27 July 2012

The Last Word in Brick...

…Is ‘Elizabethan’. Better still, Elizabethan brick with Elizabethan pointing. I found myself poking around Vita Sackville-West’s bedroom the other day, with Sarah Raven as my guide. She pointed out that one of the walls had been messed about with in the 1930s and it was not quite as lovely as the untouched Elizabethan wall, below.

Here, the Elizabethan wall is reflected in a hand-painted mirror leaning against a 1930s brick wall.

Sissinghurst is a brick fetishist's dream. Plastered walls reveal their underpinnings; brick garden walls are accompanied by brick garden paths; stone alpine sinks are held aloft on brick legs. It's a pinky-reddy-brown Kentish brick and it provides a warm backdrop for the yellow of a Mermaid rose or the pink of Blossom Time. It's so magical, this brick, that it puts red hot pokers into a different context, and they look really very fetching.

23 July 2012

What to Grow Against a Brick Wall, Part Two

Gardenista is a nice American online sourcebook and the week before last there was a post on brick walls - what to grow on them. I was at Sissinghurst on Thursday and it's all about brick. So here is chapter two to that particular story.

The brick at Sissinghurst is narrow, sometimes curved and often 500 years old. And yet a lot of it is smothered and covered. This is part of the look: Harold Nicolson's rigid lines and vistas are tempered with Vita Sackville-West's romantic effusions. Above: Baby's Tears, feared by some. This is where it belongs, adding blur to the perpendicular.

There is a tall and wide curved wall at Sissinghurst which is not ancient, but was built in the 1930s. Vita and Harold arranged for the construction to be carried out when they were away but despite the carefully sourced brick there was dismay on their return. Too much mortar! Now, there is a drape of purple clematis covering almost all of it. Different wall here.

But the other walls look best, in my opinion, when they are allowed to show through. The planting can draw attention to their beauty, instead of disguising it. Above: cobaea scandens, the cup and saucer vine, does some polite covering, before exploding into Mexican exuberance later on.

The semi-private living quarters, in which a small amount of sandstone mingles with the brick. And the new-looking terracotta pots: would Vita have tolerated them?

15 July 2012

Science with Peter, the Comeback

Science with Peter has always been a popular item here at News from Nowhere, but recently we have been busy reporting news from elsewhere. It is with great joy then that we can reveal that Peter and his scientific ideas have found a glamorous new home over at the Sarah Raven blog, Garlic and Sapphire. As his press agent, I'd like to point out that he is featured over there on MY corner of the blog, which has had top billing all week. It is called The Why and the Wherefore. Why indeed? Don't ask me, ask Peter.

I love asking Peter 'silly' questions. The other day I was at a friend's, drinking tea outside and looking in the direction of some bindweed silhouetted against the sky. It had climbed to the top of its host and now, reaching ever higher, it seemed to be giving us a cheery wave. "Why don't slugs eat bindweed?" my friend asked with disgust.

As everyone has noticed, slugs are a very successful monoped at the moment, slithering up windows and stealing into kitchens, racing towards the front door whenever one opens it...

Peter has a maddeningly simple answer: "Bindweed is toxic to most things, including us and slugs." One small nibble is all they need to send them off towards something which is valued. In a world facing domination from slugs and snails, weeds as villains come a poor second. So, while no-one's looking, what if tenacious ground elder and toxic bindweed had a fight to the death? Which one would win?

King Kong v. Godzilla or, the attractive flowers of aegopodium podagraria in mid-embrace with convolvulus arvensis, in Northamptonshire.

04 July 2012

The Last of the Garden Clichés

Ahem. A weed is a plant which is in the wrong -- A weed is a plant which no-one has found a use -- Please. Why not sidestep the matter entirely by planting everything in grass, and let the peonies fight it out with the buttercups. It doesn't matter how the latter behave because they look lovely with Welsh poppies, and with ragged robin, and campion. They mingle with the green and provide welcome accents of colour. The green floor is a very forgiving background for any plant and though it might get long and rough you could argue that your peonies have never looked better, putting on a shorter, stouter appearance. The same can be said for achillea and centaurea: they will flop no more. And in grass peonies are not nearly as irritating for the ten months in which they do nothing.

At Cottesbrooke Hall Gardens tall plants are an important part of the whole idea. It is a garden with height. One of these plants which has made itself very at home in the borders is valeriana, recently seen in bud in the gold-winning meadows of SW3 (above, photo by Jim Powell) before blooming slightly further north around the Terrace Border in Northamptonshire. Actually, it pops up everywhere, even amongst the classical statuary in the ultra-formal Forecourt, far away from where it was intended.

This is why it is making a steady march down toward the Wild Garden, with human help, where it can scatter itself amongst the buttercups and devil's bit scabious. It looks good there; it looks good everywhere. But there are so many fascinating plants in the formal gardens that they need more space to perform and I'm not sure whether valerian would be described as fascinating, though certainly useful in bringing the planting up to eye level. The question is, now that valeriana has found a home among the wildflowers, what is it exactly? And do stop going on about weeds!

For more lower-upper class plants see The Observer Organic Allotment Blog.