30 July 2011

Brick Walls

We are surrounded by ironstone here, and it makes a perfect warm-neutral backdrop for plants. It's so easy: everything looks good against it. But some of us live in brick dwellings and... it's very hard. Especially for someone who has taken seven years to choose a door colour. Old or new, the reddish colour of brick can be tricky. Pale colours seem to work on brick: cream, shell pink, pale yellow. Green is good. A trained fig against a vinery wall is heaven.

At Brooke Hall, there are a lot of walls and almost all of them have some plant life attached. (The wall at the top of this page is a very pleasant exception). Masses of wisteria drape over them in spring, and their elegance suits the place. There is also clematis montana, golden hop, climbing hydrangea. All useful plants for covering or hiding things. But why cover and smother with walls as lovely as these?

It's nice to decorate walls without putting climbers all over them. A viburnum opulus, semi-espaliered against a wall, when there isn't much else going on, gives a glimpse into what might be happening soon. Box planted really close to a wall and spreading against it, draws attention to its lovely bricks and provides some discreet greenery. With climbers, a pale rose is a classic when kept trim, espaliered or fan shaped. Similarly yellow jasmine. Like a rose, jasmine can be any shape you want it to be. A big straggly mess is not always the best way...

Breaking all the rules set out above, a really bright annual climber like nasturtium (shown here with a cup and saucer vine), should be allowed to spread itself abundantly over a brick wall, just because it's summer. But just make sure the wall is covered with lichen or peeling whitewash first.

29 July 2011

Market News

The Friday Market at Uppingham is old-fashioned though not quaint. It is in Rutland so it's free of tourists and despite all the extravagantly pretty stone buildings, it is not self-conscious about its attractiveness in the way that the Cotswolds can be.

Uppingham matrons go marketing with a large basket on the arm, and so do the men. The uniform of the Uppingham male is the same throughout the county: corduroy trousers, v-neck jumper, country colours. Nothing showy. People wear old check suits when walking the dog on Sunday.

My stall is across from the Post Office, next to the Nut Man. Today the town clerk gives us our invoices for next month. On the envelope the Nut Man's line of business is described as Health Food. Quite correct. My pitch is labeled Fancy Goods, which is pleasing.
'Because you're healthy,' the clerk explains, handing out the white envelopes. 'And you're fancy.'

26 July 2011

BFFs in July

Digitalis lanata and crocosmia Lucifer.

Achillea millefolium Lilac Beauty and verbascum chaixii.

Verbascum blattaria albiflorum and white cosmos.

Vitis Brandt and clematis Royal Velours.

More hot combos from the borders of Brooke Hall, somewhere in the middle of England.

22 July 2011

Market News

Some popular knitted wares, from the Ancient Industries pitch.

Being occupied for three hours inside a laurel bush (trimming it from inside out) is all part of a day's work at Brooke Hall. Sometimes, though, it's much more fun to spend a day leaning against the Post Office wall in Uppingham, as the Friday Market takes place. The Post Office is opposite my stall and it's the sunny side of the market.
I am next to Ashley, purveyor of nuts and other nutritious dry sundries. There is an empty space because Dave the plant man is not here this week and I'm tempted to take his place to avoid the windy corner I am sometimes dealt if I arrive after 6.30am. When I move the awning over I notice that the stall next to me sells plastic toilet brush sets for £1.75. They might show my £14 wood and bristle bannister brushes to ill advantage, so I move back. I can hear Ash complaining loudly to a vicar that I'd moved over and when he sees me he complains loudly that I'm coming back. The white-haired vicar says something kind and I say 'Thank you for defending me, Reverend.'
'We were talking about tarts and vicars just this morning' he responds cheerfully. With a deft side-step he continues, 'It's the Feast of Mary Magdalene today. She was a tart wasn't she?'
I ask if they do anything special in Church to mark this occasion and he said no, they don't have a party as such.
'So you're celebrating now, with nuts and raisins?'
'No,' he says wistfully. 'Just prunes.'

20 July 2011

'There are no second acts in Allium lives' *

While edging along the Terrace Border at Brooke Hall with my camera, looking for handsome twosomes for July, I can't help being struck by the amount of times a twosome becomes a threesome. Yellowing globes in varying states of drying and decay are popping up everywhere.

They look their best just before they look their worst, when keeling over at alarming angles. Hardy geraniums in an English garden are the most reliable, hardworking, useful perennials, putting up with dry shade, damp shade and downright neglect. They also come in wild colours but in the end, a geranium is a geranium. But - alliums! they're better value than tulips (financially, obviously) and they put up with inconsiderate planting in all sorts of soil. We know that they look lovely in May. But now, towards the end of July, at the beginning of the school holidays, when many people stop grubbing about in the dirt and think of other things, they come back. Even after all the editing, combing out, thinning, adding to that goes on in a large place like Brooke Hall.

The varieties which have already bloomed seem to show up better now. (Allium Sphaerocephalon, above, is still at its height). With all the purple and yellow of spring they had to rely on their shape, massed planting and height to grab the attention, but now with the advancing reds they stand out in a different way and add a calming neutral. One or two here and there. And it's the roundness, always the roundness which makes them so great.

Don't forget if you're a bit grand and you are maybe Sarah Raven even, you might dry your alliums and spray them silver for Christmas.

*Apologies to F. Scott and clearly incorrect (like the original quote of course).

15 July 2011

Life as Still Life

Un-styled, un-propped and nothing to do with the National Trust:

Some views of the sheds and tack room at Marsh Hall.

14 July 2011

Best Friends Forever

...Or a few weeks anyway.

Knautia Macedonica and Digitalis Pam's Choice.

Texture, structure, hue. Architectural shapes.
Contrasts and complements (do we have to talk about the colour wheel?) Better still: make some visual notes of a few plants that look good together at Brooke Hall in June and July.

Geranium Mrs Kendall Clarke and Digitalis Lutea.

Scotch Thistle and Sanguisorba Burnet.

Inula and Ligularia The Rocket.

13 July 2011

Difficult Science with Peter

This is a subject one normally avoids. Peter on the other hand loves science. Last week at Marsh Hall he was keen to impart information about runner beans, so we head over towards the stout bean poles in the walled garden. The more inscrutable an idea, the more his glee increases. As does my own anxiety.

'Which way do runner beans grow?' he asks. Trick question or simple question - I have no idea.
'When you look down on them from above they appear to be growing anti-clockwise. When you look up at them, they are growing clockwise. When you look at them at the centre, as if through a letter box, they are going back and forth, but not up or down.

'In New Zealand which way would they be growing? NO! not the other way around! If you were on the other side of the world right now you wouldn't feel that you were upside down and neither do the beans.'
Deep breath. 'This is because their roots are looking for the centre of the Earth. Their winding stalks are being pulled up by gravity but their frame of reference is the centre of the Earth.
f they grew the other way around in New Zealand that would imply that at the Equator they would grow horizontally, and they don't! The centre of the Earth tells the plant which direction is up and which is down!!'

This begs the inevitable question of space travel. 'If runner beans were taken to space, and they have been, they'd be growing all over the place because the poor things would be lost. They would miss the centre of the Earth pulling them in the right direction.'

He also mentions that the slightly hairy growing tips have something in common with the human ear, but let's not bother with that now.

Next time in Science with Peter
'Why you must eat a cabbage within two hours.'

08 July 2011

Easy Science with Peter

'Sawfly hates the smell of black currants,' says Peter. I was wondering why my gooseberries have survived this year, after moving them over towards the black currants, just because there was a bit of space near them. In the absence of the gooseberries, their old neighbours the red currants have been demolished.

We are sitting in the tack room at Marsh Hall under the saddle and bridle hooks, having coffee and cake for lunch. Peter warms to his theme, from the only armchair. 'In winter the grubs live about a foot underground,' he continues. 'When you put down manure you need to really smother the ground below the bush and above the grubs so that they suffocate.' A very thick layer of muck, with lots of sawdust, is ideal.
Not terribly scientific at all but it's worth a try.

Difficult Science with Peter will follow shortly.

06 July 2011

The Next Big Thing

We are living through the Age of the Corn Cockle. It is the most commented on plant in the Terrace Border at Brooke Hall, both from visitors and in the press. This is not a demure border and there is plenty to look up at, down at and peer through. But the elegant and well-mannered Agrostemma 'Ocean Pearl' floats around all of it, bringing it together, like the perfect host. There are other borders, new ones, and they're fine, they're coming along, but they lack the nonchalant perfection which the corn cockle brings. Considered a 'noxious weed' in places like South Carolina, they are less noxious in Northamptonshire. The seeds were provided by the amiable American Derry Watkins, and her plants really make a garden sing.

But even though we are living through the Age of the Corn Cockle (above) we always look ahead. Despite all the new planting, new layouts and new roses at Brooke Hall, an old-ish rose has been grabbing the attention, possibly because it adorns its column so perfectly. It was here before any of us and its name is Creme de la Creme. A forgettable sort of rose-name until you notice that the petals really are like folds of cream, with a subtle yellow in the centre of the goblet-sized flowers.

The head gardener isn't sure where it came from. I suspect it is from Gandy, a venerable rose grower in Leicestershire which was a destination for people who liked to buy locally and didn't mind picking their way around broken down glass houses.* One of my leaving presents from the Observer was 'a rose' and I bought the appropriately named New Dawn. They really tried their darnedest at Gandy's to sell me a Creme de la Creme. It was one of their own, and it came very strongly recommended. I wasn't having it and still think very highly of my New Dawn (below), by the back door.

Now though I'd like to put a Creme de la Creme (top) on the front of our house, having seen it looking glorious at Brooke Hall. I also want to put it on the front of a client's house in Rutland: it goes equally well with brick or sand-coloured ironstone.

At a big fair at Brooke Hall recently thousands of visitors saw this rose and took note, as it was next to the talks tent. Maybe the speakers did as well. Its location could be crucial: the latest garden designer at Brooke Hall has admired it, growing as it does next to his rarefied borders. He has ordered some for his chic customers, in the Cotswolds and way beyond... It could be that Rosa Creme de la Creme is one of the next zeitgeist plants, just from looking so right this summer, while growing up a perfectly placed pillar in the East Midlands.

*Gandy's has since closed but the Gandy rose Creme de la Creme is carried by Peter Beale and David Austin.

02 July 2011

Wild in the Country

The wildlife around Brooke Hall is often of the subdued, useful type, eg sheep. Occasionally a kingfisher flies by just as you blink, in the Wild Garden. On the way home from work the other afternoon I saw a fox running across the lane. It was the first real country fox I've ever seen, even though I've lived in this hunting-mad place for seven years. There was one lurking behind the sheds at Market Harborough station but that doesn't count.

Next morning, fifty yards further down there was more wildlife, filling the road, spilling over, and running straight towards the car. A pack o' hounds, with the new Huntsman and Whipper-in of the Pytchley Hunt (so I am told) and a kid on a mountain bike. But never mind the panting and occasionally lethal mob, what about these gents on push-bikes, perfectly uniformed in checked shirt, tie and antiquated brown coat. Accessorised with a whip and a smile.

01 July 2011

Curtains to go with the Flowers...

Took a break yesterday from Brooke Hall and the deadheading of Penelope roses and caught the 16.12 to London. I wanted to see what Arne Maynard had to say and he was giving a talk at the Garden Museum in Lambeth. He spoke at length about his favourite garden, Rousham, where he sometimes takes clients to gage their reaction. When working on a plot which is attached to a brand new house, showing them around a firmly established garden can be helpful in the getting-to-know you process. If the clients are very visual and allow the designer off his lead the effect can become more riotous: the signature topiary seems more jaunty and the pleached limes look somehow less... pleached.

Can a client have too much fun? He mentioned some people in the Cotswolds who are involved with a decoration and fabrics firm, known for its flamboyant use of colour. 'They change their curtains in summer and winter,' Arne said. 'Sometimes they change the colour of the curtains to match the borders.' He should be grateful that it's not the other way around.