Monday 26 May 2014

Chelsea: people and plant watching

Wednesday saw my first proper foray to the mythical Chelsea Flower Show where in return for a 3 hour shift helping out on the NGS stand I got a free ticket. Many great things come from volunteering......

I had been once before as a naive teenager where I helped out on the Carnivorous Plant Society stand, however had been rooted to the spot and not wandered much. I also remember feeling that it was small, there were far too many people and general frustration at not being able to buy plants.

This year the crowds were still the same, armies of people with razor sharp elbows trying to push their way to the front of the stands however you weren’t constantly tripping over wheely trollys full of plants which was a definite bonus over Hampton Court.

There were also less show gardens than I had thought, and they were harder to see into as there are hoards of people pressing up against the barriers,  and you can of course not actually go into the gardens. In this respect TV has worked a lot of magic, and you do get a better picture of what they are like from the comfort of your own home.

My favorite was the Help for Heroes one...good naturalistic and accessible planting
However I loved the marquee and this was probably my favourite bit...I did spend a long time as the sky had turned black and we had the loudest and heaviest thunderstorm I had heard in a long time which caused almost the whole show to squeeze into the marquee. The sky went dark, queues ground to a halt, old people looked grumpy and sat on hitherto out of limits dry stone walls surrounding stands, not moving when asked, and  excitable people with umbrellas ran out to see the show gardens alone.

Volunteering on the NGS stand was a treat and made for good people watching. There were lots of interested people who had been to NGS gardens and wanted to go to more. There were also lots of people that looked terrified when I asked if they had considered opening their own garden...that vision of scary NGS inspections looking for perfect horticulture still reigns supreme!

I also got access to the exhibitor’s restaurant, and it was funny to see how haggard and tired exhibitors looked when out of the ‘smiley smiley’ public gaze. There were even a couple of people snoring on some giant pillows!

What amused me most was how about 5-6pm the clientele changed a bit and it was more City than out of town with lots of sharp dressed people emerging from the hospitality areas clutching Pimms/Champagne. I had wondered if they had been there all day and were emerging from hospitality as they realised how they should look at some of the plants before going out for the evening....

Anyway, an amusing day...I think overall I still prefer Hampton Court as it has the luxury of space and plants however Chelsea was a great treat.

Anyone ever fancied a giant T-Rex made of shells?

Lots of people..

Now I know what to do with all my wire coat hangers

Moss a go go

The wool gorilla modeled on Boris Johnson

Army of metal frogs? 

There were loads of Arisaemas which was bliss to see so many different species together

I love a bit of Thai magic... however not the best time to be promoting tourism..

all absolutely bonkers!

Need I say more?

Loads of hardy orchids *swoon*

More Arisaemas...

Tree ferns to die for....

Everyone needs a robot....

Thursday 22 May 2014

The Beth Chatto Garden and Hyde Hall

Your eyes do not deceive you, I am posting about a non Chelsea Flower Show thing during Chelsea week! However I am very excited to be going to Chelsea later today to help out on the NGS stand....there can be lots of perks to being a volunteer!

What I am writing about is my trip last Sunday to Beth Chatto’s garden and RHS Hyde Hall, somewhere I have wanted to go to forever. Beth Chatto is quite a famous plantslady, and where I think most people know her from is her famous dry garden, a gravel garden which she does not water. At the time this was all quite revolutionary, a new idea of just working with plants that are naturally suited to the type of conditions that you have locally rather than an overly irrigated and fertilized artificial paradise of rectangular stripped lawns and rows of red salvias and marigolds. Working with nature rather than against her.

Since then this idea has of course blossomed and also evolved into things such as the naturalistic planting schemes we have today, however it was exciting to go on a big trip out of the city with Peter and Sam to see it for ourselves.

On the way was Hyde Hall, which seemed rude to not visit, especially as the traffic was miserable and as an RHS member I get in free. I hadn’t been before, and left with mixed feelings.  It is a strange place, full of the RHS visitor services professionalism (huge cafe, all very easy) but sits in the middle of fields. It still feels very young, and not quite yet coherent as an entity. Things seemed a bit disjointed, and patchy...however there is lots of space for expansion and I think the garden may grow into its self.

They also had a great dry garden

Beth Chattos was completely the opposite and I *loved* it and would thoroughly recommend a visit.  Built around her modest home (no Great Dixtor Tudor Manor houses here!) the coherent garden feels like a well loved space which has developed over time to be a beautiful and well laid out garden which I could happily live in.

You start with the dry garden (which you don’t need a ticket to visit)

Then there is the cafe (mmmm, more cake vicar) and a huge well laid out nursery full of very high quality plants.

The garden its self first leads to the ponds, jealousy abounded for these lush waterways
It was then island beds a go go

Before the woodland garden which I think was probably the best I have seen. Usually woodland gardens are sparcely planted, however here  the planting was relatively dense with loads of things I hadn’t seen before.

mmm Veratrums

There were lots of climbers up trees which made for a very exotic effect

I needed to wander round a couple of times to take it in properly, so left Peter to wander off to the nursery as I felt I didn’t need any plants. How wrong was I! When I went round the nursery there were loads of unusual things that interested me and I needed a trolly!

My haul...I ended up buying
Raoulia tenuicaulis: an amazing very flat groundcover plant
Iris sibirirca ‘blue bungee’
Ferula Communis: Giant Fennel which I have been trying unsuccessfully to grow from seed!
Asphodeline liburnica
Euphorbia cornigena wallichii

Eryngium eburneum

Other things that caught my eye through the day

Monday 5 May 2014


In the UK it is Bank Holidays a go go at the moment, which is good news for gardening so Ive had a weekend of planting, being stung by bees and looking at nice plants

The most fantabulous flowers prize goes to this Epiphyllum which was growing in a hanging basket in the conservatory at the Barbican.  This was my first trip to this public access glasshouse and the Epiphyllum was by far the most exciting thing there (that and the Jean Paul Gautier expedition)

Epiphyllum is actually an epiphytic cactus and if memory serves correct they evolved from the more conventional desert cactus, which makes sense as all those adaptations for living in the hot arid desert also makes sense for living up a tree 


We also made for a Columbia Road trip as them upstairs needed new plants for their troughs and the bamboo which I had thought would work well sulked and clogged the drains with their leaves. Instead there will be sophisticated standard olive treees under planted with lavender.

Im getting to be in two minds about Columbia road...I love it as the plants and flowers are great, and so cheap however it is far too crowded. The traders also seem to moan that a big chunk of the crowd is also just there to look and not to buy, which is fine but there is a danger that this can over gentrify the market and make it more about the experience than the plants. Tower Hamlets Council can you please make it so that the stalls are only on one side of the road and it goes round the block please? 

Back home I thin I am riding the crest of the wave of things that need to be done, as there is so much to do! I have focused on getting all the big structural things in
(Bananas, ricinus, big Cannas) and fingers crossed most easy things are now done which is a good job as it is the Eurovision Song Contest this week which is far more important than gardening!

The Chusan palm is thrusting fourth...

A busy greenhouse...The Ensetes are leafing up but havent yet rooted properly....

Paulownias are stooled with one bud being allowed to grow

The forget-me-nots have created a sea of blue which the bees are appreciating

I think the hives actually look rather picturesque at the moment, one hive is doing well (with 4 supers on) the others are sulking/swarming which is a pain

 Seas of blue

 Euphorbia pasturii

 The giant Echiums are looking amazeballs....stately, majestic, exotic and HUGE!

Flushing ferns

Corner looking jungly with the banana coming back into leaf

The terrace is pots a go go at the moment. I am trying to build on what looked good last year but not have everything look the same as I would like things a bit different. The struggle being the very heavy pots which need the soil changing! I think I went through about 9 bags of compost...

Finally some Geranium maderense is looking better and better with huge flowers and these amazing dewy droplet petioles which are almost likes Drosera leaves...