More seats, please

June 4, 2011

I am always surprised to find myself in small gardens with no chairs or seats apart from the obligatory dining ones by the house.  You walk up them… and you walk back.  And that’s it.  Absolutely nowhere for quiet contemplation.

Admittedly, my garden has an overabundance of seats, many of them elderly rustic chestnut things, relics from my former spacious garden.

Some of them are tucked away under trees where little else will grow,  areas that would otherwise be somewhat unsightly.  A bench or chair so placed kills two birds with one stone – providing a something pleasing to look at from elsewhere in the garden, and somewhere on which to perch while enjoying looking the good bits of it.

The avian references are apt, as it happens.  I have just been scrubbing a year’s worth of guano off my chairs and benches in preparation for my open afternoon tomorrow and subsequent other visitors.  It simply wouldn’t do for the assorted bottoms of Wadhurst and its environs to go home with bird-poo embellishments.

So, now the garden visiting season is in full swing, and by way of encouragement to others who perhaps have gardens where seating is a bit thin on the ground – or indeed, tricky areas under trees that need a bit of dressing up – I will include here a selection of pictures that should go under the heading of ‘Seats that are rarely sat on most for of the year’  since I have to admit that the moment I sit on them myself, I immediately see something that needs propping up or deadheading.

So off I go again.

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My garden is open for four hours…

May 29, 2011

…between 2 pm and 6 pm on Sunday June 5, as part of the Wadhurst Open Gardens 2011 weekend.  Other lovely gardens of all shapes and sizes are open as well, of course, during both the Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Tickets cost £5 from Carillon Cottage (the parish office near the post office bang in the middle of Wadhurst High Street).  I am keeping my fingers crossed for good weather –  and less of the ghastly wind that has been rocking things around for the past week.

“Did you know there was an old lady in a hairnet drowning in your pond?”

May 22, 2011
A picture of my pond

My pond

…was just one of various bemused comments from visitors about the orange mesh bag – actually full of barley straw – currently breezing around on the surface of my pond as part of my battle against blanket weed and green water.

Wiggly Wigglers ( sell bags of straw in trios (they are on special offer as I write, the prime time for putting the bags in ponds).  By the time it is settled in and starts to submerge a bit, the combination of sunlight and water temperature will make the rotting barley straw release hydrogen peroxide (I think) into the water, which inhibits the growth of algae. You can undoubtedly Google some better science on this.

What no one seems to latch on to though is the fact that as soon as they become saturated, the bags sink – out of sight (which is a bit of a relief, actually) , but more importantly out of sunlight  – which slightly ruins the whole operation.  So I always open up the bags, stuff a small empty sealed plastic bottle right in the middle, compress the straw around it so that it is invisible and then seal the bag up again.  The bags (which, by the way, do fade quite quickly in the sun) remain permanently partially submerged.  Hey presto.  Drowning old ladies in hairnets in my pond.

Does the barley straw technique actually work?  Well it undoubtedly helps – as long as you hoik out the worst of the algae if  it starts to accumulate (if, for example you have to top up your pond with tap water, which encourages algal growth).  But it also helps to allow between a half and a third of the pond to become full of oxygenating weed.


Blush Telegraph

April 27, 2011
Ken's Exochorda

Ken's Exochorda (click to enlarge)

I have been having a bit of fun with my Telegraph page (a gardening agony column) recently. 

Totally fed up with readers sending me endless pictures of crisply dying bay trees (sometimes without even any accompanying question), expecting clairvoyancy on the subject of their teetering-on-the-brink hydrangeas and whingeing about myriad buds dropping off camellias and about primrose-vandalising sparrows, I blew a fuse (partially extinguished pre-publication by my Tact Inspector, Telegraph Gardening‘s editor Joanna Fortnam).

  Read the rest of this entry »

Grow your own leaves

January 29, 2011

No, this is not – to my knowledge – a reference to yet another RHS tome in the successful series, but refers to my passion for foliage.

When I was writing Grow Your Own Flowers, shrubs and trees and perennials grown for the sheer beauty of their leaves were, as the title of the book kind of suggests, elbowed aside – allowed barely a mention apart from as mere supporting players for cut flowers, that is. I actually found this somewhat restricting and rather unnatural, since the subtly of a predominently green tapestry has always been a bit of a passion of mine.

Indeed, one of the parts of my own garden with which I am most satisfied – and for a long season, too – is a leafy and shady area about which I wrote here a couple of years ago when it was just getting going, which I call ‘Torquay’ (for slightly silly reasons – it is all in the previous post…).

This week I had cause to look at some of the more recent pictures of  ‘Torquay’ (taken some time in late summer last year)  when I was composing a reply to a Telegraph reader who wanted help in prettifying an un-plantable shady part of her new garden blighted by a septic tank that previous owners had covered in gravel.

I thought I would put them on here for all to see:

A picture of my garden

'Torquay' (click to enlarge)

Even in the wide view, above, taken of the area surrounding  ‘Torquay’  from the other side of my pond, there is scarcely a flower in sight (the only prominent thing being a huge clump of scarlet Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Taurus’ on the left hand side).  Leaves just do it all by themselves.

A picture of my garden

More 'Torquay' (click to enlarge)

I am far too idle to map out and name every plant in this other closer view of the potted central area, the population of which I quite enjoy changing  a bit each year.  But suffice it to say that tucked around the permanent posh urns of clipped box last summer were Cannas, Ricinus, Melianthus major and a pair of colourful cordylines (that both bit the dust this winter because I wasn’t quick enough off the mark in the lengthy cold snap), a couple of in-the-ground Kirengshomas and various Hostas (the bright little one in the foreground is ‘June’, next to a little patch of self-seeded Corydalis cheilanthifolia).

There is also an uninvited and definitely unplanned ‘extra’ in the scene –  tucked in on the extreme right end of the group you may notice a stout, flame-flowered, giant-leafed Gerbera.   All of us gardening hacks were given one of these in our party bags at the Thompson and  Morgan Press Day last summer.  Mine looked, it has to be said almost despite itself, quite at home in ‘Torquay’.

Hooray for my allotment – and my friends

August 8, 2010
A picture of me on my allotment

Last year I picked my own veg… (Photo by Ruth Francis; click to enlarge)

I am generally a very unbloggy blogger –  I don’t normally share random immediate thoughts, although perhaps The One Show bit and my Charles Darwin post were a bit off  the usually fairly carefully thought-out rails.

However, I would just like to share with readers the fact that despite the hideous work-enforced neglect of my allotment this summer, I have just  eaten the most magnificent supper most of which came from my plot.

What did I eat?  Chicken (regrettably I can’t lay claim to that), cooked with onions and garlic  and tarragon (from my plot) and a dash or white wine (regrettably I don’t own a vineyard either)   with lovely chubby chard stems (the leaves were a bit coarse and holey), french beans and butter (regrettably no cow, either) with more garlic  and magnificent Charlotte spuds, carefully groomed to avoid the odd unfortunate tunnel,  cooked with mint and then steeped in a parsley/butter goo (I really must think about getting a cow…).  Totally delish.  And followed by the first of my  autumn raspberries.

But none of this would have been possible without my fantiastic friends who have  been down to the neglected desert and picked things for me. This post is for them.

Over and out.

Labour pains

August 3, 2010
A picture of a pen and some writing

I've been writing some books

As I hinted before, my summer has been dominated by writing books, two of which came along at once, and neither of which could be turned down. It is a long time since I wrote Gardening in your Nightie after all, so it is time I did something new.

One book is relatively low key affair – a compilation of stuff from my weekly Thorny Problems Saturday Telegraph page.  More than nine years worth of utterings and mutterings has been sifted through (which gave me total brain-ache) and some of the ‘best’  and most generally helpful bits sorted into a month-by-month, blow-by-blow problem-busting bedside book. Names of Telegraph readers have been changed, but their problems are all there.

It is early days yet, but I am hopful that it will be well received by, amongst others, all those who have loyally stuck with me and Thorny Problems all this time and who have, in effect, provided the essential material for the book.

The second is, in its own way, an equally Big Beast.  Grow your own Flowers, for the RHS, is a sequel to Carol Klein’s Grow your own Veg (which of course was the book of the successful BBC television series, and was therefore an Extra Big Beast, in terms of sales). We hope the book will be a attractive, no-nonsense and user-friendly introduction (with as little jargon as possible) into the pleasures and pitfalls of creating a glorious garden full of flowers.

Writing this book has had a surprising affect on my garden, however, since I have been obliged – nay, almost forced – to do (for once) all the important jobs I have been writing about. So I have been Chelsea chopping, mulching, deadheading, slug-protecting and generally fiddling around as never before – every time, in fact, that I break out  from behind my desk, overcome by cabin-fever and writer’s block.  As a result my flower borders, at the beginning of this parched August, actally look more colourful and glorious than they have ever done before.

Having written most of the main text of Grow your own Flowers, I only relatively recently felt able to write it’s introduction (fellow writers will understand the great significance of this, I am sure).  The relief of being able to see at last where the book was going and for whom it was intended was, I presume, a bit like turning the foetus around and realising you were going to avoid a breach birth (or worse).   However, the labour is still on-going.  Slogging through all the plant descriptions that constitute quite a large section of the book, I frequently feel like screaming for an epidural.

Where this analogy came from goodness only knows (presumably the non-stop writing is making me light-headed).  All that sort of thing happened to me in the dim and distant past and is thankfully only hazily remembered.  But to carry it forward a step further… despite all the anxiety and pain of pregnancy and childbirth, my son turned out to be a bit of  gem (Sorry Henry).  So fingers crossed.

All booked up…

July 4, 2010

Amalee Issa has given me a dig in the ribs today.  Not a word, not a single word, have I written here in six months – or is it more? –  she says.

I have an excuse:  I am in the thick of it with not just one, but two books.  So instead of writing anything pithy – since I haven’t really got time –  I will just add a couple more pictures of my garden.  Sorry.

My garden 1

New path through the border from one end… (click to enlarge)

The new stepping-stone path (replacing a swathe of hard-pressed lawn between a border and a central bed) has worked out even better than I hoped.

…and the other end (click to enlarge)

It has made it possible to walk, effectively,  right through the middle of a border that now feels realy chunky  – with thyme, camomile and other tiddlers creeping happily between the stones.  Loadsaflowers at really close quarters. Lovely.

Richard Zatloukal

January 7, 2010

One of my oldest and very best friends Richard Zatloukal has died in Thailand (where he has lived for years) – too early, of course, at the age of 67.

This always amiable, chain-smoking, hyperactive eccentric had extraordinary intellectual curiosity, was a brilliant wordsmith, a talented painter and had one of the best brains I have ever encountered.  In the dim and distant past he was a London barrister, but his interests were legion and he was an authority on, amongst other things, Japanese netsuke, beetles, poultry and – yes, you have guessed – herbaceous perennials, about which he was passionate.  His amazing book – about which Beth Chatto was most complimentary and found useful – can be accessed via  http://zats-perennials and is a good read, erudite and rich with  Zat-ish observations.  Do have a look and post a comment here, if you will.

Zat was truly a one-off (he would have hated the cliche and taken me to task for using it).  All those of us who knew and appreciated him – his close family in France, in Thailand and in England and his ex-wives of whom he was very fond –  will miss him terribly.

Too soggy to blog

November 27, 2009

I have been exceedingly lax about keeping this going – partly overwork, partly the fact that, when not mopping up INDOORS after downpours (oh yes, drips just missing bowls and buckets everywhere), I have been gripped by a creative urge and have been digging up part of my lawn in order to augment/amend the border plantings.

There are ‘before’pictures here, of course, and my neighbour Cate helpfullystaggered around between VAT returns (she is an accountant) to take some muddy ‘during’ pictures but – guess what – has not had time to download them from her camera and send them to me.  But she will eventually.  And then I will explain what I have been doing and why.  I only hope the eventual ‘after’ pictures next summer will prove what I fervently hope – that it was worth the considerable effort.