26 May 2012

A Bit of Breathing Space at Chelsea

Amongst the frenzied and over-scripted coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show on tv it was a relief to see some calm, in the gardens themselves. As well as BBC presenters, the planting can get a bit excitable. Last year the garden that won Best in Show had patches of bare earth, with pillars lying on the ground. Cleve West, its designer, dared to leave well alone again this year and won Best in Show for the second year running. There's something going on here. Joe Swift's irises (above) look very happy with a bit of park sand around them, the euphorbia keeping a respectful distance, the cornus far enough away not to plunge these sun-loving plants into shadow. The gravelly sandy stuff they use in French parks is an excellent foil for the flowers and trees.

Why does every inch of a border have to be stuffed with plants - to prevent weeds? In her romantic meadow garden Sarah Price planted herb robert, red clover, horsetail and even - plantain. At Chelsea!! Weeds are allowed in and so is a bit of disorder, or an idea of disorder. Plants wandered on to the straight paths making them less razor sharp, and also bringing attention to that nice gravelly sandy stuff, which seeds love to germinate in.

Ditto Tom Hoblyn and his Lake Como-influenced garden. Plants grow hither and thither, as seen in this 360Âș panoramic: possibly the best way to see the Chelsea show gardens without being there in person. Photos and tv can only focus on the broader picture or the minute detail of say, Nigel Havers. Three more panoramic gardens:
Andy Sturgeon
Arne Maynard
Diarmud Gavin

All images by Jim Powell.


20 May 2012

The Freezing Fete

The fete at Great Easton is the best one in Leicestershire, and this is partly because it is held in a garden. The tea, cake and village hall china are reliably excellent and the plant stall demands careful planning: get there early or repent for a year. The book stall has a side line in ancient jigsaws and we bought one for £1 featuring classic cars outside a village pub with a church steeple in the background. Very Great Easton.

 Yesterday was possibly the most fun I've had at a fete and I think it was to do with the mad weather. My son was ensconced in fake fur (the hood on his parka was firmly up) and people were drinking tea with gloves on. The plant stall did not sell out in five minutes flat because people have rather given up on seeing flowers ever again. But the atmosphere was good, with friends, friends' parents and children's friends milling around and it was just as busy as it would have been in glorious sunshine.

As the temperature wavers between single and double digits, people become more full of hilarity. We aren't moaning about the weather any more. What's the point? It's all a joke, as the spring and summer slide away in a torrent of rain, wind and poor visibility. We are stronger in the face of adversity. God Save the Queen.

13 May 2012

It's Big and it's Hairy

In this season of Noah's Ark weather, ordinary gardens have had a lack of colour and flowers. The weeds though, are positively Old Testament. Dandelions on roadsides are two feet long and hairy bittercress (above) is becoming more embittered and increasingly hairy. In a normal world its little round leaves and miniature flowers will keep it at dolls house size, mainly because it is so easy to flick out, in passing. But until this weekend we've been avoiding outdoors altogether, and the weeds are having a wonderful time.

I had never noticed the existence of the hairy bittercress before reading Children and Gardens by Gertrude Jekyll. In her seductively bossy way she illuminates the virtue of the root: 'Put between two bits of bread and butter it is delicious.' The book is addressed directly to her audience of children, an attentive generation of proto-gardeners. No interruptions please as she further instructs: 'You eat it for nursery tea.'

Nursery tea may be enhanced by this perma-flowering weed but the same cannot be said of its constant companion, the shepherd's purse. Unless you can grab the latter before it flowers, the taste is dreadful. However: its healing qualities are immense, concerning the life force of a human being. Read all about shepherds' purse, cousin of the hirsute bittercress, in my 'Way of the Weed' latest, available to look at for free on the Observer Organic Allotment blog. See also what a real shepherd's purse was made of in the Comments section: this is often the most edifying part.

For genuine card-carrying herbalism visit Botanical Bird.


08 May 2012

The Bevel and the Deep Blue

A rainy day spent in Spitalfields yesterday, admiring everything, including doors and shutters. The doors are glossy and their numbers engraved, with scant reference to brushed nickel, chrome or brass.

We stopped to examine the recherché combo of brown and cream gloss or cadmium yellow with old mustard a couple of doors down but the main theme, without being at all boring was blue, bluey green, greeny blue and green, with a fascinating spectrum of subtle shades in between. They all go well with sooty brick. Some of the old houses have clung on to their peeling exteriors from past decades (not an accident), thus rendering colour choices absolutely unnecessary.

One perfectly presented house on Fournier Street, an ash tray's throw from the Ten Bells Pub on  Commercial Street, was sparsely accessorised with a couple of stone sinks on the pavement. Planted with rosemary, thyme and erigeron, they looked very desirable and not very nick-able, due to their considerable weight.

01 May 2012

Diluvian Diary

Tulipa 'Prinses Irene'
Flowers can look quite good in the rain. Obviously, they're even better just after but... anyway. Before the Deluge, we had plenty of sun but not many flowers, because it was only March. Back in those days I found myself hay making. Nick had cut down the long Karl Foerster grass around the Roman gods at Brooke Hall and people were getting a bit red in the face. It was not a great time to take pictures though, because it was all too glarey. Now, after the dismal, dull, dreary and depressing downpour it is easy to forget about Spring. The news is, it's still happening, and paid professionals go on working from eight till five making gardens look lovely, for someone to look at. It's an excellent time to visit gardens, (through the NGS or otherwise) because you might have the place to yourself and the really intensely hued flower petals are easier to photograph. Just trying to be positive.

Clematis Alpina 'Pamela Jackman'