Wednesday 29 February 2012

NGS: the book, the planning the worrying and gardeners who should know better!

Well the new Yellow Book has finally arrived...for people not up on their coloured books or new to the blog this is my ticket to open again for the National Gardens Scheme (NGS). This is year 2, and I must say that emotionally I’m probably on the same level as I was last year in terms of a winding stress and worry about getting everything is not getting much easier! With a new plant catalogue through my door almost every week I’m seeing images of perfect gardens and very aware how time is ticking quickly and my window of opportunity is narrowing
Gardening is also a funny creative business and although you can tinker through the year or have radical makeovers (if you have the budget), the main time to do stuff is now until about April/May by which time everything needs to be planted out. Time is therefore running out!
I think gardeners are notoriously critical of their own creations as when someone says, ooh that looks nice, you think yes...but that needs deadheading and that X is clearly in the wrong place. Some of this is the planning as I think you are always thinking about what needs to change and what needs to be moved so a current garden is just a transition point to the perfect garden.
I have been having an eek moment of gosh there is a lot to do and will it be good enough, and it was good fate that at the same time I’ve just been having emails with Wayne who has similar jitters about the first time opening of his garden in Clapham. I have realised that I should heed my own advice that it is only for half a day a year, and if its good enough for the NGS inspectors then its good enough for the public! Other people can also see things that you can’t , and after seeing pictures of Wayne’s garden he has nothing to worry about as it is fabulous tropical fiesta. I’m sure the same is true of my own garden where I do of course only see the faults/problem areas...however if Carol can say nice things then perhaps I should listen to them.
Waynes 'Clapham meets Jamaica' garden. Dont you think it looks fabulous?
I’ve also realised how I’m not quite as organised in the garden as I am at work where I’m very good at diarising and to do lists which I find a very good tool for calmness and planning, so to catch up I thought I would share:
So my big to do, and also figure out what I’m doing list at the moment is:
Shed/Summerhouse: We need some type of formal base to sit and ponder life from, we know what shed we want and have pondered the merits of concrete bases vs breeze blocks and sleepers for its base so now just need to do the base and get it assembled. I also think getting it in will be key as something like this radically changes the outlook of your space and denotes new views and vistas and as such the creative process will flow more once it is in.
The overlooked problem: the site is so overlooked, and the current construction of a new 3 floor house 2 doors down will only make it worse, as will the planned house at the bottom of the new land. I hate being overlooked and it really feels like you are on display at the moment wherever you are in the garden. I know this is compounded by the lack of leaves but I need to create lots of private areas and close vistas.....shed will help with this, as will lots of trellis and my slow growing bamboos but they need to grow quicker! Last year I found wigwams were helpful, and this year there will be lots along with some metal reinforcing things and wire mesh...
Digging and clearing: I am on the home stretch with this as only about 8-12 square metres of key 2012 garden space remains to be dug (along with a wooded bit where I have a digitalis dream) so I should relax about it! the problem of not really knowing what I will put there is a different issue!
Seeds and starting stuff off: I have planted the amazing total of 0 seeds so far, and in fact only dried off and stored the Kangaroo apple seeds last week. This is my priority over the next couple of weeks along with starting off the Eddoes and Coco Yams which took forever last year to get going (I don’t have the wonders of reptile mats or heated propagators that more professional folk have)
Bees: the bees have an amazing platform to live on, but in order to fulfil my honey drenched dreams I should really buy the 2 hives and some bees!
Mastering the concreting fear: I’m not great with concreting stuff as this involves buying the concrete and then doing permanent stuff. The shed base will need some concrete as will my artificial mound.
What plants where? The big dilemma, especially as I’m growing a good amount of stuff this year that I haven’t grown before, but hey that’s the joy of gardening! I also find it far easier to physically arrange stuff when planting. Last year it also all went ok the only mistakes being red zinnias (they weren’t big and wild enough) and orange cosmos sulphurous (bit small and weedy, also a bit suburban front garden. I need faith!
Anyway, things are happening and doing this list was cathartic in it’s self! I have a gardening day planned for the 10th and 3rd and have big piles of soil, bulbs , plants, pond liners and bee hives on order which will make me feel better about progress. As spring is approaching I also feel more and more positive every time a daffodil opens or new sycamore seed starts to grow!

Monday 20 February 2012

Salacious thoughts, RHS shows and Helianthus

It may be cold outside, but inside I’m heading to RHS shows and buying lots of plants!

On Tuesday I went to the RHS spring show and was very pleased to meet up with the lovely Mark and Gaz. I had thought we may be fighting for the same plants, and arm wrestling for the last Fatsia polycarpa but it was all very amicable, and it was great to be able to talk plants with other people that understand!  Do check out their great blog about it, as they are proper bloggers they remember things like cameras to take pictures!

The show was very different from my usual experiences in that I went first thing on the first day (usually I go last thing on the last day) so it was packed and everyone was all keen and enthusiastic. No old ladies had yet fallen asleep on the chairs up the top, and I bumped into other friends including the lovely Leslie and Dr Dick. Being there when it was busy also meant that I spent more time perusing, although I was very strict about buying plants as I had pre ordered a load from Crug only being distracted to get a giant thistle.

For me the Crug stall was by far the best, as taste wise this was bang on and their stand was littered with many things which I had no idea what they were. Theirs is exactly the type of gardening I like....rare, unusual, big leaved and I am rather poorer financially as a result!

I was very pleased with my Crug haul... my top plants being a Schleffera taiwanna, a very deep cut Fatsia ploycarpa, and an amazing Rubus lineatus which has these beautiful large palmate leaves that are like a cross between a horse chestnut and cannabis....indeed when I got into a taxi to go home the driver leaned over and looking at the Rubus said ‘bought some special plants then mate?’  

Besides Crug, my other plant lusting have mainly been around Helainthus salicifolius and Eryngium pandanifolia both of which I hopefully now have on order.
A small one in a French square...thei planting is a lot more exciting than our carpet bedding of red geraniums
Helianthus is a family where it is the humble sunflower that is the child which is the centre of attention, distracting you from the other great members of the family.  I am a lover of annual sunflowers both for cut flowers and for fun as there is something magical about growing a very tall monster sunflower. Last year I grew a mix of sunflowers for cutting from Chiltern seeds which had a particularly good lemon yellow variety. I also grew a variety called moonwalker which had dark red/browny flowerswas ok, but I’m not growing this year as the flowers all looked down a bit and didn’t stand out as much as I would like.
Sunflower Moonwalker

My sunflowers for cutting (at the back)
However Helianthus has more than annuals in it, and in France last year I kept seeing Helianthus salicifolia and was captivated by its tall stems, with thin leaves giving it a different look, indeed its common name is the Willow leafed sunflower. It is a perennial, mainly grown for its foliage reaching 8-10ft in its native North America.  It is a little similar to Eupatorium capillifolium (dog fennel) which I also developed a little obsession with last year, finding some at the last RHS show and buying 2 plants which I’m keeping safe in the greenhouse until spring. This can also grow 1-2 metres tall and has that same elegent and slightly odd foliage.
So pretty! let me rub my hand up and down your body....
The other Helianthus I like is the common Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosa)..... many people dont realise it’s a sunflower until it flowers when the link is suddenly clear.  I got a large bag of these last year due to their previous owner realising that eating them was the cause of a large amount of wind in their flat and thus removing them from his allotment.  I like them as they grow quickly and bushy, with them reaching about 8-9ft last year making them an effective screening plant, although they can be a little susceptible to mildew. So this year I will use them as temporary screens to try and hide the neighbours with vast amounts of them to be consumed at the end of next year!
Jerusalem artichoke in the middle forming a very neat clump!
Finally I wanted to show you a good use for an old fork which I found when digging out the old pond. Who knew it would be perfect as my trident for when I was Neptune at Stevens seven seas themed birthday party!
Ahoy...I am king of the sea

Sunday 5 February 2012

An extravaganza, behind the scenes at Kew and a bit of snow

Well the snow has come; we have had a frosty week with a good splattering of snow overnight. Buses are skidding, old ladies are falling over and I’m staying in with the heating on all day.

I think I can safely say that all the tender stuff is now dead, hopefully the greenhouse is ok, certainly the stuff in the sideway is doing fine, when I checked the metre cupboard last week my Abyssinian banana looked quite happy, and the cannas had actually grown about 2ft of etiolated stems...oops.

So what better thing to do yesterday than head to Kew for a behind the scenes tour of the tropical nurseries and have a peep at the extravaganza.  We also went via the new David Hockney exhibition  at the RAA and I must say I was blown away by it........In essence there are lots of huge, energetic paintings of the Yorkshire landscape charting the seasons and really marvelling in the wonder of nature. Fabulous energy and celebration of the seasons, and very inspiring. Go see it if you are in London and can get tickets.
Anyway, I digress... we went to Kew as the fabulous Leslie (whom helped on the open day) is a guide there and was doing a special tour and gave us a heads up. I was really keen to go as I did a week’s work experience there when I was 15? which was a great experience I won’t forget  seeing all the unseen bits and tinkering with cacti and succulents whilst wandering the PoW.

The motley crew...deperate to learn more and find out why their orchids dont grow well
For the tour we headed out as a small group through a gate into the powerhouse of Kew, an acre of glass spread into about 24 different climatic zones. We wandered the path round the edge meeting some well placed plants on route from cacti to carnivores and critically endangered plants. There was also a good opportunity to peer through into the different bits of greenhouse to see the perfectly tended plants including about 7 of the giant Titan Arums which are wheeled out when flowering to the many orchids and succulents.
Ant plants (on hanging on the all): their stems swell up like footballs and have a warren of cavities inside for the ants to live in. They get a home, the plant gets protection from predators and considerate ants which poo in the right place to give the plan extra nutrients.

Loads of succulents, quite prickle tastic

No, not the sewerage plant but where they grow the tropical lillies

Leslie was of course fabulous and I have a lot of respect for the dedication and passion of the Kew guides whom are all volunteers, do go on one of their tours if you are around.

Afterwards we had a peek at the tropical extravaganza in the PoW. I must admit that this isn’t the end of gardening I’m particularly keen on as I prefer a more naturalistic approach......don’t even get me started on the giant luminous mushrooms......however, I can see how there were lots of very beautiful plants if you are into that kind of thing.
Mmmm im not sure. I think my Granny had one like this made of plastic.

Bit more exciting...lots of epiphytic orchids, their roots hanging down to grab you

So a nice weekend off digging! It has also been good to catch up with ordering things (Greengage, Mirabelle and Hereford Russet tree on its way) and planning for visiting the London RHS show. I’m also getting the hang of this Twitter malarkey and there has been some really good blogging going on. I was particularly taken with the pictures of using fire as a natural way of managing a prairie garden. And finding the blogs of pampas2palms and bamboo and more. Happy gardening!

The new/old pond looking even more like a swiming pool!