Friday, 27 May 2016


Nothing today: I'm at Chelsea

the shoes

Normal service will resume when I am back to normality.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

chelsea coming

I split open the plastic on my Chelsea Guide today. It's quite intimidating. Hundreds of exhibitors, 30+ show gardens, shopping and eating options that run to pages. We're going by bus, and for the first time, and we're not in the target demographic. But still I'm fascinated, in the way that the Proms, or a Wembley Gig, or a classic opera with fireworks or any other huge cultural event is fascinating; people like this, there must be something here.

Of course, it always helps to have some specific aims in mind, too, and we are both taking our trolleys, which hopefully won't be too infra-dig for the Chelsea crowds (did I mention there are seven Champagne bars? there are seven champagne bars, and a caviar bar, which probably also sells champagne), so here are my objectives for the day:
  • Spot a sleb. It's the Gardener's World day, so the forecast should include a good chance of Carol, though I note that the Raven is also attending. If I fail to spot one, I'll declare somebody a celebrity anyway, as there are now far more famous people than I can keep up with and I am sure there will be lots of famous people I don't recognize.
  • Buy a Fuchsia. Fuchsia Jewel Lime, if I can find it, although the boat may have sailed for this year.
  • See all the show gardens. Last year the aesthetic was quite corporate tax avoider millionaire; this year there are hints of something stranger going on.
  • Walk through some floral arches. There's one for the queen, which is apparently based on some high victoriana bobbins, a tunnel of roses and an orchid bower which promises an "authentic rainforest experience" which I suspect means misters
  • Buy a bonsai planter for my miniature Acer - currently it's in a safe and functional black plastic pot (as advised by the Acer Society of ...somewhere? the Midlands I think? when I bought it) and I keep drawing a blank on suitable planters locally - so let's see if I can find any innovative pots.
Other than that I'll take it as it comes. I may Tweet, especially if I see any wildlife; and I suspect my Instagram may do a little scrapbooking on those things which are beautiful, but will never come home with you. Speaking of which, I sorted out my hair:

As a nice bonus, I now have green fingers. Chelsea ready!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

blind camera bokeh

The screen on my camera went from unreliable to only working once in a blue moon very fast. This means that if I want to photograph something I need to line things up very carefully. Or just, you know, shove the camera right up against it:


Nigella   Primula

One dim rain-freckled evening this left me straying obliviously into the realm of bokeh, of narrow bands of focus surrounded by accidental but nevertheless pleasurable blur. The fluffy sprigs of Fennel shoots and Nigella buds seemed to take very naturally to this, though my Francisca Primula were too pretty not to join the party.

Service Bush

Pansy   Tulip

The Service Bush continues to gather its drops of water as the berries develop; the pansies are brave in the face of slug onslaught, and my Big Sunny tulips (I cannot recommend these enough, they are beautiful) are starting to look under the weather, but still, as is the way with tulips, are fabulous even while dying.


Dandelion   Tulip

Without the viewscreen, aiming returns to a matter of guesswork and rules of thumb. Subjects lurch up, down; to the side, and those broad expanses of blurred background, the hallmark of the bokeh style, are suddenly more visible, the background foregrounded. I often find (looking back at my photographs) that the hint of background is where the action really is. Look; I had Fuchsia and Petunia hardening off in the greenhouse that day; and I was wearing my brown tropical print shoes...

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

planting with ornamental birds

I would hesitate to call it a fine day, but it wasn't actually raining, so I took the overground walk from Victoria Station from Trafalgar Square, straight through St James Park.

St James Park is the home of fancy plants and fancy birds, a luxury combination forever associated for me with the loadsamoney world of the high 80s, where after you'd got your grounds landscaped and the lake put in, the next thing would be to get a man to deliver you some ornamentals, which are, of course, birds. St James Park is the royalty-approved ground zero of that fad; luxury geese and ducks dotted across the water like fancy lilies, a cohort of pigeon-munching pelicans gifted by a wealthy chum (in this case, the Russian Ambassador in 1664) and smart planting designed to blend with the birds.

pink pigeon pink rhododendron flower bed

I liked this rather smart pink pigeon sat next to a clump of red campion; a touch of rustic charm amid the ancient Rhododendron varieties and this year's best tulips.

orange rhododendron unconcerned golden rhododendron
The Red Breasted Goose has such a smart appearance. That bold feather pattern seems designed for screen printing; and of course it contrasts wonderfully with the unusual orange and yellow azaleas.

hart's tongue resurgent hectic late narcissi bar headed goose
The Bar-headed Goose has a perpetually anxious air; painfully aware that it's more filler than killer. Too fancy to be ubiquitous, too grey to be popular; but still a good foil to the ferns and narcissi.

euphorbia spurge threat displays watering in

Barnacle Geese - Barnies - are the Basic goose of any ornamental collection. Simple, tough, cheap, reliable breeders. You can drop them between the interesting birds, like foliage plants (euphorbia, ferns).

There's clearly no love lost between Barnie and the Red-Breasted Goose, who knows it's a cut above (the pigeons don't care).

Saturday, 14 May 2016

the new leaves in the hedges

I've had to walk the same route twice this week to fetch more and more books for the library - I'm writing up for this semester - and as I walk past the front gardens I can't resist running my hands along the hedges. We're well beyond bud-burst now, into the point where hedges become fluffy with fresh new leaves and touching is irresistible.

new oak leaves

The leaves have a silky feel, more or less soft depending on species. Common Beech is probably the winner, with its crumpled-silk leaves fringed with soft hairs, but many of the suburban standards feel lovely too; Privet has a bubbly softness, occasionally interspersed with a dollop of cuckoo-spit; Service Bush, Labernum, Wisteria and Robinia all have a waterfall softness, leaves flushed red and yellow with toxins to deter predators from the fresh young leaves. Even the natives and evergreens join in with Yew turning pale green and fluffy and Field Maple and Oak showing their silks.

new maple leaves

Plants don't like to be touched very much. Touch induced growth inhibition (or to give it its full name, thigmomorphogenesis) helps plants adapt their growth to suit the environment they are living in and avoid stress. Regularly touched and brushed leaves are at risk, and although hedging plants are tougher than most anyoine who has a hedge regular used as an ingress point by badgers, dogs, children or even adults will know that the hedge opens up a space, and concentrates growth where it will not be interrupted and annoyed.

So, brushing my fingers along hedges may be a tactile delight but it's also an action not entirely of aggression against the plant, but competition with it; a gentle suggestion from the pavement; this is human space, draw back, draw back.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

vexations and municipal tulips

Saturday we were at Conway Hall in London for the Boring Conference. The right kind of boring resides more in the built environment and human culture than in gardens and greenery, although a short piece on street lighting was full of pleasing detail and nimbyish outrage at the unreasonable nature of street lights. But it was in a leafy bit of London, and Red Lion square outside was clattering with blackbirds and crows. Not that we saw any of that; we were sat inside in polite rows, listening to things that were quite interesting, about topics that were, well boring.

Then, just before lunch, Rhodri Marsden came on stage, and started playing Vexations by Satie, which he described as the the most boring and irritating piece of music ever composed; a single short phrase of awkwardly unmemorable and dislocating piano, to be repeated 840 times, which may or may not have had something to do with breaking up with a surrealist:

It is difficult to listen to. I cracked at repitition 25 and fled into the square where I suffered some of the temporary effects people describe from listening (involuntary silence, auditory sensitivity and confusion) though thankfully none described from playing (visual hallucinations, hysteria and madness).

I photographed tulips until I felt better.

municipal tulips municipal tulips municipal tulips
municipal tulips municipal tulips municipal tulips
municipal tulips municipal tulips municipal tulips

Municipal Tulips are magnificently grounding. Garish, speckled with greenfly, jutting up from bare earth or a background of cheerful bedding in complimentary colours, they have a brusque simplicity; I am flower, see me blaze.

Anyone wishing to experience the effects of Vexations firsthand can find a full length version on Youtube. I would recommend having a bunch of tulips at hand.

Friday, 6 May 2016

the garden at the end of everything

My first Oxford funeral. It's a moment in life. And my first view of Oxford Crematorium, in bright May sunshine.

IMG_1034[1] IMG_1029[1] IMG_1035[1]
IMG_1014[1] IMG_1009[1] IMG_1025[1]
narcissi IMG_1033[1] apple blossom and bee>

I'd arrived early, and in tears, not unusual for a funeral, and the remembrance gardens suggested somewhere to compose myself before we began. I ducked under trees heavy with cherry blossom into a formal garden with a fancy four-part carp pond and ranks of rose bushes arranged by species name, each with a small marker beneath it, or a space waiting for that small marker. It was perfect, tidy, weeded, smart and utterly kempt.

I headed on, into a space of long curved beds full of many, many more roses and small trees, each set in a circular memorial garden planted for memory and personality; and among it all a cemetery cat was sat waiting, with the confidence of an animal that knew its strokes would be coming from someone, soon. Today it was me.

Further on the garden became wilder, with larger trees, cypress, yew, apple, and a bright row of copper beeches rippling in the spring sunshine. Some had roses tied to their trunks, others had tulips and bluebells planted round them in perhaps unsanctioned acts of memory. At the far extent, a gate let onto a field and the vast compost heap, warm in the sun,

As I headed uphill, formally designed gardens dotted lawns, little show-gardens of memory full of memorials, and the waiting space for memorials. Rockeries, walled gardens, dry gardens, daffodil lawns, tidy conifers, something for everyone, and always the roses, waiting for their names.

I spotted familiar figures among the waiting mourners and headed downhill, back to the waiting chapel.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

a lived-in car

I have a lived-in car. It looks like it's been places, done stuff. If it was a face, you'd say it had character, or was evidence of well-lived life. As an appliance, it's both well-used, and well useful; and look, here is another use: plant pot!

car seedling

That little volume, under the door, had gathered a soft mulch of vegetable matter over the years, and into it, a seed had washed, and the warmth and light of spring sunshine seeping through the gaps around the door had sparked germination.

It's a little early to tell, but I sense the limitless ambition of a tree seedling.

It seemed a bit mean just to cast is aside, so I hoiked it out and popped it in a pot and promptly forgot where I had put it. Hopefully somewhere more convenient for a tree to be than caught in the bodywork of a Nissan Micra.