Friday, 26 June 2015

Other people's gardens: the Green House

Look at this semi-terrace house, shoved in a gap between two bigger houses. Five steps back from the street, tidy behind brick wall, iron gate, parking restrictions. I like the colour of the brick on this house, but can you see what's going on in the upstairs windows?

Green house

Plants. Lots of plants. There's a plants for sale sign in the window, just above the geraniums. They look like sweet peppers, maybe, or aubergines - something rich and hungry, that makes tasty food.

The front garden is clearly less cared for than the greenhouse within. There's a sucker ash (a pernicious weed in the area) sprouting behind the wheelie bins, though plenty of pots in the front garden mean the space is not wasted; and that Magnolia clipped just so; to suggest privacy, without obscuring light.

And inside? Well, I'm guessing the living proof that you can have a jungle in the city.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

sisyphus and the watering can

I return to the water butt; I fill my watering can; I got to the plants; I water. All the gardening programmes will go on about how it's better to give it a really good soak once a week than water daily but if you let the compost dry out entirely you will have problems getting water back into it. In high summer, on my hot little patio, I try to water daily, to keep the pots cool and the soil receptive. And then it needs the soak once a week.

I probably should have fewer pots. But most of my garden is patio and I keep accidentally buying specimen plants. And then I can't keep the strawberries in our sluggy soil.

The neighbours have a sprinkler, and a hose, but I try not to water from the tap. There are various butt-powered watering systems but they're slow.  My clever drip watering system (a present from sister George) turned out less clever than I hoped; the pipes sprawl all over the place, and the water fails to drain because it's choked with organic matter (up to and including snails).

So until then it is the watering cans. I have four; a basic big green one, for large scale water-lugging. A pretty blue and white metal one with a screw-on rose, for pretending to my tree fern that it's raining. A little yellow one, for precision watering of peppers and tomatoes. And an orange sluicing can, quick to fill and quick to empty.

And I go to the water butt, fill it, return to the plants, water.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The joy of post packs

There are a list of flowers on my special offer list. This acknowledges that they're a little too luxe and I really don't have space, but that they're nice flowers and should they ever turn up on the one quid sale or the mad offer week or the 24 hour sale, well maybe....

This year, two turned up in a row. Begonia Crispa Marginata which I like for its resemblance to a nudibranch. And Fuchsia Fairy Blue, which looked like a sweet alternative to my perennial favoutite Delta's Sarah. The begonia turned up fast and is currently sprouting in the shed. The fuchsias failed to arrive, but it was a busy week and I forgot all about it.

The internet did not forget, and considerably later I received a surprise apology and post pack. The post packs are great - up to twenty plantlets contained, retains moisture and admits light, slips through the letter box with nary a reason to trouble the recycling box or a neighbour. But wait, what?

months later, these turned up I wonder which is the Quasar?
The Fairy Blues were not up to their stringent quality standards for practically free plants, so instead I got a mixed bunch of giant doubles. Goodness. But I'm looking forward to seeing the Quasar.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Gardener's World Live - Firecrackers and frills

Gardener's World Live. Lots of Dianthus, Bonsai, and wooden sculptures of geese. The floral marquee was dizzying. I left my camera on the Fuchsia Stand. Fortunately the Fuchsia man spotted it and kept it safe for me. The toilet (below) was part of an entire house made of flowers (the rest is on the click through) and the baby in the hanging basket was one of the winning entries in a school contest to make Alice in Wonderland themed hanging baskets (again - there are more).

this geum garden show veterans Hello ladies
AAAAAAAAAAA House garden/garden house flower
bird houses!!! Clematis thinks it's a passion flower hydrangea

That huge pink ball thing, I never did find out what it was. The rest of the stall was Alliums but that looks somehow more.. complicated. The thing that looks like a Passion Flower is a Clematis. The pink birdhouses were buzzing with bees from the apiary displays. It was a lovely day, neither warm nor cold, friendly and bright.

But - how did I do on my to-do list?


  1. Carol Klein - I saw her, although a gentleman in a colourful suit spoke over her a great deal. She had some interesting things to say about container planting (use loam-based compost) (seaweed feed) (combine frills with spikes) and named a tulip that sounded interesting.
  2. Alstroemeria - a bust. I couldn't even find the stall in the Floral Marquee. I just kept on finding more and more bonsai stalls. Not a single plant, although I did see a man carrying around an orchid almost as large as himself.
  3. Containers - I found some interesting pots though they are not quite for sale yet. Any colour you want and specify the size. The display of planted-up containers was somehow a bit too flower-arrangey for me. But, just outside the slightly disappointing Gardener's World Member's Lounge (we scored guesties from a subscriber) I found a beautiful container containing an orange geranium, coleus and purple wallflowers. Just being decorative. Lovely. 
  4. Blackfly - I got advice from (of all places) the Acer Society of the Midlands. Put on your gardening gloves and rub them off. I tried that earlier this week, and they're all back, so it's onto Ladybirds by post for me.
  5. Geum - yes.

    the geum
  6. Enchanter's Nightshade - I didn't find anyone to ask, and it stayed securely in its little baggie.
  7. Little Borders - there were some wonderful little borders. Cirsium, fennel, dianthus. Good planting, pretty ideas. But of course garden shows are for the nonce. Primped-up flowers not meant to last. Never mind. I bought a Firecracker Dianthus (tall and leggy, with ember-bright flowers) anyway. We'll see if it lasts.
  8. The best flower - what, just the one?

    dianthus insanity 3 Cirsium
    Dianthus Sunset Bling Bling and Cirsium - flower of the show.
  9. Climber - yes. I got a Clematis. Not one of those huge flashy passion-flower imitators, either - a pretty scarlet bell-drop type.
  10. Fern - yes, two and a bonus moss.
Seven out of ten, then. Not bad - could do better.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Gardener's World Live - no ladybirds

I wasn't able to find ladybirds at Gardener's World (though there were a great many bees). In the Garden Essentials zone, even the Nemasys stand was only selling the idea, not the product. In my imagination, I had the idea of a stand not unlike the ice-cream sellers you always get in shows like this, except with the refrigerated display cabinet filled with smart packets of beneficial pest-munching insects. But maybe the spectre of refrigeration failure and a plague of ladybirds cannot be risk assessed away.

That noted, I had a great day. Birmingham NEC is spacious, well-organised and the staff are lovely, friendly and helpful; the car-park and shuttle bus arrangements function like a well-oiled machine; there was ample food, tea and sit-down space; and the weather was just right. Best of all, all the garden stuff was in a tightly packed and logically arranged area; there was no trekking through endless avenues of tat to get from the show gardens to the floral marquee. The tat was instead, arranged decoratively around the edges, allowing people to treat it like a treat after the main course of plants, plants, plants.

There was also a Food Show included in the price of the ticket (which looked really good!) but we never even made it to that end of the Marquee.

There were a lot of bonsai. I remember (off the top of my head) four stalls, plus a huge display from the local bonsai society. I don't mind (I'm bonsaing (sp?) a cotoneaster in a small pot myself because hey, you can and it is an eternal truth that once you have a cotoneaster you are never short of cotoneaster seedlings). But it was very much the case that I couldn't see the Alstroemeria for the Bonsai.

I cracked and got one of those wheelie trollies. A lime green one. It was actually quite handy.

At the end of the day, plant tetris in Jo's Nissan Micra completed the decapitation of my Cirsium (definitely one of the plants of the show - it was scattered through the show gardens like a weed) but never mind, I should probably be taking its flowers off anyway, so it can concentrate on establishing in its new home.

More on this and a revisit to the show job-list anon, but it's no spoiler to say; I did not get through the list. There were just too many distractions.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

What am I doing tomorrow? Oh yes, Gardener's World Live...

I've had Gardener's World season linked on Tivo ever since Alan Titchmarsh was swept away by the somewhat OTP double-act of Chris Beardshaw and Monty Don. After a catastrophic episode involving a rustic arbour Chris was sidelined off and replaced by Propagator Klein and the Raven, with Bluffty Joe to handle the hard landscaping. The action was supplemented by Rachel de Thame (the Nigella of the Long Border) whenever things looked like they might be flagging.

For a blissful season, they were joined by Alys Fowler, whose presence front-of-camera suddenly concretized the fantastic fiction of Gardener's World by showing the face of the people who spend their time fluffing Berryfields until it it the perfect floral border for their celebrity gardener.

This cast has ebbed. Alys is gone, as is the Raven. No-one is allowed in front of camera at Berryfields nowadays apart from Monty and his dog (Carol is off visiting flowers and gardeners and Joe is investigating hanging baskets). The oversaturated HD close-up plant porn fabulosity is now cranked up to eleven, and the pinked out perfection of Berryfields is eye-popping. The elaborate pretence of the lone gardener has never been more artificial and fantastic.

Plus, I normally watch it on Sunday, when I have the delightful, lazy pleasure of being given three jobs to do in the garden way too late to do any of them.

Tomorrow I'm off to my next Garden Show - Gardener's World Live, with my Garden Show friends Jacky and Jo. We'll make a day of it (and hope they're better at supplying tea than Malvern Autumn show was last year!) For once, I'll be watching Gardener's World on a Friday. 

As ever, it helps to have a job list.

  1. See Carol Klein in person.
    She's a massive inspiration to me, tough, sharp and insanely keen on propagating. There's a signed talk in the afternoon, which might be the one to go to - quite apart from props for inclusivity and accessibility, signing adds a new dimension to any talk. 
  2. Alstroemeria.
    I keep flapping over these because they're expensive and I may need to try several before one takes in my hard soil. My mum-in-law has a beautiful one and is happy for me to take a clump; but she has Ground Elder, and at the moment, I don't. Primrose Hall in the Floral Marquee is promising an alstroemeria party all season long which sounds like another great opportunity to dither over getting one (and probably either get none or three).
  3. Containers.
    I doubt I'll be able to find the one I need (much less fit it in Jo's car) to rescue my Apple Tree (I know, I know - it's bonkers trying to grow an Apple Tree in a container) but I hope to pick up some pointers, tips and strategies about container-confined shrubs and trees. There's an entire Pots Zone, which sounds promising.
  4. Blackfly.
    My Broad Beans are really suffering this year. Having just discovered that the ants are drugging the bugs and biting legs and wings off if they look like wandering (thanks Springwatch) I'm starting to feel that my pest toleration is dimming. Can I buy a box of Ladybird larvae at the show?
  5. Geum.
    They don't last in my garden. But that's actually kind of good, as there are lovely colours coming out all the time. There's some poppy lime and orange cocktail colours out at the moment. Time to kill another one!
  6. Enchanter's Nightshade.
    I have an annoying, persistent weed that grows in my garden. I call it Maggot Weed after the wriggly white roots it has, that spread around nice plants, and kill them. I think it's Enchanter's Nightshade, but I'd like a clear identification from an expert, if I can. 
  7. Little Borders.
    My space is limited, but Gardener's World Live has teeny tiny show-gardens that are just 3x3m. My big back bed is about that size, and that is my flower space - Tim calls it my jungle - and I love it, but it's a savage world which loses as many plants as it keeps. Let's see how others do it, and what plants they pick.
  8. The Best Flower.
    This is an always-on task for garden shows, of course. But June's that odd time of year  My garden's a bit scrappy at the moment, with old troopers like Nigella, Poppy and Aquilegia taking most of the strain. Am I missing a trick? I bet I am. Time to find it.
  9. A climber for Spriggy. I've been trying to get a perennial pea scrambling up through my privet hedge for years now, with no luck. Time to broaden the search.
  10. FERN. There's a bit of space behind the waterbutt (in the dark) and a hanging basket above it (in the dry) and these are both sad-looking spaces. Hart's tongue below and Asparagus Fern above? We'll see.

Friday, 5 June 2015

the wrong kind of bee

The Aquilegia spread like weeds, but the bees are always fond of them, and they do a good job of stringing together the end of the tulips with the beginning of the geraniums and poppies, so I tend to let them have their heads. This year they've gone wild!

And also, I've noticed something else having a go at their heads:

  mark of the robber bees
Those pretty spurs are full of nectar, and the insects are supposed to wriggle deep into the flower to get them, pollinating as they go. But plenty of  my stumpy little bees and bee flies can't get down into there. It seems that some have done the obvious, and chewed straight through the petal.

I'd say tough luck on the Aquilegia, but, really, they're not a plant that struggles to come to seed!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Other people's gardens: the back quad at Queen's

Reviewing a student show, I ended up in a back quad of Queen's College. It was supposed to be a garden show, but skies and recalcitrant technology conspired to chase us into a lecture theatre. The lecture theatre faced a glass wall and beyond the wall - a tiny, rather distracting corridoor garden. I nipped out in the interval to photograph a seductive Clematis among the Wisteria and Painted Ferns. It's not a variety I'm familiar with; huge,blushing purple, with decadently drooping petals.

Corridoor garden Extraordinary clematis

Queen's actual Fellow's Garden is closed for some archaeology at the moment (and when I say closed, I mean it's now a series of very interesting trenches), so the back quad has been declared Fellow's Garden for now.No-one's supposed to walk on the perfectly manicured grass (I guess no-one told the ducks!) but the long bed has smart little weeding paths, so I was able to get a close look at the swelling perennials in their fancy wire cages.

cheeky ducks fancy plant stands
The planting was astonishingly tidy, zero tolerance of weeds and anything faded or flopped removed to a place of safety. There were some questionable statues tucked into corners. The creepy, semi-decayed putto was in pride of place in a niche outside the bar but that eagle was literally behind a large, solid, screening bush. I had to stand on a wall to get the shot!

artistic treasures of Queen's College #1 artistic treasures of Queen's college #2
In the gathering dusk, the occasional early summer spectacle glowed out of the borders like a jewel. The fluffy heads of Cirsium, and this stunning long-spurred sunset-coloured aquilegia. It's still mostly about the greens, though; hellebores and ferns unfurling, the last few pale spring bulb flowers floating above them like morning stars.

incredible aquilegia narcissus and fern
The odd curiosity, too, like this old lead pipe; perhaps the remnants of an old irrigation system. Against the wall, plants already looking a bit dry. The rain shadows of the tall buildings can be fierce.

antique spout fancy plant stand