Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 19 May 2017

Chaumont First Timer

Me at Chaumont International Garden Festival
Adding my thoughts to the back of Au Pied du Mur

I've heard loads about Chaumont International Garden Festival previously, but I never thought I'd actually get to go there. You can imagine I gave a quick hop and skip of delight when I found it was a must-see on our itinerary for France.

If you ever get the chance to go, do - it's quite unlike any garden show in the UK*. For starters the Festival lasts several months rather than days (from 20th April to 5th November this year), and each garden is surrounded by a beech hedge, housed in a permanent site which set aside from the rest of Chaumont's extensive grounds.

It also pays to put any preconceptions to one side as applications are drawn from a much wider circle of potential candidates than usual with around 20 to 30 gardens selected from a pool of hundreds of applications. Artists are well represented as well as those from the world of gardening and landscape design.

I could imagine RHS judges tutting behind me at the standard of each garden's finish, but that didn't matter. These are expressions of ideas and visitors can wander all over them, feeling and breathing in the designer's intention as they go. I found I felt a wider range of emotions as a result, from 'What the f***????', to bursts of giggles and joy.

The festival's longevity means my experience of a couple of weeks ago will be quite different to what later visitors will see. Plants will fill out and inhabit their spaces completely, and the flowers and plants designed to fulfil this year's Flower Power theme will truly come into their own.

* = sadly the similarly intentioned shows at Westonbirt Arboretum held around 15 years ago are no more.

So what caught my eye at this year's show?

Ways of viewing a garden can be quite different...

Part of the Puissantes Immobiles garden at Chaumont
A view onto Puissantes Immobiles which gave the effect of highlighting individual plants

... and you'll find plants may be labelled.

Your view of 'what is a garden?' will be challenged quite thoroughly...

A flower-filled Au Pied du Mur
The reverse side of Au Pied du Mur
... do photos of plants count as a garden? My head said no, but I loved filling my vision with these pictures. I could imagine this idea being used to great effect indoors to bring some much needed cheer.

Gardens aren't just for humans...

Small French dog not quite sure what to do with the water filled Levant garden at Chaumont
This little dog was most reluctant to jump over the water in Levant

... and may prove rather a challenge to some of them.

Reality will be distorted in all kinds of ways...

The back of the Monochrome Blanc garden at Chaumont
Playtime and photocall in Monochrome Blanc

... now you see me...

Monochrome Blanc looking outwards
Monochrome Blanc looking the other way - a potential candidate for my Great Green Wall Hunt?

... and now you don't.

Sometimes an interior deserves special attention...

The charming Anne Marlangeon
I loved the attention to detail in her 04bis workshop, reminiscent of the artist's studios we saw in Giverny the day before

... because there's a chance to meet my first ever plasticine artist, Anne Marlangeon.

Plants rising like Phoenix
I loved the play of light on the foliage and the dark architectural shapes of Phoenix

Such fun to photobomb one's own photo!
Spot Naomi and me photobombing our own photographs in Les Coulisses de l'Attraction!

Hop on over to Sign of the Times to see another favourite featured as today's Friday Bench.

The lovely Chaumont chateau

Chaumont isn't just about the garden festival. There's a wildly romantic looking chateau overlooking the Loire for starters.

Fab sultry alliums and camassia combo

And in the historic Park the gardens team provide an amazing sourcebook of planting ideas too. I now believe my massed planting of alliums seriously lacks an equivalent amount of camassias after I viewed this scene.

Agaves and echeveria - I think

Use succulents as bedding plants? Why not?

A restrained entrance conceals the floral fireworks ahead at Chaumont

They can manage self restraint too, as shown in this area where visitors first approach the festival and room is needed to avoid a pinch point. Something to think about for Greening Grey Britain perhaps?

Chaumont has lots of other features such as land art (including one by Andy Goldsworthy); a misted, jungly garden and much more besides. We didn't have time to see it all in our allotted afternoon; it's the perfect excuse to go back one day.


I was the guest of Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit.

As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day: Meet 'Daniel Deronda'

Clematis 'Daniel Deronda'

I bought this clematis at my first visit to Malvern show (before I started blogging) for the princely sum of £2, because its extra-large blooms caught my eye - the diameter of each is about the size of my hand's span. It's one of the earliest clematis to flower, but until now it's been a little shy for me. This year is proving to be different, with many buds lined up below the three flowers you can see.

It's reputed to have both double and single blooms, with the doubles appearing first followed by the singles later in summer. This is because it can flower on old and new wood, though mine has always been single flowered, even when I forget to prune it like I've done this year (it's pruning group 2, in case you were wondering).

It was bred by Charles Noble in 1882, possibly a cross between C. lanuginosa (discovered by Robert Fortune in China) and a seedling of 'Fortunei' × patens. It's long servitude makes it a 'good doer' in my view, though it took the RHS a while to give it the recognition it deserves, only awarding an AGM in 1993. Noble also bred the well-known 'The President', which I also have in my garden and usually blooms for me in June.

Why the name Daniel Deronda? It's a book by George Eliot and it seems Charles Noble was an admirer of her work. Sadly the clematis he named after her is no longer available.

There's a great write-up about this clematis on the Clematis International website - though I can't link to it directly. Click on the link I've given, then on the By Category link which subsequently appears in the website's sidebar. Then click on to Early Large-flowered option on the subsequent drop-down list. 'Daniel Deronda' should then appear as one of the pictorial thumbnail options, which will also give you an idea of how it looks in its double-flowered form.

I've enjoyed finding out the story behind the name for Blooms Day, quite literally in this case!

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Weekend Wandering: Let's start with a map

Map of Normandy and Loire gardens visit - May 2017

Further to Wednesday's cri de coeur about where to start, I've created a Google Map to summarise our trip and to start to get my head around my amazing time in France. You can get the full interactive map experience here (NB do take the link, the map on display here is just a jpeg image). When you're in the map, click on each place on the map itself or on the list at the side, and you'll find some initial thoughts on each place we visited, stayed or ate at, plus a summary photo or two to set the scene.

Looking at the map, it's clear that in/near Rouen, Chartres and Tours would make ideal bases for various parts of the trip if you wish to see for yourself. Dieppe is a suitable alternative entry point for those of you in the south-east (from Newhaven), instead of our Portsmouth/Le Havre combo. We completed our tour in 5 days at full steam ahead, bookended by overnight cabins on the ferry. I'd recommend at least double that to enjoy and explore each place more fully than we did.

I'll update the map with websites and links to articles/blog posts later, and I'll also be using it as a reference throughout my forthcoming bloggage.

If you have any questions or comments about the trip, I'll endeavour to add answers on the map as appropriate as well as replying to you directly. I've had some useful conversations already via Twitter and Facebook, and one of my USA pals is keen to discuss the trip as a possibility for herself when we meet at the Garden Bloggers Fling next month.

Your suggestions for further gardens you've enjoyed in these regions are also welcome - I already have some for planning the next trip. They include Jardin Plume, Sericourt, Parc du Bois des Moutiers, Le Lude, Talcy and Villandry. I also like the look of Etretat from the leaflet I picked up along the way, and Naomi from Out of My Shed has pointed me in the direction of the rose festival at Chedigny, usually held at the end of May.

Useful information

The port of Le Havre is also worth a look, especially as it celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, and note that Val de Loire has designated 2017 as Jardins en Val de Loire, with plenty of extra gardens-related action to usual. There's also an interactive map on the Normandy tourism website of over 100 gardens to visit, which leaves you spoilt for choice. In the Loire, there's the new iris route for this time of the year, or if you're a keen cyclist, you may like to make a leisurely tour of the Loire using the Loire à Vélo website.

If you're an RHS member, then note you may have free entry to some French gardens; i.e. those designated as RHS Partner Gardens. At the time of writing this includes Le Rivau and Valmer we visited, plus more besides. You can also buy a pass in advance (online or at local tourist offices) to some of the Loire chateaux - full details are here. Otherwise admission prices to gardens/properties are broadly in line with the UK (thanks to the strong Euro).

Most properties also have special events, especially cultural ones such as art exhibitions, and outdoor theatre or opera. It was noticeable that performances are generally well priced compared to similar events in the UK.

NB It's worth checking opening times before you go. Some properties close for lunch, as do some local shops/post offices/banks/cafes in the smaller towns and villages. The gardens may also have limited opening hours during the week, or on Bank Holidays (NB these are different to ours), or according to the time of year.

I love the idea of the Chartres Greeters scheme, where you can hook up with a volunteer to show you their city tailored to your interests. We were due to go on a garden walk with a Greeter on arrival in Chartres, but unfortunately time and rain conspired against us on the day. It's a pity because our drive into the city revealed much of interest from a parks and public planting point of view.


I was the guest of Normandy and Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit.

As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

NB the information and links are correct at the time of writing in 2017, though may be subject to change. Let me know if you spot any broken links in this post or on my map.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Postcard from France

The Royal Doorway, illuminated for Chartres en Lumieres

I'm just about back from a few days in France with Naomi, where we visited 15 gardens in 5 days - 18 if you include those at our accommodation and a restaurant.

The gardens of Normandy and the Loire are so varied it's proved too difficult to select one scene for my customary postcard, so I've chosen a photograph of Notre Dame cathedral at Chartres instead, where we visited the astonishing Chartres en Lumières half way through our stay.

This festival of light has 24 walkable sites in the city, with three of them at the cathedral. This one tells the story of the cathedral builders and was an animation which lasted about 10 minutes. I'll reveal more from this amazing light show once I've edited the video I took. Now in its 14th year, Chartres en Lumières takes place nightly until 8th October 2017, with free entry.

Chartres is a beautiful city, with lots to see and do. You can see the towers of the cathedral from many miles away, and this plus our approach to the city through an avenue of trees at the side of the road reminded me of travelling down to Salisbury.

I'll tell you all about the gardens we visited over the weeks to come :)


I was the guest of Normandy and Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit, as well as enabling our visit to Chartres en Lumières.

As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Unusual Front Gardens #26: Wellies and Watering Cans

Flower filled wellies at Paddington Basin

British Land are adding a corporate touch to my Unusual Front Gardens strand with their colour co-ordinated narrowboat moored at the Paddington Basin, aka the Paddington Arm of the Grand Junction Canal.

NAH and I had a pleasant walk to here along the Regent's Canal from Camden Lock recently, taking in Regent's Park, London Zoo, elegant houses, boat owners' gardens and Little Venice along the way. It an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of London for two and a half miles. Here are some photos from our walk:

Scenes from our walk along the Regent's Canal

The boat owners' gardens also count as Unusual Front Gardens, especially where they spilled over and across the towpath.

Part of the gardens by the permanent moorings

Finally, back at Paddington Basin, we find the corporate watering cans. Don't be fooled by the grass, it's artificial!

Flower-filled watering cans

Monday, 1 May 2017

GBMD: The perfect excuse for more strawberries

Strawberry sign at RHS Wisley - 8 strawberries provide 140% of recommended daily vitamin C intake
As found in the fruit display at RHS Wisley, July 2016. 

According to the British Summer Fruits website, today's the first day of the summer berry season - hurrah!

English strawberries found in the supermarket today will probably be polytunnel grown due to the vagaries of our British weather. I've had good results with 'Mae' and 'Christine' grown outdoors on the allotment in previous years if you're looking for a good early variety to grow for 2018. They have a sweet flavour and high yields.

I can't guarantee strawberries for May 1st, especially after the recent cold weather - mid to late May is a much better bet. I have some frost-blown flowers on the allotment, but with plenty of unscathed ones showing promise. Stand by with the fleece if more frosts are forecast down your way and you should avoid flowers with the dreaded black middles.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Weekend Wandering: In the footsteps of Shakespeare

New Place entrance garden

I spent a fascinating day in Stratford-upon-Avon this week courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust where we were shown the early results of a massive project to revamp the 5 properties under their care. Here we're looking into the garden at New Place, the choice property in the centre of Stratford where Shakespeare lived for the last 19 years of his life and wrote many of his plays.

Sadly New Place is no more, so the project team took the opportunity to find archaeological evidence to inform a contemporary re-imagination of the property and gardens. Here we're standing on part of the house's footprint, looking towards the gardens, with the first lines of Shakespeare's sonnets at our feet, plus a modern garden to the side and artwork revealing aspects of Shakespeare's life and times.

The knot garden at New Place

Glyn Jones
Glyn Jones - the Trust's Head Gardener - was our guide for the day and it soon became clear why he'd been lured from Hidcote as the project is huge.

He's keen to introduce more individuality across the gardens, to create more of a sense of place for each property, aided by the use of a wider variety of plants. He has a team of 9 gardeners - including an apprentice - plus around 12 volunteers to help achieve his vision.

The photo above shows the newly restored knot garden, which lies behind the contemporary entrance area. It's in keeping with the original design by Ernest Law, who was an expert in garden history and a trustee around 100 years ago. His knot garden was based on an illustration from 1577, so was in keeping with Shakespeare's time.

An upright Euonymus 'Green Rocket' replaces box in the design to avoid issues with blight. We had a lively discussion over whether the tulips are 'Queen of Night' as bought by Glyn as some of my fellow visitors thought they were too tall.

The circle you see in the middle is an enlarged replica of a signet ring found close by, which probably was Shakespeare's. The letters are deliberately back to front, as the ring also served as a seal.

The Great Garden at New Place

Then we were led into the Great Garden, where I had a sense of déjà vu. At first, I thought I'd been in a similar garden in Stratford with choir, then Glyn soon confirmed I was indeed in the same place as before, much to everyone's amusement. This garden was also designed by Ernest Law, with input from the redoubtable Ellen Willmott. The plan here is to introduce more seasonality into the garden, and a 'rewilding' of the wild bank, with a probable reshaping of the yews into straighter lines. The latter was met with horror by some of us as we liked the organic shapes!

Standing in this garden I realised we'd been guided through a burgage plot like the ones I saw at Helmsley last year. What I didn't know then was the cooking part of the kitchen was usually placed away from the main house because of the danger of it setting fire to the property. In the case of New Place, the archaeological investigation shows it was sited at the entrance of the Great Garden.

Anne Hathaway's cottage

We then moved a couple of miles from New Place to Anne Hathaway's cottage. This garden will be redeveloped along romantic lines as it's where Shakespeare wooed Anne. The roadside approach to the cottage will be rerouted as too much is given away to visitors on the way in to the car park.

Colourful tulips in the rain

Most of us liked the colourful tulips after their shower of rain and hail, but Glyn told us they'll be replanted with a more subtle combination, and the Spanish bluebells will also go along with the more thuglike plants to allow for a wider variety of planting.

At the top of the photo you can just see the start of a small vegetable garden, and I was delighted to hear there is a connection with nearby Wellesbourne (they helped me with my A Level biology project and confirmed it was an innovative study), who are advising on the agricultural varieties grown at the time of Shakespeare.

At the orchard's entrance stands this wonderful quince tree which puts my pot grown one to shame. When the opportunity arises local varieties of apples and other top fruit will be added to this area.

Rescued hedgehogs have been set free at the cottage as part of the Hedgehog Friendly Town project led by three girls. We were shown one of the hedgehog hotels in the orchard, and how their food is hidden. They're earning their keep as the slug population has gone down noticeably.

Over time the wider property will be developed at the cottage to encourage visitors to explore the site further. I asked why most of the gardens are using the Edwardian schemes as their basis seeing the story is about Shakespeare. Glyn explained that replicating those times means every property would be a farm and Mary Arden's House performs that role for the Trust.

Plants in keeping with Shakespeare's time will be included in each garden as appropriate, and at Hall's Croft - the home of Shakespeare's daughter Susanna - there are medicinal herbs to reflect the work of her husband Dr John Hall.

We also caught a brief glimpse of the small garden at Shakespeare's birthplace, where a temporary hot border is in the pipeline whilst the long term plans for the garden are decided. You can also choose some Shakespeare on demand from the actors in the garden!

There is still much more planned over the next 5-10 years, and I'll definitely be back to see how the project progresses. Thanks to the rest of the Trust's team in addition to Glyn for such an interesting day, particularly Kerry and Alison for their organisation, plus Nic Fulcher, who was a mine of information on the project's context, Shakespeare and the social history of the time.

You may also like

Non Morris' account of the same visit in her Dahlia Papers.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Book Reviews: For good soil, great veg and first-class shows

It's a while since I've reviewed some books and I have quite a stash to get through, so here's a round up of those I've enjoyed recently with more of a grow your own theme.

An in-depth look ('scuse pun) at one of the most important aspects of gardening is long overdue, and Good Soil doesn't disappoint.

There's been a number of articles recently on the threat of soil erosion to the UK's food supply, so it's good to have a comprehensive guide so we can conserve our own productive patch at least.

All aspects of nurturing the soil are covered, from chemistry and biology to history and philosophy. Methods both old and new; artificial and natural are discussed so we can make informed choices for our own approach.

The human dimension isn't shied away from either as both the use of pee and composting toilets are included; potentially sensitive subjects handled in an informative and humorous manner.

After covering the why and the what to use, practical sections on identifying/treating nutrient deficiencies and the best ways to nurture the soil to successfully grow trees, annuals, perennials, shrubs, fruit and vegetables are explained.

A chatty, humorous magazine-style approach makes what could have been a dry, academic kind of book much more digestible and a keeper for future reference.

SowHow book cover
Just when I thought there was nothing more be said on grow your own, SowHow comes along to change my mind.

Aimed at beginner gardeners, this bright, easy to read guide is packed with information on how to get growing with vegetables and herbs.

The book fits into the palm of my hand, and the colour themed sections and infographic-style approach is easy on the eye. I like the can-do, garden-anywhere approach with lots of ideas for gardening on a budget using recycled and upcycled materials.

Things to Know and Problem Solving sections book-end the Growing chapters, and alongside the usual suspects, edible flowers and weeds are included to add variety to the plate.

Even though much of the content isn't new to me, I've decided this book is a keeper for whenever I need a shot of enthusiasm to get growing!

The Salad Garden book cover
My battered, well-thumbed copy of The Organic Salad Garden inspired my 52 Week Salad Challenge project, so it's a joy ('scuse pun again) to have a copy of Joy Larkcom's The Salad Garden, which is an update of the book of the same name (and also formed the basis for The Organic Salad Garden in 2003).

It's hard to believe how revolutionary this book was on its first appearance in the 1980's, as bagged salad leaves are so commonplace on supermarket shelves nowadays. That is down to Joy's travels across Europe and her discovery of lots of fresh new flavours for us to try.

What's available commercially is just a fraction of the dozens of different salad leaves covered in this comprehensive guide.
Once you've read this book, you will never want to buy salad leaves again.

If you're new to growing salads or Joy's informative, practical work, you need this book.

If you have the original classic version, you still need this book as the practicalities and varieties have been expanded considerably.

If - like me - you have a copy of  The Organic Salad Garden, this version is still worth your consideration as the layout is much clearer. There's additional photography by Jason Ingram and Joy's recommendations are quite different, taking account of progress in the introduction of new varieties. My only quibble is the opportunity to update the recipe section wasn't taken to form a more attractive, mouth watering prospect.

Great British Village Show book cover
RHS Great British Village Show takes the worthy information in The Horticultural Show Handbook I've reviewed previously, and adds a generous dash of the fun we saw in BBC2's The Big Allotment Challenge. The result  is a colourful, easy to read guide to putting on a village show which meets the exacting requirements of the judges.

This book gives you the encouragement and guidance you need to become a show winner. Believe me, it's much more exacting than growing something that looks good on your dinner plate.

If you don't have a local village show, then there is all the information you need to get going. Lots of colourful photos and plenty of helpful tips ensure success for both exhibitor and show organiser alike. Individual sections cover what's required for showing vegetables, fruit, flowers, bakes and preserves.

Many shows use standard recipes for cakes, jams and other produce. These aren't forgotten either, and of course they can be used even if you only want to eat the results.

May this great British tradition continue!

I was given review copies of each book, opinions are my own. There are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

  • Good Soil by Tina Råman, Ewa-Marie Rundquist and Justine Lagache is published by Frances Lincoln,  priced £20.
  • SowHow by Paul Matson and Lucy Anna Scott is published by Pavilion, priced £12.99
  • The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £16.99
  • RHS Great British Village Show by Thane Prince and Matthew Biggs is published by Dorling Kindersley, priced £20
Note: I've linked to Amazon, so you can use the Look Inside facility for any books you like the look of. If you wish to purchase but not support Amazon, then Wordery usually offers a good deal, is a British company, and pays its taxes; or alternatively The Hive actively supports independent bookshops.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Cucurbit trials

Lots of cucurbit seedlings on my windowsill

Question: Does it matter which way up cucurbit* seeds are sown?

Answer: Have a look at the above photo and guess what my conclusion might be. Some references say sow them on their side - which is the way I usually do - others are non-committal.

I couldn't find any reason why they should be sown on their side, so I decided to conduct a quick trial. Luckily my seed stash had some packets to spare, yielding 44 cucumber, 24 squash and 8 courgette seeds, 76 all told.

I sowed the seeds in four different ways: sideways, flat, upright ("pointy" side of the seed uppermost) and upside down ("pointy" side of the seed downwards). All were sown into labelled cell trays with the same compost and amount of water, then left on a bright, south facing windowsill and emergence days recorded. If there were seeds left to emerge, it was assumed they weren't going to if nothing further was recorded after 5 days.

NB I conducted this trial last summer, when temperatures were warm enough for these seeds to germinate.

* = cucumber, courgette, pumpkin and squash

Cucurbit seedlings shortly after I watered them


Overall results

All seed emergence took place within 5-18 days after they were sown, with 65 seeds (86%) making their appearance.

Sideways sown emerged day 5 to 16
Flat emerged day 6 to 17
Upright emerged day 5 to 18
Downward emerged day 6 to 15

Individual results

All courgette seeds, 41 out of 44 cucumbers (91%) and 16 out of 24 (67%) squash emerged. See the table below for emergence rates for each seed type by position sown.

Position Sown Cucumber Squash Courgette Total
Sideways 11/11 3/6 2/2 16/19 (84%)
Flat 10/11 5/6 2/2 17/19 (89%)
Upright 11/11 4/6 2/2 17/19 (89%)
Downward 9/11 4/6 2/2 15/19 (79%)
Total emerged/ total sown  41/44 16/24 8/8 65/76 (86%)


Whilst some variation in emergence times and rates were observed, they weren't significant or consistent enough to conclude that a particular sowing position had an advantage. Emergence rates were good for all positions.

Larger sample sizes are needed for the squash and courgette seeds for firmer conclusions to be drawn for these individual cucurbit types. Pumpkin seeds could also be added to the trial and my usual comments apply about the need to repeat the trial to see if consistent results are obtained.

From now on I won't quite be as careful with which way I sow my seeds as I have done previously. I will be sowing in pots at home as usual, so I have strong plants to withstand the ravages of the allotment slugs when I plant them out at the beginning of June.
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