplier. The cover, which was something pretending to be a dozen pink roses on a single stem (Geranium Appleblossom Rosebud as it turned out) was promising - hinting that this might be the catalogue with some strange new varieties in it. Over pizza and wine, I picked out some favourites, here presented with the reasons why I can't possibly get them, as provided by my grumpy garden sounding board, Tim Science:

Dahlia Dandy Mixed - Bee-friendly semi-singles with an extra collar of frilled, flounced and shredded petals in poppy bright colours. TS: Dahlias in our garden start to look dead the moment they've flowered. He's right of course, and I would be growing them from seed, which I suspect is something of a commitment (if achievable at all without a heated misting bench).

Carnation Blackjack - Deep black petals with red/pink flashes edged in bright white with a good scent. They make me think of tiny volcanic islands ringed by white shell beaches. Much drama! TS: We have these already. Hmf. We may have something similar. But not the same!

Gallardia Snappy - Perennial gallardia with a solid two-tone bloom that looks irresistible to my beloved bees (almost like it has landing lights on, it's that bright). TS: Oh yes, those look good. Alas, they need full sun, and that is only available in a thin strip of my garden, already quite populated.

Carnation Crimson Rim - Frilly white puffs with a thin purple edge, as if each petal had been outlined carefully with felt-tippy pens. TS: They look like frilly pants. Why do you want more frilly pants plants? The catalogue claims, darkly, that it will produce "so many stems you won't know what to do with them" which does sound like about the right vigour level for my dark box of a garden with its heavy clay soil...

Petunia Damson Ripple - Petunias, petunias. I do not like petunias. Except for this one, with its hi-viz disco dazzle patterns. This one I like. TS: only gave this one a cursory glance before pronouncing it "OK".

Bidens Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop - Another one that looks like it's scribbled in felt tip pens, a tiny five-petal flower in screaming two-tone orange, also available in a pretty lemon and sunshine combination. I've not grown Bidens before so I'm tempted. TS: Glazing over by this stage.

There was also a total stranger to me, Dregea Sinensis. I've been persistently failing to get a climbing hydrangea started on my back fence, maybe this would work better?


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Your jobs in the garden this week

I'm just going through the last of the January newsletters, which are advising me to do things like prune roses (too cold), pot up dahlias and put them in a warm spot (where?), put greasebands on my fruit trees (er..) and bring strawberries inside to get them going early (and fill your house with strawberry beetles and slugs). There are admittedly a few things I might do, like prune my currants and chop the raspberries back to ground, if I can find a gap in the weather. And I've already started the propagator, of course.  But on the whole, I have fallen back to the basic January garden job-list:

  1. Tut vaguely at dead things. Contemplation is such an important part of gardening. Winter. It's all about mortality, really. Or is it? Is that a sprout of green? Alas, for those that March frosts will finish.
  2. Kick a hole in the ice. Ponds, bird baths, water planters - don't let them ice solid. Keep the water moving. Those floating balls help, but a good kicking does wonders.
  3. Shake off the snow. Save rhodies, heathers, herbs and and pieris from snow-flump and splitting and passion vine, early cherry and clematis from cold burn on new growth by taking a bamboo cane round the garden and giving everything a gentle shake. Don't use hands! You won't enjoy it and nor will the plants.
  4. Take out the compost. Don't get lazy and chuck it in the food waste bin. Break the worm-dirt ice on the compost bin and give the hottest space in the garden a little more waste to chow down on. Spring is coming and you will need mulches.
  5. Look for new growth. Buds, shoots and leaves. Flowers are good but it's the green I crave, this time of year. My snowdrops are up! And other bulbs are sprouting all over. Look! The Fennel is fluffing up already. I have a lot of Fennel. Too much, really.
The cat is enormously excited whenever I go out into the garden at the moment. She runs around the patio in circles and then straight up one of the trees at the back, the one I saw the squirrel on when I was doing the Big Garden Birdwatch (blackbirds, starlings, magpies, jackdaws, a goldfinch and a red kite I couldn't record because it didn't land). It's weird how she can run just as fast vertically as horizontally.