Sproutling Goes On A Jolly Day Trip

Yesterday I patted my little car on the bonnet and off we went together to RHS Hyde Hall. After getting a bit lost (as has happened every time I’ve gone to HH thus far) I arrived not really at all late for the RHS’s annual Head Gardener’s Day, scurrying up the path through the Dry Garden only stopping to go ‘ooh Eryngiums! I wonder if they’re E. tripartitum?’ and suchlike.

Having been crammed with tea and biscuits we were treated to a talk on the history and future of the garden by its curator Ian le Gros and then he and Ian Bull the Garden Manager took us on a tour of the perennials in the garden. As the soil at Layer Marney Tower is Essex clay, similar to that at Hyde Hall, it’s always interesting to see what thrives and what fails there. Apparently Echinacea don’t do particularly well which is disappointing as I have some waiting to be planted out.

I particularly like the Robinson Garden, with its greenness and rocky gabion walls covered in Clematis rehderiana.

The unusual walls are already making an excellent habitat for birds and beasties as well as plants. This is a fairly recent garden, and last year the plants were still growing into their spaces. This year it looks wonderfully lush and verdant.

One of the things they do particularly well at Hyde Hall is turf. Just look at that sward, baby.

Having seen these amazing lawns last year, and had a talk from their turf manager on how they do it, I’ve already made a few changes at the towers and seeing it again gave added impetus to my desire to improve our lawns. I shall try not to turn into a turf bore, I promise.

It was interesting to see the progress on the lake and areas around the shiny new shop/cafe/visitor centre. Last year the lake was a blue splodge on a very ambitious looking plan. This year the diggers are in:

I bet next year it’ll look like it’s been there forever.

This was my second ‘Head Gardener’s Day’ and, just like last year, I really enjoyed it. I got to commune with some fantastic gardeners, most of whom are WAY more knowledgeable and experienced than me, and I got to hear some interesting talks and get a behind the scenes view of an RHS garden and I came away just buzzing with ideas and enthusiam. Also, there was excellent cake.


Plant of the Month: July 2011

This month’s Plant of the Month is not usually celebrated in July as it is well known for the beauty of its flowers in Spring. However, every other visitor to the Towers this month has asked me about the stunning tree in the car park and so without further ado I bring you…

Cercis siliquastrum

The Judas Tree is an elegantly spreading small tree, often multi-stemmed like this one. The gorgeous magenta flowers in Spring grow straight from the wood of the branches and are followed by the rich red seed pods which give a second period of splendour in the height of summer. The fact it also has a good buttery yellow autumn colour and with its elegant form even looks good standing naked in the depths of winter make it a fantastic tree all year round. Our specimen is close to fully grown as they reach 30ft/10m tall and so make a good smallish tree, although their spreading nature does mean they dominate their allotted space.

The glaucous heart-shaped leaves are attractive in their own right too, even without the glorious pods dangling beneath:

Although young trees and unripened wood can suffer from frost damage they are fully hardy and both this Cercis siliquastrum and the Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ we have elsewhere in the garden came through the last winter (which was unusually hard) unscathed. They like a moist but well drained and fertile spot, seeming to be perfectly happy on our Essex clay.

The shade it produces is deep enough that the grass grows weakly beneath it. The perfect spot for a shade bed perhaps?

In my Garden Today

As well as being the most enchanting blue the hyssop is really popular with our friends the bees:

The bergamot is glowing pink in the new herb bed. Unfortunately I seem to have mislaid the label and don’t know what variety this is so I shall make up my own name… Monarda ‘Fairy Lights’.

The Gala apples on my little tree are looking worthy of a sleeping beauty:

And in amongst the weeds in the borders the stars of the Allium christophii seedheads are positively supernova:

More Hampton Court Thoughts

I’m pretty unashamedly a practical gardener. Show gardens which would make impractical real gardens do not interest me generally. In recent years I have overcome my disgust at inappropriate plant use in show gardens. I used to be heard at almost every stop saying something like ‘But that wouldn’t grow in full sun!’ Or ‘But that plant will completely outcompete that other plant in a matter of months!’ And ‘Yeah, but it’ll all be dead in three weeks. No late summer interest at all’ or other similar comments which completely missed the point of a show garden. Now I’ve come to accept that the planting elements are more like floristry than gardening I’m a lot happier. However, I’m still prone to saying ‘How the hell are you supposed to mow that?!’ Which was at the back of my mind* when I first saw this:

What was at the forefront of my mind was ‘Wow!’ and ‘Cool!’ and ‘nice umbellifers, baby.’ So it looks like I might be making progress on being able to appreciate the utterly impractical show garden. So that’s nice.

If you haven’t already got bored of it, this is the World Vision garden. The convex hemisphere represents the children of the world that have their needs met, and the concave hemisphere those that do not. I am not entirely sure how a show garden helps the situation of the have-nots, but since several of the gardens were charity or ‘message’ gardens I’m sure there is reason for the sponsors to believe it works.

There was a definite trend for edible plants. Even apparently unveggie gardens were sneaking in cabbages and kale while no-one was looking. This still sets off my ‘But it wouldn’t grow well there!’ reaction which seems to be more sensitive to edible plants being given insufficient space. The RHS themselves were among the worst offenders here:

Can you spot the veggies? I can just about ignore the hostas in full sun with insufficient space but cabbages? I thought the Edible Garden was partly about educating people that they can grow edibles in their ornamental gardens? Not if they treat them like that they can’t. Well, they can. But they will just get leafy greens for their trouble. I think this might be the practical versus impractical question. Many show gardens which include veg have pretensions to practicality; pretensions which are belied by their cramped spacings. Well, I hope lots of people are inspired and go off and buy a decent book on veg growing and set up some raised beds or a couple of containers and have a go.

Oops sorry. Seem to have got into a whinge-fest here. I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that I go around the flower shows snarking away to my heart’s content; I don’t. I really enjoy the shows and come back absolutely fizzing with ideas and ambitions! And the edible garden was very pretty, I wouldn’t dispute that. And cabbages, especially the red ones, are beautiful creatures indeed. But… but… am I wrong here dear readers? What do you think to cramped kale and cornered cabbage in the interest of prettiness?

* * *

*I think it might involve wellington boots and shears. The mowing I mean. Or a tethered rabbit perhaps?

P.S My other Hampton Court posts are here and here.

Rain, Hampton Court and a glass of Pimms

The last ten minutes of the journey to Hampton Court are always the best!

Once we had munched some lunch and perused the programme we headed to the Rose Marquee which for some reason had a rather charming Alice in Wonderland theme. We sniffed, snuffled and oohed and ahhed our way through the roses, eventually coming to the conclusion that Rosa ‘Gentle Hermione’  (left) from David Austen’s stand had the most gorgeous scent, though it was a tough competition.





Adjacent to the Rose marquee was the Plant Heritage Marquee where the plant collectors live with their information pamphlets on cultivation and their excitement for a single genus, or even a single species. Something in the careful presentation and slight air of obsession appeals to me although I don’t have the concentration required to join the hallowed ranks of these plantophiles. I particularly liked the carnations (right – Dianthus ‘Tayside Red’) and the carnivorous plants. My sister has a minor obsession with native carnivorous plants, getting down on her hands and knees excitedly in a bog at the sight of a Sundew plant or Butterwort so I was tempted to buy her one. But in the end I felt carnivorous plant plus tube journey would almost certainly equal disaster.


As I wrote yesterday, The Stockman’s Retreat by Chris Beardshaw was my favourite show garden. The Copella garden (below) was also beautiful; it forms an appeal to us to look after our orchards and apple trees and prevent them disappearing at the current rate. It was planted with apple trees and bee-friendly plants as well as featuring some stunning wood work. I asked after an attractive umbellifer in the garden to be told it was carrot! As a biennial it makes a rather attractive plant in its second year apparently.

I also really liked the LOROS hospice garden which was colourful and yet calm. The garden is going to be relocated to the Leicestershire and Rutland Hospice after the show. I wonder if they’ll notice if I steal that pavilion en route? Surely not.

The RHS Edible Garden had stilt-stalking hop pickers, a pond and coracle, cider press (left) and lots of beautiful plantings of flowers and edibles together. Grafted vegetables were impressive and the attached Marquee was full of tempting seeds and plants.

After perusing all the veggies we stopped to have a glass of Pimms and sent texts to loved ones saying ‘well, it’s not raining yet’. We should have known better. By the time we finished our Pimms great heavy drops had started to fall.





I enjoyed several of the small gardens depite the rain and although I showed you the fun 5-a-Day garden yesterday my favourite was the Wild Side garden, a city wildlife friendly garden, unfortunately none of my photos of it are any good! I also particularly liked the Heathers in Harmony gardenwhich made an attempt to rehabilitate Heathers in the estimation of the nation and the Deptford Project garden (pictured).


It was an inspiring, thought provoking and tiring day. And now I know another great thing to do with carrots!

Hampton Court Highlights

Today I’ve gathered together some of my highlights from  Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011. Tomorrow there’ll be a longer descriptive post after I’ve had more of a shuffle through my photos and there’ll be some further musings about the whole thing on Friday.

My favourite show garden was Chris Beardshaw’s garden The Stockman’s Retreat. As a nature lover and rural girl I’m a sucker for a garden that successfully captures the feel of a rural landscape.

The Rose Marquee was wonderful. The David Austen and Peter Beales stands are always highlights of the flower shows for me. Pictured is ‘Summer Song’ from the David Austen stand.

The ‘Grow Your Own’ Marquee and RHS Edible Garden were top of my ‘must see’ list and I wasn’t disappointed. The Garlic Farm came up trumps with this wonderful display.

The Burgon&Ball 5-A-Day garden (Designed by Heather Culpan and Nicola Reed) was one of my favourite small gardens. I love the dining table/trough planter. What an excellent idea!

More pictures and ramblings to follow tomorrow!

The Garden Basking in the Sunshine

It was a beautiful day today; warm and sunny but not muggy or too hot. I donned my shorts and tackled the mowing but before I got down to the real work I took a few moments to grab a few pictures in the sunshine.

The Tower seen from the relatively new East Court Border which is a deliberately romantic spot with white standard roses and pink hardy geraniums frothing over box hedging.

The Tower and the border directly in front of it. It’s not particularly apparent in this photo but this border has a cool colour theme of blues and purples and pinks. Interrupted by the occasional bright red poppy. Someone apparently had a slight moment of seed scattering madness last autumn. Me? No. It must have been the garden gnomes.

The view down the ramp into the lower garden with the Long Gallery on the left.

The Long Gallery and an unknown rose. Many of the roses in the garden were planted 25-30 years ago and any labels are long gone. This one has the most gorgeous scent. I like bunches of it with the rich blue Hidcote lavender, and maybe some parsley flowers or similar for a slightly crazy colourful flower arrangement.

I hope you enjoyed the micro-tour!

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful – June 2011

This month The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful comes from my veg plot.

The Good

Courgettes of unknown variety from a village plant sale.

Beetroot harvested small and grown virtually unthinned.

Broad Beans – the Sutton. As a kid I hated these but thanks to Nigel Slater I learnt the individual juicy beans can be popped out of those leathery little jackets.

Ruby Chard. A perennial favourite in my cooking. I use its leaves like spinach and the stems chopped into dishes.

I’ve also been harvesting peas as well as lettuce and other salad leaves. Hurrah for my delicately proportioned veg plot!

The Bad

Slugs and snails. It appears that, yet again, my runner beans are not going to be successful.

This leaf is from the only bean plant that still has the luxury of leaves. The other plants are stems stuck in the ground, and even those stems have been scoured by snail teeth until no goodness remains. I need to get my act together on the snail front, and it is mostly snails unfortunately or I’d have used one of the slug devouring nematodes.

The Beautiful

Some of the veg is beautiful in itself but my veg plot is also home to some flowers:

Chamomile is a favourite herb of mine. I dry it and use it in summery bath salts. It works surprisingly well as an incense too (maybe with some benzoin and lavender flowers and rose petals to make my favourite summer incense).

And no veg plot of mine would be complete without pot marigold!

Taking a Gamble

This spring I took a gamble which has paid off. We have some lavenders planted around pedestals at the Tower. Our soil, being heavy clay is far from ideal for lavender and these lavenders are planted (not by me! honest!) in a strip too narrow for them so they struggle onwards and then get bashed by the mower for their trouble. They were twiggy and disreputable looking, my yearly ministrations being insufficient to whip them into shape, and so I took a deep breath and hacked.

Yes, dear reader I cut into ‘dead wood’ in places (why do they call it that – it’s not dead, if it was there’d be nothing growing up the whole stem), and in others was somewhat reassured by the pinpricks of grey growth, virtually indistinguishable from bark.

This was what I call a ‘kill or cure’ treatment. And in this case it cured. Hurrah! Now they are in far better shape and can be cut back hard yearly to stop them from becoming twiggy again. I should have done it years ago. Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re unwilling to face the death of the plants in question.

I follow the directions of the Lavender-philes at Downderry nursery when it comes to trimming hardy lavenders. They seem to disagree with the RHS who recommend (or at least, my ancient A-Z tome recommends) deadheading after flowering and a trim in Spring. Downderry suggest a hearty chopping back in August and this does seem to work best to keep the plants bushy and attractive.


Although there’s no label accompanying the pictured plants I have strong suspicions they’re ‘Hidcote’.

Do you have a favourite lavender? My personal favourites are the varieties with long pointed flowerheads, such as ‘Old English’ and ‘Gros Bleu’. I planted ‘Old English’ in my new herb beds but it’s still a bit weedy to make good photo material. They seem to be bigger plants too, which I like. There are hundreds of places a petite lavender is perfect I will admit, but the larger ones have a languid elegance which is (for me) lacking in the compact varieties.


We’re scoffing my home grown veg tonight!  Ruby chard, beetroot, broad beans, herbs and courgette mixed up with some chopped onions and tinned tomatoes and bunged in the oven for an age, stirred occasionally and served with rice and cheese once  it’s rich and tasty. With a glass of wine of course…