Sunday 30 January 2011

Brown paper packages....

This has been a week or so of deliveries.....first of all baby Jackson came to stay, which was very sweet and has made us review our ‘no babies’ can stay at the inn policy. We have previously been subscribing to the Von Trapp family school of thought, which is that the children should be left with the parents/nanny and brought down to entertain the adults/sing a song after dinner however Jackson has changed us.
I had cunningly arranged for the rest of the deliveries to come on Friday as I was working at home, however plans were foiled when the compost people left an answer phone message cheerfully saying how they could deliver on Monday, so at 10pm after my art class I was all too happy to move 35 bags of compost.... My order from Urban Jungle and Amultree came on Friday, miraculously they both use the same delivery company and it came together which was very surprising.

Urban Jungle boxes...I wish Santa send presents as big as this

Years ago I was very into EBay , but was rubbish at the wrapping and sending bit as it was just always took too long and the ethnographic tat I was sending was difficult to wrap, so I’m very impressed with how people do plants! In total I had about 4-5 huge boxes, and all the bamboos had been individually cling filmed by someone who clearly loves their wrap. I now have a huge pile of plants waiting to go in.

Bamboos wrapped by the queen of clingfilm

my very full sideway....good job my neighbours are very thin and can squeeze through small spaces

These are my wrapped bananas which seems to be my one positive winter story as they all *seem* ok. ones in the garden are wrapped, but are a bit wobbly/mush. 
Land clearance was also good this week...i have finally cleared 3 beds which will form my main veg growing area..hurrah! For a job which I thought would take 2-3 sessions it has ended up taking about a month and has been depressing for the volume of rubble/debris encountered. Finishing off the last bed was quite a short thing, so I could concentrate on building a brick pathway and plinth for my Ganesh statue to make a very imposing entry which I’m excited about.
I am also beginning to think about sowing seeds and getting things going again. During my lunch I went and bought some Eddos which are about 45p each from the veg market, but when grown and in a nursery would cost about £5. They are quite easy, and am starting them on my very warm work windowsill which was all going well until the plastic bag I had them in started leaking mud juice over my desk and chair. If you haven’t grown them before there is a great article about how to do it here. Last year I had more luck with Coco Yams than Eddoes, and preferred the plant, but this year Im going to try both, I may even try and cook them too.

Friday 21 January 2011

Prison Break

Our new neighbour has finally put up a fence meaning that the new territories are finally enclosed; however it is 8ft high and more akin to a prison perimeter than a white picket fence.....

Can you tell where the new fence is?

Neighbours are funny creatures, I had thought this new land would be easy and hassle free, but I appear to have gained about 13 proper neighbours whose flats border us, and an active residents committee. I had thought that the residents committee would be pleased as the land was a dumping ground, dangerous for kids to play on and bordered by tumbled down walls and tacky fences (which we have all fixed). However we were greeted to the land by a handwritten note fixed to the community notice board (which ironically sits on the wall we own) giving a reminder ‘to all neighbours’  that it is illegal to shop down any trees build or erect anything.....mmm. Personally my school of neighbourhood welcoming is more akin to that of Wisteria Lane, and as such I’m still waiting for my basket of muffins...

Godzilla pictured for size comparison (he is about 20 ft high) Good job he is contained with the new fences as he likes to eat difficult neighbours
Other neighbours have been pleased to see something happen and secure the land as people used to try and cut through, especially when coming home from the pub...Margaret in particular tells a lovely story about how she looked out of her window to see 2 people trying to cut through pulling a fridge through the brambles.
The prison fence has been particularly amusing as when we first look on the land our new neighbours had also just bought a similar piece behind some garages which they are hoping to develop. Strangely their gardeners had cleared all their land and included a significant stretch of our own land, encompassing all the garden bordering the road. Strange that! Luckily with my Dad getting wound up and brandishing ordinance survey maps and plans the boundary was soon established and the prison fence erected after a few deadlines. Although I’m moaning I actually think the high fence will be good as it should create a great microclimate as it will slow down the wind and will get a lot of direct sun..hurrah!
Anyway, I’ve actually been mega busy this week with ordering plants and seeds.... I can’t ignore a good bargain and Urban Jungle have 20% off and Amultree Exotics have 50% off. So I have ordered loads of stuff....10 bamboos, loads of things I’ve had my eye on and a few plants to bulk up what I have as this year my new year’s resolution is to clump and not have one offs...This is where I show my colours being more of a plantsman (wanting everything) and not a designer... ‘less is more, don’t clash those colours sweetie’. I’ve also ordered 35 bags of compost from CPL which are great as they are cheap and deliver for free (although I’m not a big fan of their peat free compost). So next week it will all arrive and I will be very busy!

Sunday 16 January 2011

My name in lights...

Well the day has finally come in that the open garden info is now live, I saw it on the internet and everything. Oddly this makes it more real and closer. With 2011 comes a psychological switch where rather than things ending, I feel more like things are gearing up and raring to go....On Victoria’s blog I also saw she has planted Coleus seeds which I thought a little early, but perhaps I will start stuff off too, my office windowsill could have lots of seedlings on it
Somehow other people knew who was going to have an open garden ages ago as I was very flattered, and amused, when I was personally written to by the Dulwich garden society asking if I wanted to be in their book of open gardens. Immediately I wondered how the garden would be passed off as Dulwich (badlands of East Dulwich perhaps) but I will be in their book too and look forward to welcoming Dulwich folk.
I had thought this would be a quiet month (apart from digging every weekend) but in the last week I have discovered that lots of nurseries have big discounts for January only, and so I have been doing lots of deliberating...In particular over bamboo because do you buy from the nursery with the 10litre pots for £30-35 or the 5l pots for 12.50. I think with bamboo the key thing is are they from a division (giving big plants quickly) or are they young plants being grown up. I was all ready to drive off to the Palm Centre yesterday to buy lots but have decided to go for the smaller plants options as instead of buying 3 plants from them, I can get 8 plants online which will really help fill the gaps however they will take ages to get big....the decisions! I have also just ordered my seeds for the year, I had to double check when I had finished and saw I ordered 34 packets....

Monster bamboos (and a nice Hydrangea aspera macrophylla) at Radlett Avenue

Bamboos were making me think of the best open garden I saw last year which was Radlett Avenue, Forest Hill. They have an amazing garden which is on different levels with lots of water flowing all around. I loved how when you went in you went on a little path up a bank and through a dense planting of bamboos...It was all so thick and lush. I never realised that bamboo could get so thick in the UK. When I was growing up and first crazy about plants my friend Peter and I used to go to his house in the Dordogne and get very excited about the clumps of bananas growing everywhere and this very tall thick bamboo. Oddly I think I had written off the bananas as being far too tender, but we were all ready to go out at night and dig up the bamboos and bring them back to the UK.
Lush plantings, bamboo path was up a mound to the right

I still dream about the Radlett road garden, and the new territories has lots of scope to try out things like those that they have and let bamboos go crazy. The most amusing open garden I have seen (which I don’t dream about) was a garden open for the Camberwell Open Gardens Scheme...there were lots of great gardens featured, and we were interested to wander down and see this one garden open in the middle of an estate. We drew closer and went through the back gate to see a smiling lady sitting in a deckchair in the middle of a 5m square garden of grass with a Leylandii. Mmmm. Not something to write home about, and boy did she get the horticultural glitterati of Camberwell talking, but she was very content which I guess is what it’s all about.

Monday 10 January 2011

Dastardly plan foiled....

Last week I dug up a bone from the new territories and it got me thinking of a cunning plan..... I was sure that saying I had ‘found’ a human bone on site would mean that within the week the whole site would be swarming with Police digging everything up and sifting the soil....I was sure that whilst they did this they wouldn’t mind putting the rubble to one side and sifting out the roots?
Random assortment of finds, arrangement is to make it look arty 'innit

Sadly the bone wasn’t human...more dinosaur or cow, so it didn’t work, but I did chat with a friend whose parents live over an ancient cemetery and whose gardening keeps churning up bones  from beneath their shrubbery...I did ask very sweetly if I could just have a skull or two, but they said no L
I have also just dug up some interesting architectural fragments, namely half a Victorian door lintel, and some carved window lintels. They were all in the same place and I was quite excited about finding all the architectural fragments in one place just lightly earthed over, so was intrigued when I found a large lump of stone which I thought could be part of a huge column or fountain? I couldn’t move it on my own so it has laid in wait...
So back to hard graft.....yesterday my plan was to just potter lightly and get the avenue going (I have plans for a grand entrance with the steps in leading up to an avenue with an imposing Ganesh statue at the end) However plans for light work were soon abandoned and within half an hour I was taking it in turns to sledgehammer large concrete lumps with my Dad. The fountain turned out to be...concreted bricksL. But I was pleased in one respect when I found it easy to dig out a young Sycamore stump as it was growing over a bit of rubble! The digging goes on....
The small part of the site that is dug with large hole where the boulder used to be

Thursday 6 January 2011

Finding the inner jungle: myth vs reality in jungle style gardening

A lot of people talk about creating jungle or exotic gardens but I’m finding the idea of what is quite a broad style of gardening a little unclear. On some forums it seems to mean just growing a Musa Basjoo and CIDP (Canary Island Date Palm) and on others it’s trying to get anything tropical to survive outside
In a way creating a jungle garden is more about creating an idea, and putting things in the right place and context so that the feeling is right as perfectly hardy plants like ferns or a Gunnera can look just as tropical, if not more so that a badly frosted vine. 
I was trying to think about what my own jungle inspirations are, and where they have come from
Willard Price books: This is probably my earliest jungle memory as I read a lot of these when I was young, and remember the feeling of excitement and exploration. At the time I also had a huge desert island mural on my bedroom wall...I dread to look at one of them now as they strike me as the kind of books that age very badly and are probably really racist so I think I won’t look at them again to preserve the memory!
Alfred Maudslay (with a bit of Indiana Jones): When younger I went through a bit of a phase where I was a bit obsessed with pre Columbian Central American cultures, settling a bit on the Maya. In particular there was an explorer called Alfred Maudslay who was one of those Victorians who just went out and discovered things and spent an awful lot of time in the jungle excavating Mayan sites. I love the thought of the ruins emerging from the jungle and finding whole temples...this is a little bit similar to the bits at the start of Indiana Jones when they are in the temple with the giant rolling boulder, and then again in the Temple of Doom one where they discover the city in India.

I think I may be able to make this from all the rubble I have

The plant world is king: Angkor/Cambodian Ruins: I was lucky to go to Cambodia and loved wandering around the ruins, particularly the ones which were only partially excavated. With huge trees emerging from the tops of walls and plants managing to grow everywhere you know nature is the boss. It was also great to clamber over things, something which is the complete opposite of our fenced off and ‘do not touch’ heritage. I think a jungle garden needs this rampant exuberance of nature, and with things growing in unexpected places. Bare earth=bad, naturalistic planting with things self seeding everywhere=good.
This is why you should always remove seedlings from your guttering
Jungle Boogie: well I wasn’t going to say Jungle (is massive) music, but the rift from Jungle boogie by Cool and the Gang is what I want to hear in my head as I wander around...that or a gamelan orchestra, I’m not fussy...
Thai and Balinese Gardens: I LOVE Thailand, I love the culture, food, creativity, the gardens and their style. I always find it a bit odd that gardening in the tropics isn’t really established in the way that it is in the UK, I wonder if it is because gardens are difficult to maintain as everything grows so quickly. Anyway, I love Jim Thompsons Garden, and the one at Suan Pakkard Palace and M.R. Kurrit heritage house. I always come home wanting more big leaved things, and large pots of water with fish and water lilies in them. I searched for ages for large Chinese water pots in the UK, and last year had 3 on the terrace filled with water with umbrella grass and Water Cannas and they were great. This was a great way to grow them as they are hungry plants and you can give them lots of fertilizer without turning your pond in to a green soup.... the Thalia were twice the size of those in the pond.
Im hoping B&Q has one like this
Its the same thing with Balianese gardens, although I also go crazy for their sculpture....I had an emotional moment in the rain at the side of the road in UBud at a carving place where despite much banging on a calculator the cost of shipping anything back was way more expensive than I could ever justify, even if I was even more creating than usual (I can justify buying anything is I’m at an auction!)

Why have a shed when you can have a palace?

Thailand wins on design, but I love Balinese gardens for this traditional nature and the combination of sculpture, compounds and little ‘room’ gardens.

So for me the overall things I’ve aiming for in my jungle garden is:
·         Luxuriance and big stuff: big leaves, bananas, big bamboos, Tetrapanax etc things that make you feel small
·         Naturalistic planting which is rampant, especially with climbers and lots of self seeding
·         Feeling of nature being just kept at bay with growth you need to push aside to get past
·         Feeling of discovery: finding sculpture (please can I have a container load of Balinese carvings for my birthday? I have been a very good boy)
·         Heady scents
·         Water pots/containers
·         Kool and the gang performing at weekends
So that’s the plan....not quite there yet!

View of my garden....I wish! proper Bali jungle

Tuesday 4 January 2011

The new territories and unwanted ‘gifts’

Late last year the opportunity came up to buy a derelict bit of land which is next to the garden. This land has been vacant since the 80’s when most of the houses on our road were refurbished and split in to flats. At the time the bottom halves of the two gardens to the right of ours were split off, probably with the idea of building houses on them in the future. However this didn’t happen and they just lay vacant.

When the opportunity came up there was much wrangling about whether or not to buy, but in the end we bought the plots....after all it was the only opportunity we would have. The idea of being land owners is also rather appealing

For a couple of months we have realised how addictive clearing the new territories is, particularly Steven who has been a man on a mission, but finally the land is now cleared, and very empty.
Everything was good until I dug my first hole to plant some raspberries..after 2 hours I hadn’t reached the subsoil and had pulled out a lot of rubble. Next week I went to dig another hole in a different place and hit a 2x1m corrugated iron sheet just below the surface...another hole was more successful although it took me an hour to dig out the bed.
Steven has now convinced me to think of anything I find as the soil giving me a ‘gift’, and since then I have perfected my ‘thank you so much for your gift’ face. In the last few weeks the land has given us  80’s cassette tapes, a golf bag, phone books, lots of old carpet, teddies, scaffold poles, a ‘sheman’ porn dvd and about 5 wheelie bins of other rubbish. Thank you so much!
What I thought would be an experiment with permaculture or an ok job just forking over the land to remove roots has turned in to rather a nightmare and the vegetable beds I’m currently digging out are taking an hour to do about 6ft...this yields up a bag of rubble, pile of bricks to reuse and a large pile of roots. These are also not just normal roots but hop roots which look a bit like the roots/growths Tom Cruise War of the Worlds movie and also bramble roots which look like the destroyer robots from the Matrix.

Today was a little grim as I spent all morning almost completing the second bed as I have found a huge boulder which I can’t get out, and two bits of lintel from the old house. I have this horrible fear that the old house was just demolished, bulldozed on to the garden and then covered with a couple of foot of soil. Anyone know how to create an exotic rock garden?
However, it’s time for New Year’s resolutions and I have a long way to go before I give up, and I’m sure moving all this rubble will make me ripped as anything for summer!

Sunday 2 January 2011

Taking on a blog and the countdown to opening for the national gardens scheme (aka panic and over optimistic worrying)

I moved to my flat almost exactly 4 years ago and so came to take on a good sized garden in South London. Although it is a shared garden we have a private terrace (which is bigger than my last garden in Plaistow) and then a good sized garden. The garden had some love a long time ago, although we heard that the last gardener whom was employed to keep it in check left after he refused to help ceremonially bury the afterbirth of the child of one of the last residents...this then left the garden in the care of students whom seemed to just cut the grass and keep out obvious weeds. So when we arrived it was all old oversized shrubs and brick walls 3ft deep in ivy.
I have always dreamed of creating an exotic jungle paradise where I could hang my hammock amongst large clumps of bananas, palms and big leaved things and as I wandered around the untamed garden imagining how it could be, a challenge to myself was to get the garden to a good enough standard to be open for the Yellow Book Scheme. I have never done this before, and felt that aiming for this would help me focus on getting things right and of a recognised standard
I love the gardening world, and people who like plants are my kind of folk. Through my degree in botany, knowing some great people and dragging my partner to different nurseries and plant shows I wanted to get deeper in to this world and as such the idea of being in the Yellow Book has begun to appeal more and more, so last year I applied to be in.
The idea of having an assessment in 2010 was really just to hear firsthand what they thought about the garden and what i would need to do to get things right to get in so that i could then have a couple of years to get things sorted.  Before my visit I had been though a bit of a roller coaster ride as I had watched most of the tv series about people trying to get in the yellow book (lots of emotional music and scary filming of the assessors standing with clipboards looking threatening). I had also helped with my neighbours open garden which was good fun, although being a botanist he just wanted me to identify what things were which was impossible. Then I got depressed after seeing a fabulous open garden in Forest Hill which was way better than my own garden as it was bigger, so well landscaped and must have cost many many thousands of pounds to create. However I thought why not give it a go? The worst they can say is no.
So the day of my assessment arrived and I spend the day swotting up on the full Latin names of my plants and pulling up weeds. My assessor was lovely and after half an hour said yes! I was a little surprised by this (I think being a gardener I always think there is something which needs to be done) but it has happened, I’m in the yellow book, and now have 9 months before the opening!

Since I got the yes in August I have had occasions of panic buying plants to fill gaps, confident moments looking at how well things are growing and looking, and then traumas over heavy snow and if things will be ready. This has been exacerbated by managing to buy a bit of land next to the garden thus doubling the area we have. This area is currently full of brambles, rubble and rubbish but I plan on turning it in to a ‘jungle clearing’ with a potager in the middle, with perhaps bees, chickens (vetoed by partner), jungle huts and ponds which may be a little optimistic for September
So this has lead to the idea of this blog which will chart progress towards the ‘big day’ and also look at how I am rambling towards creating my idea of an exotic garden paradise.