Thursday 29 September 2011

Indian summers (well perhaps just a week actually)

Here in the UK we are having a bit of a hot week, although this is tempered with people on different forums talking about imminent snow and worst winters ever.

Things are looking decidedly autumnal as the garden goes over its best and like a middle aged man things begin to bald, and then bulge and sag in unexpected places.
The exciting thing of the week has been a hardy lotus that has just flowered in the greenhouse. Being a fan of the Far East I love lotuses, and their leaves sum up all that is exotic. I had been after one for a while, but every time I got close to buying one I relented as they were either too expensive or the sellers didn’t want to sell them to me. I wonder if this is something unique to the plant world as you can’t imagine this happening in a clothes or jewellery shop ‘Oh no sir, your bottom looks far too big in that, put them back’. In a way it’s nice as it shows how people care about their plants...I certainly wince when I see loads of carnivorous plants being sold as I know that within a few weeks they will all be dead as people don’t know what to do with them

The lotus is an experiment as people say the main problem with them in the UK is that it isn’t hot or humid enough, and the growing season isn’t long enough for them to put down enough energy into the tubers. Certainly ones I’ve seen outside all look a bit brown and crinkled. So my plan is to grow it in the greenhouse where it is hot and humid, especially from the carnivorous plants. I also want to build a special pond/area for it (at the moment this special area is disguised as a orange B&Q bucket)
So far it seems ok, and it will survive dam it! especially after I built significant muscle carrying it back from Hampton Court flower show (it looked small but there was so much grit in that heavy waterlogged soil)

Arty autumnal mornings, dew and cobwebs. Lets also say we are eating a lot of kale at the moment
So I’m still trying to enjoy the garden, and starting to do the new bits...this was sped up by my parents appearing at the top garden carrying spades and forks, intent on clearing weeded areas and starting to clear virgin soil. I must admit it is good to see properly cleared areas and look forward to these getting bigger.  The garden is also about to get a visit from the BBC, whether or not this works out and if we have what they are looking for I don’t know, but it’s something to tick off the list, more on that later....  

Reach for the stars, climb every mountain high and reach...

Arondodonax still getting bigger, Tithonia and Dahlias hanging on...

Monday 19 September 2011

Love in the bushes

I had a nice Saturday pottering around and planning a bit for next year. Although the soil is actually very dry, in the last few weeks the garden has been feeling more and more jungly as things grow bigger and lusher. Some things are certainly past their peak and have been knocked around by the wind but it does feel that the plants are taking back control of the garden.

It’s good to begin planning for next year, and I have been taking lots of cuttings which I’m excited to see start growing. I’m also beginning to write things down and ponder the plants I’ve fallen in love with, those that are difficult lovers, those that are bad for me and those which perhaps should be given another chance.
Good lovers
Ricinus 'Zanzi Palm': I love you, you are fabulous this year this year growing to 8ft when I care for you. I have played with you different varieties, and used to like Zanzibarenzis best, however growing both together Zanzi palm is bigger, faster growing and branches more

Nerines: thank you for cheering me up at a bleak time

Persicaria:I love the shape and colour of your leaves and way you spread through your neighbours. I love you.

Kangeroo apple (Solanum) and proper tobacco plants: This year solanum you are the best, as I discovered how you seemed to hate peat free compost which stunts you so started you off in multi purpose and as such you have gone crazy....whether you survive the winter I dont know. Tobacco plants you are just so stately and seemed to have survived the slugs more than N. sylvestris .

Tithonia: I love you, where have you been all my life? before you what did I do? oh how you glow through the garden and bring me colour!

Lovers Ive been bad to in the past and need more care

Nasturshums: how I have dismissed your simplicity and commonness when all along you fill gaps so well with your glowing red flowers stabbing through the green. Next year I promise to plant you earlier so you can invade more fully.

Fatsia polycarpa: Why aren't you as big as you should be and looking magnificent? Is it me? should I be better to you? hopefully in this new space you can grow.

Unrequited love
Astelia: why do you look so good everywhere else apart from with me? with everyone else you are so big and tall, a status and feature plant, but 2 years on you look a bit like an abused bromeliad

Schleffera: I loved you so much, yet you sulk and cause me heartache. You family are expensive lovers and how my heart wept when your cousins S. macrophylla dies suddenly in the spring and S.taiwanna slowly drifted away. Please survive, please come back!

Curculigo: how lusty you made me when I discovered you, but how you suffered in the winter and have sulked ever since. please come back to me...

Lovers that string you along
Coco Yam: I nurtured you and tried to get you going in deepest spring and then you just sat there doing nothing, before suddenly erupting with your beauty so late in the year, being so much better than Eddoes. Now you fill me with lust, but couldn't you have come to life just a little earlier?

Musa sikkimensis: you were so good the first year you came into my life, sailing through the winter and growing to be 12-15ft. Now you are cut to the ground every winter....I helped your brothers and took them under cover but they didn't grow that well, and you popped out of the ground so late in the year but are now growing so fast
Mirabilis longiflora: How rubbish you looked as a seedling, how lax and needing support, but yet here you are now being very impressive with your very long and unusual flowers...why cant you be like this all over the garden? why have you left me awkward patches where I have to turn away from you in shame?

Salvia gesneriflora how I loved you, and even wrote about how good you were but yet over the summer you are incredibly brittle with large chunks breaking off overnight and then not flowering, even now one of your brothers has no flowers at all, arg!

Bad lovers
Cobea: last year you didn't flower and were eaten by slugs, this year you begin to flower now after invading next doors apple tree?! why do you spite me? but yet I cannot give you up as you grow so much and I love your flowers...
Salvia confertiflora: how I fell in love when I met you, gazing longingly at you in the car as I brought you home. How I saw you growing elsewhere as a huge bush 6ft tall, even hardy (so your grower said). Then all through winter I dreamed of you striking a pose in the garden, but then you are as brittle as anything with all 4 of your brothers loosing big chunks in the last couple of months. Yet how I cant let go, and how I take cuttings from all your fallen limbs to create an army of disappointment for next year

Lovers I'm stringing along
Ipomea: how you treated me bad in the last few years growing to 2ft max?! now you are big, but do you fit in? does your blue flowers work with what I want? I don't know but I will play with you while I decide...

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Trying to get back on the wagon

Doing the whole NGS thing has been a bit like pushing a rock down a hill as initially it wobbled a bit and stopped , then it ran a bit, then it started gathering more and more speed. The garden has never been far from my mind, and was also the focus for this blog which has also been interesting to do....gosh it was exciting when I got my first reader from Namibia! I think all in, it’s now had about 5000 page views and I hope that I have amused people on the way, thank you to all my followers and people who say nice things. Needless to say I will of course continue.
Although there have been a few downsides (lots of hard work, we haven’t been in an airport for a year) there have also been lots of good things as it has been good to be focused, having the gardening days was also a good way to get people together and the actual day was a great social thing and chance to meet the neighbours. Hard physical graft has also been good for my physique...yes I was of course finely toned and ripped before but now I’m even more so. Being able to grow food has also improved my diet as I love having salad at hand and lots of raspberries growing away. You should also see how excited we get about beetroot in our house....
However I’m now at the point where boulder that has been rolling so fast down the hill seems to have got to the bottom and stopped, and as a result I’m feeling a bit lost. Monday was nice as we had the day off to recover and I had a nice time drinking tea and eating lots of leftover cake on the lawn and wandering around the garden planning. Tuesday though, as I sat in the car with Dad he looked at me and earnestly asked, well what do we do now? Do we still do work in the garden?
I can’t quite just pick up where I left off as although we are opening again next year (Sun 2nd Sept)  this is so far away and it almost feels like to do this would be giving up on this year. Although it is getting a little autumnal the first frosts are still (hopefully) a good way away and perhaps it is the prospect of frosty deaths, the winter and long dark days that I’m not looking forward to. Perhaps the main thing is that up until now everything has been all about getting the garden to look the best it will all year, and planting for things to grow for the opening, whereas now it is more about tidying and winding down.
I didn’t know if I wanted to do any gardening for a while and have been doing a good job of sitting and enjoying the garden, with the occasional bit of deadheading but lots of aimless wandering. At the weekend I was aso at a bit of a loose end with Steven away embarking on his new past time to be an international tennis umpire and I had a shall I shan’t I garden experience. This did of course not last long and I had a good couple of mornings planting my new forest of Tetrapanax and planning a new surprise formal corner.
So I’m back on the wagon and perhaps trying to create a more normal and healthy gardening relationship. It is very nice to enjoy the garden and have it back to being mine again...for the first time in a couple of weeks I’m picking flowers and harvesting things although my sweet dumpling gourds looked a little better than they tasted. I’m also trying to fit in a visit to Will Giles’s garden, Amultree and Urban Jungle in a few weeks before everything dies down and to overdose with plants. I’m hoping for a few new plant obsessions and can feel a passion for giant American pokeweed brewing (Phytolacca Americana) and also that I need to indulge myself with a trip to Columbia road for some new bamboos. Bring on the plants.
Les objects trouve

Toad lily

Cardoon flowering and giant rhubarb getting bigger

Drosera scorpiodies, j'adore

Datura (innoxia?)

Monday 5 September 2011

The big day

I have survived. The day that has been so, so, so long coming is now over, and I had a jolly good time!

The closer Sunday got the odder it felt, as we have been building up to opening since about July last year when we had our NGS inspection to get in the book for next year. Opening for NGS has ended up being such a focus for the year, as with being accepted for the first time, buying the new land and developing it from scratch gardening and NGS has never been far from my mind.
After several weeks of intensive weeding I had thought there wasn’t much to do before Sunday, but come Thursday I was getting a bit itchy about it and planned on taking Friday afternoon off.

That evening I had a professional photographer come and take pictures for the Dulwich book. This was very exciting as he was the first person who I didn’t know come to the garden. He was also very complementary, particularly as he thought a lot of gardens tended to look the same, very traditional and were a bit dull. He thought mine was great, and said that with his pictures wanted to make it look a bit like Angkor Wat (this was exactly the right thing to say to me! He is my NBF.)
The weather was of course a big focus, and after telling myself I wouldn’t look at the 5 day forecast I did as soon as it was up. This wasn’t good as rain, my worst nightmare, was forecast. On Thursday all of the 11 websites I looked at showed rain.mmmm.

Friday afternoon was filled of random little things and before long my mother was cleaning my windows and I was painting over the patches on the walls of the terrace and rearranging the carnivorous plants in the greenhouse. I also had a visit from a group and photographer who were doing a RHS book on small gardens...this was also very exciting, although I didn’t particularly think our garden is small.... However their visit was the opposite of the invigorating visit the night before, as while I was waiting I was noticing all the annoying little things that weren’t flowering, or which had been broken. They also got to me late at the end of a long day and didn’t seem especially interested, which did make me feel a little more apprehensive about Sunday.

The in-laws arrived on Friday to help out, and on Saturday we were all busy with bits and pieces....Steven was cake baking like crazy and getting very dispirited over his sponges...dangerous holes were filled in, lawns were mowed. My neighbour also came to help with a final weed and had the good idea to blanket plant an empty area with geraniums he had just split up in his own garden, and before long we had planted about 200, not quite was I was expecting to do the day before.

Sunday was difficult.....Steven woke up at about 5am; I was awake at 6:30 and at 7:30 watched the weather forecast feeling sad, and we made the decision to cover the terrace with a tarp to create a dry cake area. By 8:30 as my parents had their morning coffee I was climbing on their draining board to tie strings to their windows to attach tarps.
All morning the weather ended up being great, and by 12:30 other people who were helping had arrived and we all sat down to eat lunch and do the finishing touches. Then the rain started....then it got very heavy....then the tarp started sagging...then people put on jumpers and started to hide indoors. Oh!

As the 2pm opening came closer and the rain got heavier, we put on our yellow NGS stickers and braced ourselves for visitors. At 2 I went round to the front where the in-laws were installed to do the door not knowing what to find (I had heard tales of people queuing). Alas no one. 2:10. No one. Then at 2:15 an ancient lady appeared! Hurrah! People were going to come! It was all very exciting as the whisper went round that we had a visitor and we didn’t really know what to do as everyone was watching what happened, hoping she didn’t slip and break something. Then someone else came!

I followed lady number 2 to have a chat, and took her up to the top at which point more people came, then more. Once I started talking I didn’t (and couldn’t) move from the top of the garden as so many people wanted to chat about the garden, lots I knew and lots I didn’t, it was great!
Gardening is a funny hobby as in a way it is quite solitary, and I have created my own world which I know intimately and others don’t. Then on this afternoon all of a sudden this world was very full with lots of people all interested in the same things, hurrah!

The afternoon whizzed by and so many people came and said was really difficult to spend time talking to friends as I would have loved to have had more time with people I hadn’t seen for while, particularly people who had come from a long Clapham, Winchester, or even East London.

All in all we had 130 visitors (this was very exciting as in the lunchtime sweepstake I guessed that there would be 135 people). In terms of where they came from about 43 people found out through NGS, 25 from local advertising, and 39 were people we knew. With sales from cake we raised £500!

Will we do it again? Was it worth it? The day was great, and a bit like our wedding as it was a fabulous whirlwind full of wonderful people. There was an awful lot of prep and hard work with more gardening than I have ever done neighbour who helped the day before and opened a few years ago said it was too much work for him, and by the time he worked out how much it had cost to get the garden right it would have been easier to just write NGS a cheque!

Opening has helped keep me very focused on creating something and getting things right, doing all the little things that you have on your list to do but which never get done. Looking back at photos from exactly the same time the garden is also infinitely better, and I am very proud of what I have created. Are gardeners ever happy? I don’t know! But I am pleased with how things look. It has also shown me what great friends I have and I have met lots of really nice neighbours and local plant folk whom I look forward to bumping into again. Thank you!
We will of course open again next year, but before then I need a big cup of tea and a large piece of cake!