Friday, 29 April 2016

defensive planters in frideswide square

I thought I had arrived with a quarter hour to spare so had plenty of time to check out how the new planting in Oxford's bĂȘte noire of urban spaces, Frideswide Square, was coming along. I hadn't, I'd mistaken the training venue, but that's another story.

This story is about defensive planting:

Frideswide Square Planters  Frideswide Square Frideswide Square Planters Frideswide Square shadows

These planters don't just hold in the soil. They also stop people driving all over that tempting broad, flat expanse. The knee-high jaggedy edged chunks of solid granite-a-like, punctuated by anti-skater knobbles, kind of work as seats but really book as crash barriers. Though not quite the anti-terror attack plant pots and benches that subtly barrier up public spaces near anxious buildings, its hails from the same stable. The world that doesn't have to compromise on style because it's security minded, a sort of semi-hostile architecture, just one heavy, dramatic piece of public art away from absolute security on all approach routes (in the plans for next year I hope).

The planting has a ways to go. The little box hedges look like they're still wondering whether or not to survive the summer, and the various smart grasses are just little tuftlets in a sea of bark chips. But at this time of day, when the sun slants through the bus-shelters and lights up the sprouting leaves on the spring trees it's beautiful, in a blank, tough and uncompromising way.

Next task: get to the right training venue...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

camellia garden spillover

The Camellias are having a spring of it this year. Rain has fallen, but it has been warm, flicking the water off the petals before they begin to brown.  They're past their absolute best now, but I still keep seeing their booty bundles dribbling over garden walls:

  willow and camellia

Camellias are officially the most decadent plant. More decadent than orchids (too obvious) roses (too pretty) or lilies (too funereal). They exist in a balance of beauty and rot, almost always blown brown by their impending death, even before the buds open.

I was not going to a get any Camellias. But then I found one, February half term, already in flower, in a pot at the Eden Project. And in the way of these things, another came to me - a deep red, profundo rosso, from a sale shelf at the local Garden Centre. At the moment they're sitting in small pots, but the aim will be two large plants, er. somewhere. Against a wall, flanking a door, something like that.

La Dame aux Camellias is the source text for Moulin Rouge, and as such deals with the diseased, desirable and damned. As the story goes, Camille (actually called, Marguerite, but the Dame of the title) wears a white camellia when she is able to love; and a red camellia when her condition (Tuberculosis, you at the back there) forbids it. These two images from Mucha and Beardsley demonstrate the difference between the ecstasy of availability and the misery of confinement:



Neither of my Camellias are white; the other, first flower is the pretty pink of cherry blossom blowing in the spring wind.  It's already looking sickly, while the other is in rude health, but of course, not flowering.

Friday, 22 April 2016

other people's gardens : outside the bate collection

It was the hawthorn that first caught my eye; the leaves of a regular hawthorn, but long scarlet-pink flowers, like miniature fuchsia blossoms, nodding gently over an ageing Oxford sandstone wall. The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments is one of Oxford's museums, but one I've never been inside; it has a feeling of only being half public, in the way of some of the colleges. You can go in there, but are you welcome?

I looked at the incredible red Hawthorn, caught in the evening light and reflected that if the collection was open to the public, and the gate open, then the gardens were surely also open. To me, for example. Right now.

catkins and pine very fancy hawthorn deciduous/evergreen
rhododendron bug filled buttercup californian lilac
deciduous/evergreen prostrate tree catkins

Two deep borders hug the wall, full of plants ancient and exotic, prostrate, tumbling. A harsh spring trim has stripped the winter clutter from the shrubs, and plants are scrambling wildly out of the bare soil. A few flashes of colour light up the shadow behind the wall; blue fluffy caeonothus; a buttercup teeming with pollen beetles.

And then that mysterious shrub. Up close it insists, firmly, bewilderingly, that it is a relative of our native hawthorn, but with flowers like a fuchsia. Identified! It's Ribes Speciosum. I wonder if I can fit one in somewhere?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

saxifrage streetgarden

It is now truly spring. Even the tiny street-gardens are bursting into blossom. Look at all these little flowers:

miniature flower garden

Here's a context shot, so you can get the scale. Fortunately around here footfall is low and street-maintenance only occasional, so this tiny blooming tarmac garden will probably get all its business done before the street-sweeper of destiny brings the brush of municipal tidiness to briefly banish the mossgardens that spring up everywhere in the damp of the Thames.

moss garden

More like this in my Gardens are Everywhere series on Flickr.

Friday, 15 April 2016

the quiet dignity of the train station planter

I got to the train station ten minutes early through allowing for roadworks which were no longer there and found myself at a loose end, briefly. The train station in question (Oxford) is current planned for redevelopment but this process is still in the wildly speculative stage; in the meantime the station has settled into minimal maintenance mode. Everything is kept working, but nothing improves. It has entered the phase of ticking over and waiting for the next thing.

Under such circumstances, bold and brilliant floral displays are perhaps contraindicated; and it is maybe no surprise that the station has become the preserve of the drought-resistant, low-maintenance planter.

lost a slat Planting overview

Here it is, pictured with an experimental decaf cappuccino which had failed to hold my attention. You can see that someone perhaps sat on the side, or maybe put too much weight on a slat while doing up a shoelace. The tough herbs are woody with winter, and also look like someone might have used them as a cushion. Two thymes, rosemary and a tough, low-growing lonerica are tussling for dominance. In here, only the strong survive.

woody thyme two butts

The last round of painting extended to the thyme stems, and nestled in a position which would once have been subtle but which is now exposed by the removed slat, two cigarette butts commemorate shared rebellion (the Strictly No Smoking Allowed sign is two steps away, on the station wall). Apple cores and teabags perhaps mark the kind of litterer who thinks anything organic is just fertiliser, or maybe reflect the fact that finding the bin (seven steps away on the station wall) is just too much challenge so late at night, so early in the morning.

apple core teabagged

Friday, 8 April 2016

ordering fireworks by postiplug

Having spotted my first greenfly infestations of any significance I was considering repeating my ladybirds by post experiment of last year (though hopefully less clumsily). But with the first few adults emerging from the broken stems and tattered leaves of last year (to be greeted by me pointing at them and yelling LADYBIRD! like an idiot) I think I'll give it a few weeks at least. With such an awesomely mild winter, there should be masses of survivors from last year.

Cue a catalogue from a certain major plant provider reminding me that other things are available by post; floral fireworks. Last year a mix-up or variety failure (I forget) saw me receiving a profuse apology and a set of random new-variety fuchsias for an order I'd made in the depths of winter and promptly forgotten all about. They weren't the sort of thing I'd normally order but they were screaming bright fun. Maybe I should try that again? There's lots of wildly lurid options to choose from.

  • Phlox Pop Stars Mixed - Starry pinks, reds, magentas, whites and purples. Not normally my thing, but I'm enjoying the Honesty I have coming up all over this spring, and this is just a few steps further. Though there is apparently a risk that they'll being the X Factor to my borders. Hmmm...
  • Salpiglossis Royale Mixed - not a flower I've tried before, although the purple, yellow, orange and burgundy makes it a shoo-in for my usual colour-schemes. It wants full sun but is that more of a want or a need?
  • Petunia Orange Punch and Peach Sundae counter the fussiness of petunias with blinging bright coral and orange shades. There's also a Terracotta Kabloom Calibrachoa through that link; nothing subtle here.
  • Trailing Begonias - Glowing Embers, Inferno and Northern Lights Scarlet all look ready to set shady spaces on fire and I'm having good returns from Begonias at the moment, particularly one corm, now the size of a saucer and returning almost fluorescently bright flowers almost as big.
  • Then there are the Fuchsias (although I did overwinter last year's in the greenhouse, and have at least two survivors) but Royal Mosaic looks cheerfully unsubtle and Pink Elephant is somehow just there, looking like a challenge, even though I'm not keen on ginormous pink frills as a general rule...
  • Trailing Snapdragons (in blazing red, magenta, yellow and orange shades) would actually work rather well tumbling over my walls; and they'll also set seed which comes true, which is a plus and a half... snappies are big seed producers.
  • It'll be with me for years, so lovely and outrageously vivid red Alstroemeria Rock'n'Roll is probably better bought as a decent-sized plant in flower than postplugging it, but it's nice to note that I... oh, can't - it's sold out already. Hot fireworks!!!
But enough of this fantasy gardening. I have seedlings coming on (Cosmos in volcano shades, more fancy Snapdragons, some Echinacea) and do I really need any more?

Probably not.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

the pleasure gardens in the database

Museums and Gardens have aspects in common. In each, certain elements of the discovered world have been selected and placed in a defined space, for pleasure, admiration, edification and education. My garden is a rackety pile of overcrowded elements, a jumble; but this too is a classic museum style, which reaches its apotheosis in the tangled banks of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

The open, formal spaces of the Ashmolean also have their attractions; exhibits carefully placed in smart white boxes; long borders of casts and significant paintings; showgarden flourishes of contemporary art and design. The physical extrusions of the museum into public space make a statement of intent; create the space that discusses the objects; but it is just the tip of iceberg. Under each museum spreads out the deep foundations of the dark ordered spaces of the stacks, the storage unit and the vast mazes of its endlessly updating and growing database.

A Restoration, a new piece of work by Elizabeth Price, knocks out a hole in a dark space in the elegantly ordered galleries of the Ashmolean, and information spills out, in active restoration, creating a garden; a maze; a city; a party; civilization; and then

Here is a clip:


We are building a garden in the database, the story begins, and an administrative task through slight but expressive variation goes on to cultivate a further germination full of vigourous stylistic variation and the slow careful work of restoration blossoms into something larger, self replicating (it is unusual as we understand for a restoration to be this expressive) and spreading out in a sudden act of flowering; like the past fertilising the future, imagined as a single, outrageous iconoclastic act, which because imagined rather than real, can be repeated endlessly, in the courts and passages of the museum, for all and future generations.

I quote (roughly - it is dark in the gallery and my notes are written over into illegibility) because the language has a fantastic combination of randomness and exactitude, as if they had emerged from the deliberations of a highly civilized but very determined committee. The language in the Wikipedia Page on Knossos has a similar flair; courtly but a bit mechanical, as if the twin civilized arts of art and administration were coiled together, like vines that cooperate and do not compete, but nevertheless produce an effect that would never have been planned.

Knossos, Europe's first city, was irrigated and planted, a city of courtyard gardens. This ancient city pattern is still visible many older cities (certainly Oxford, where the Museums above are located). But the great excavator of Knossos Arthur Evans was an Oxford man; and of what we see of the past is restoration, and the recognition of similar aspects, down the long passage of time.

Friday, 1 April 2016

those calm repeated actions that knit up the ravell'd mind

I woke this morning exhausted, ill and unhappy. After a bit of stumbling around (coffee, brooding, a few swipes at rubbish yoga, turning the radio on, becoming annoyed and turning it off again) I ended up in the garden, standing over my Rhododendron.

At this time of year, the spring growth is showing, but not yet abundant. The first hints of flower buds were showing in the whorls of leaves, but most of them were crufted up with leaves from next door's twisted willow. I freed one bud, then another. I fetched out the loppers to take of a few dead branches (the recovery from last year's near death experience is still fragile) and then I was working, one of those small, steady tasks that tidy a plant, relieve its stress and set it right.

Absorbed in the simplework, my ravell'd mind began to knit, and under the pressures of coffee, sunshine, and a steady, repetitive, useful task, my dark mood started to lift. As  I worked I marked the next set of tasks; cut back the ivy, water the leaves, first feed of the growing season... it goes on. A garden can absorb all the time you give it; and give good returns at every level of effort.

I'm tired again now, but somewhat afraid of rubbish sleep, the sort that leaves you tired and wretched in the morning. Ravell'd mind is Macbeth, of course - his colossal wibble about killing sleep:
Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep', the innocent sleep
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast--
here, Lady Macbeth interrupts him, but he ignores her and continues;
Still it cried 'Sleep no more!' to all the house:
Glamis hath murder'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.'
I meant to have a good session in the garden when I got back from town, but I was too late and too tired to do much more than pot on my new plugs, pot up some sweetpeas, a little more knitting for my still-ravell'd mind.

I hope tonight's sleep is better.