Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 31 May 2010

Chelsea: My Take Home Ideas

When I used to watch Chelsea just on the TV I always felt dissatisfied with my garden afterwards. However, after visiting I feel energised and come home brimming with ideas because attending allows you to see a lot of the fine detail and find something good even in the gardens which you might not have found inspiring as a whole. Here's just a few design snippets and plants which have caught my eye this year.

I'm seriously thinking of dispensing with fiddly little pots and just having large, dramatic bowls like those in Andy Sturgeon's garden. I loved the irises too (contrasting well with the rusty corten steel and such a good change from the usual purple iris seen at Chelsea), but I'll probably go for something longer lasting and more architectural for our garden. I'm thinking of having a couple of large planters on the plinths either side of the central steps leading down from our patio, once we've got rid of the conifers which are currently swamping them and the flow of our terraced beds either side. The patio gets extremely hot in the summer, so I'll probably choose something spiky and Mexican in feel.

I've always resisted having a water feature because we have a stream not far from our house, but seeing the one in Penelope Hobhouse's garden at Wisley the morning prior to Chelsea, then spotting this similar but smaller and more colourful version in the Dyslexia garden has loosened my resolve. I spent ages chatting to a lady who felt the same whilst we both discussed where to put it in our respective gardens. For mine I'm thinking it'll work well in the centre of the circle on my patio and would be a nice cooling feature on a hot sunny day.

I liked the coloured glass in Worcester university's pergola, an idea which could easily be adapted to the trellis fencing in my garden. I'm also thinking a lot more about scented plants for paving cracks as my nephew removed the moss from them a couple of weeks ago and after seeing plenty of examples at Chelsea, most notably in the bee friendly garden.

This idea's a bit early for me personally, but ideal for NAH's aunt who's in her 80s and is itching to get back into gardening after falling and breaking her hip a few years ago. These poles would be the ideal thing to help her. I'm thinking I'll have to watch how she's using the garden to mark out the best places for them with bamboo canes first and then get a local carpenter to make them for her. We have an excellent recycled wood project in nearby Castle Combe who made a wonderful tree seat for my friends S and L recently. It would be great to have the poles made in a wood she already has in her garden, perhaps decorated with some of the wildlife she sees. Thinking ahead, I also think this is a neat idea for our garden in my later years, especially for negotiating all the steps we have without having to resort to one of those ugly grab rails.

Stonework peering out from planting always looks good. I have some already but this example from Roger Platt's garden has made me think about adding more.

I've already told you about the aquilegia/grass combination from Mark Gregory's garden and the free Pictorial Meadow seeds handed out by Leeds City Council - the ultimate take home Chelsea idea don't you think? Other plants I saw which I'm considering for my garden are Cornus kousa and a mass planting of Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' which we saw everywhere this year (on the right in the above picture). Agreed, they're not very exotic or unusual, but they're still very effective garden plants and I have just the place for both of them.

And who knows, I might just be able to collect enough plastic bottles from my neighbours plus an old cable reel from somewhere to make my own greenhouse and potting bench for the allotment just like they did in Places of Change.

To see much more of the gardens I've featured here, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show website has lots of information. What ideas for your garden have caught your eye this year, at Chelsea or elsewhere?

Friday, 28 May 2010

King of Chelsea

Mark Gregory and team deciding the best place to prune a Viburnum plicatum 'Mariesii' into show garden perfection

Fate dealt me a very kind hand when the seating was decided for the Garden Media Guild Awards lunch last December because I found myself seated next to Mark Gregory. He proved to be delightful company and whilst he was enthusing about the magic of the build at Chelsea, he issued an invitation for me to come along and see for myself. I couldn't believe my luck as this was a dream come true.

Mark wasn't at all fazed when I phoned him a couple of weeks ago to make the final arrangements for my visit despite being in a trench. He also kindly met me at the Garden Gate on the day itself to give me my pass (see left) and Hi Viz jacket - not only necessary requirements for gaining access but also a cunning disguise, allowing me to blend in effortlessly with everyone there - even though he was in the middle of unloading a delivery off a lorry at the time.

I was particularly keen to see his show garden as his previous two for The Children's Society in the Urban Garden category were particular favourites of mine. Mark's designs are high quality, practical gardens providing neat solutions for the needs of a family. This year's challenge was to design a garden which would be used by teenagers: the charity's research shows this group value a safe space where they can hang out with their mates and family.

At the build the key elements were there: a plunge pool, a fantastic garden building, plenty of seating, a pizza oven and a fire pit. Quality with the hardscaping wasn't being compromised, even though Mark had another challenge set by his sponsor: build a show garden for the same cost as one for the [smaller] urban garden category. As you can see the main structural shrubs and trees (Acer campestre) were already in place and the team were deciding where the rest of the planting should go.

Mark had enlisted the expertise of Adam Frost (another gold medal winning designer) to help him with the planting palette and execution of this part of the design. There was quite a bit of head scratching and moving around of plants going on each time I visited and Mark seemed worried they weren't getting it right. When I left at 7pm he still wasn't happy, but had wisely decided to leave the decision making to the next morning when his mind would be fresh.

Of course they got it right in the end and the garden won a well deserved gold, the third in a row. Mark was a very chuffed man when I met up with him again last Tuesday. It was clear talking to him during the build he'd taken great care with the design: a practical usable garden, which makes good use of the space and with very different vistas opening up at different viewpoints. I also liked the smell of woodsmoke from the pizza oven when I was there on show day - it gave a very homely atmosphere to that part of the show ground!

I managed to completely surprise Patient Gardener by admiring this Aquilegia: grass combination. In fact I think it provides the solution for my Aquilegia patch, where I've been looking to extend the interest in that part of the garden. Perhaps her plan cooked up with An Artist's Garden to get me more interested in grasses is working! I've now earmarked some of the grasses Karen gave me at Malvern for planting out in that area.

It turned out that Mark is a double triple gold medal winner at Chelsea this year. His company was the contractor for building the Best Courtyard Garden, Music on the Moors...

... and also James Wong and David Cubero's The Tourism Malaysia show garden. Mark's company specialises in top quality hardscaping and he's notched up 22 years and almost 50 gardens at Chelsea. It was clear talking to Mark that being involved with 3 gardens at Chelsea this year wasn't a problem (I'm sure having the above garden right opposite his own show garden also helped), he's obviously an excellent project manager who has extremely good teams of people working for him.

No wonder he's the king of Chelsea this year. Thank you Mark, for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to see behind the scenes and for being so generous with your time both before and during the show. This wide-eyed blogger had a fantastic time and lots to write about as a result :D

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Whizzing Around Chelsea

My favourite show garden (for The Daily Telegraph by Andy Sturgeon) which I picked out during the build and certainly didn't disappoint on the day. It's the judges' favourite too :)

It's a couple of days since I went to Chelsea and like Patient Gardener my head's still in a whirl. There's so much to see and we packed it all into a mere afternoon. I thought my visit during the build would dilute the wow factor of the final reveal, but I needn't have worried. It's a vintage year, so there's even more top quality stuff to talk about and less of the ho hum which can be filtered out straight away. I suspect some of the things I'm bursting to tell you about will remain unsaid because the show will be over soon and hence the moment will pass.

Gardens which showed such promise at the build stage didn't fail to deliver, like Jo Thompson's garden for Thrive in the Urban category (another deserved best in show winner)...

My liking for all things box increased. The curvaceousness of Tom Stuart-Smith's box hedge was still there to covet, but at last I could get up close and personal to Robert Myers' geometric version which I saw previously being slotted together like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle...

My worry that the building in Paul Hervey-Brookes' biodiversity garden would be too dominant wasn't realised, but I thought the planting - no matter how attractive to the wildlife documented as having visited - needed to be simplified*. I'm kicking myself that I forgot to ask Paul if his building was influenced by his proximity to Painswick Rococo garden (he has the nursery next door)...

The hot weather of the last few days of the build ensured that the lush green meadow I saw being slotted together on the Leeds garden burst into a riot of colour and was being visited by a stream of bees and other insects. Another very deserved gold and it was heartwarming to see such civic pride in evidence when we were there as well as a Chelsea garden which will return to Leeds as quality public planting in Roundhay Park.

In the Great Pavilion there were many new exhibitors: this one from Thailand overcame that country's recent troubles and was one of many notables...

Old hands - possibly retiring ones - from Barbados gave an indoor, more colourful flavour of the tropics...

...And Medwyn Williams made a welcome return after retiring from exhibiting in 2005 and picked up The President's Award for best Great Pavilion exhibit in the process. His son and grandson were there to commence taking on his mantle.

There's more to follow, but in the meantime you might like to see my illustrated response to Anne Wareham's discussion on ThinkinGardens about themes and show gardens.

* = There's been quite a debate in the comments on this point, which is a worth a read in its own right.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

ABC of Weather: Sunshine

Sunshine is an essential ingredient to make any garden sing, just like it did whilst we (Victoria, Patient Gardener and I) were whizzing around Wisley on Tuesday. Thanks Victoria for kindly taking us there on such a perfect day prior to our afternoon visit to Chelsea Flower Show :)

How's the weather with you today? Hurrah, there's still plenty of sunshine here which has finally brought the Clematis in my back garden into full flower.

Chelsea coverage will resume tomorrow and I'll be telling you more about Wisley shortly.

ABC Wednesday has plenty more in the way of S to show you...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Postcard from Chelsea #2

Here I am last week at the Garden Gate, the main entrance to Chelsea Flower show. The friendly security guard at the gate took this picture whilst I was waiting for my host to arrive (more about that soon) with my pass and Hi Viz vest.

I'm back at Chelsea today with Patient Gardener plus my friends H and D, and this gate will be so crowded, it'll be almost impossible to repeat this picture!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Postcard from Chelsea #1

This is a view of an area not accessible to flower show visitors and a reminder that it's hosted by the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home to the Chelsea Pensioners.

As you read this I'm on my way to Victoria's as I'm staying with her (with Patient Gardener) prior to my Chelsea visit tomorrow. Victoria will be fresh back from press day so we'll be getting all the showtime gossip prior to our visit to Rob's shop (aka The Garden Sage) tonight for drinks and nibbles :)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Twitterchat with Nick Hamilton

Thursday night sees quite a novel idea as Nick Hamilton of Barnsdale Gardens fame will be available on Twitter to answer your gardening questions. When I first heard about it earlier on in the week, I was a bit skeptical as I wondered how sound advice could be distilled down into a mere 140 characters. However, I then remembered just how helpful my Twitter buddies have been in dispensing their own hints and tips whenever anyone Tweets a question into the ether. Besides there's always the possible insertion of pertinent links to back up what's being said.

The opportunity to have your gardening questions answered by a leading expert is still pretty rare unless you manage to catch a recording of Gardeners' Question Time or visit a gardening show. So why not give this a go? Lands' End are hosting Nick's session from 8 to 9pm on Thursday 27th May. All you need to do is:
  1. Login to Twitter in the usual way or sign up for Twitter at
  2. Follow Lands’ End UK so that you can see the chat as it progresses:
  3. If you want to ask something use @LandsEnd_UK in your tweet along with your question or topic of discussion.
  4. Use a hashtag # as part of your tweet question – a hashtag is a code used to mark a specific topic. The hashtag for this twitterchat is #Barnsdale. You can search for #Barnsdale to see all the relevant tweets.

Lands' End are also running a competition to design part of Barnsdale's latest garden which will be turned into reality by Nick and designer Adam Frost. I met Adam last week when I went to see the Chelsea build as he's been working on the planting for Mark Gregory's garden. He's a lot of fun and knows his plants. The competition is to come up with an idea which will form a special feature of the garden, so you don't have to design the whole thing. There's some great prizes and the closing date is May 31st. Further details are here.

Picture courtesy of Lands' End.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Chelsea Sneak Preview #3: Places of Change

A few days ago Ms B asked the question on Twitter:

Do you really think that designing a garden at Chelsea is of any long term value, other than to your career?

A very good question and I believe this year's Places of Change garden at Chelsea provides the answer. At nearly 600 square metres, it's the largest show garden ever built at Chelsea and involves 450 people; 49 agencies from around the country who work with the homeless, drug abusers or ex-offenders; 8 prisons; and growing 10,000 plants.

This garden builds on the success of last year's Eden Project garden, The Key and has the same core Eden Project team and Paul Stone as the designer. However, much of the design elements have been decided by the groups involved in the project and Paul's job is to ensure these come together into a cohesive whole and at the standard of horticultural and show garden excellence expected by the RHS.

On the Places of Change website Paul says:

Eden has a worldwide philosophy of wanting to make people aware of the importance of the relationship between people and plants and the whole thing just ties in together. The overall theme is that horticulture is at the centre of life and from it come all the things we need. We can push that message home by involving the most unlikely candidates: homeless people and prisoners - amateurs who may be in the process of training or work experience – giving them an opportunity. We like to think of our teams as buried treasure, the ones that society tends to give up on, but here they are and I’ve got every reason, especially after last year, to expect just as much from this garden.

The garden has a number of different areas depicting how plants have an impact on things such as health, the environment and industry. It's also telling the story of the participant's own relationships with plants. The volunteers are also receiving training as part of their involvement, so will have transferable skills and qualifications which they can use long after the garden has been dismantled at Chelsea.

I kept on being drawn back to this garden and right at the end of the day I had quite a surprise. This is Jane Knight and I was on the same course as her at Newcastle university 30 years ago. She's the project's landscape architect and was also involved in The Key last year. After quickly catching up on what we've been up to over the last 3 decades, I was telling her about how impressed I'd been listening to the people involved with The Key talking to Chelsea visitors last year. I said how gardening had provided much needed common ground between completely different people. Jane smiled broadly and said, That's it, that's completely what we're about.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Chelsea Sneak Preview #2: Trend Spotting

Spotting the Chelsea trends is one of the favourite sports of gardening journalist and TV coverage alike, so I'm rather pleased to be ahead of the game this year and reveal some of those I spotted on Monday. Actually, one of the trends this year show garden-wise is their diversity: there's jaw dropping construction, retro through to modern gardens, ones which are practical or making a statement (either as a garden in its own right or as an awareness raising vehicle), traditional or controversial. Putting all of that to one side - here's my pick of the Chelsea pops...

Lush green planting, with a few colour accents. I could have probably predicted this one before I was there owing to our harsh winter last year, but green is most definitely there in spades. That doesn't mean boring though - there's an immense variety: the architectural tropical vegetation of Flemings' (above - who also seem to be digging their way back to Australia), Thomas Hoblyn's and James Wong's gardens for instance.

Then there's the hobbit-like moss walls of the Kazahana garden; or the precise geometric cubes vs cloud pruned box presented by Robert Myers and Tom-Stuart Smith respectively. Ferns and grasses are in abundance too. On the other hand, Roger Platt's (see top picture) and the Eden Project gardens promise to be a riot of colour and perhaps if everyone's inky irises open in time (they were very tightly budded on Monday), everyone will be talking about the colour purple this year...

Enormous constructions - Leeds City's representation of the Leeds Liverpool canal in their show garden is jaw dropping as are Gateshead's and Birmingham's offerings in the Great Pavilion

Biodiversity: this is a major theme for a number of exhibits in the Great Pavilion and the RHS will also be displaying their commitment to the UN's International Year of Biodiversity in there. Outside we have Paul Hervey-Brookes' Bradstone Biodiversity garden (above), plus one for bees and a courtyard garden depicting the importance of the rainforest in the Cameroon.

Amazing drystone walls are everywhere. The Motor Neurone Disease (above) and Andy Sturgeon's gardens particularly caught my eye.

Conifers are back big time - you'd expect to see them in the Norwegian show garden and the above Courtyard garden which celebrates them, but they've snook in all over the place. On the other hand if deciduous is your thing, then multi-stemmed and/or peeling bark are very much in evidence as are various kinds of birch, multi-stemmed or not.

Controversy - there's no plasticine this year, but how about using artificial grass, or including a rather nifty greenhouse made out of plastic bottles or plastering your garden with [reportedly] 20 million pounds worth of diamonds? Sadly they hadn't started that phase of the build when I took the above picture. I'm wondering how close we'll be allowed to get come showtime.
Whatever the trends are outside, I'm sure inside the Great Pavilion there'll be a riot of colour. And finally, I can't resist showing you Andy Sturgeon's garden, because I love the contrast between the rusted columns, the square drystone walls and the wonderfully large curved bowl (and note the conifers).

Tomorrow, I'll tell you a bit more about this year's Eden Project garden and the amazing coincidence I encountered there. In the meantime, you might like to have a look at some additional pictures I've uploaded to the BBC Chelsea website...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

ABC of Weather: Rainbow

You probably recognise part of this picture at least, because it's the one I use for my blog header. This is the view from our bedroom window one stormy day a few years ago. The rainbow might not be complete, but I like the changing colours in the sky around it. Sadly the silver birch tree it emanates from is no more as it was felled a couple of years ago.

I chose this picture for my blog because I was at a bit of a crossroads when I started it. I'd just decided to make my career break of seven months a more permanent arrangement and on that very same day I also started this blog. The rainbow across a stormy sky was symbolic of the way I felt, but also pointed to all kinds of possibilities. I never dreamed what opportunities might come my way as a result of blogging: this week's trip to see Chelsea behind the scenes is the latest in many amazing and enjoyable times.

The rainbow also points to my choosing to write about anything which takes my interest and fancy. I may concentrate on gardens, allotments and Chippenham, but all kinds of other things creep in, especially via ABC Wednesday :)

Seeing this series is also about the weather, here's a link to Wikipedia which tells you a lot more about rainbow formation and oodles of other stuff. You may also find this mnemonic we learnt at school useful as it's a good way of remembering the order of the colours:

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).

Note also how the sky appears lighter inside the rainbow. Unfortunately it's not because the legendary crock of gold is nearby but because of the way sunlight is bent through the raindrops when the rainbow is formed. The above link tells you a bit more about how this happens.

How's the weather with you today? There's no rainbow here, but it is warm and sunny :)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Chelsea Preview #1: Order from Chaos

I had a marvellous opportunity to visit Chelsea Flower Show during the build yesterday and what a fantastic time I had there.

Suitably booted, suited (i.e. wearing a Hi Viz vest) and sporting an exhibitor build-up pass (how cool!), I was allowed to wander around at my leisure. This aspect of the show has always fascinated me because I like to know how things work, so you can imagine what heaven I was in all afternoon.

The usual crowds of people of the show days were replaced with a continuous stream of lorries making their deliveries to the various show gardens and stands. If there wasn't a lorry following me down Main Avenue, then it was a digger; if it wasn't a digger then a dumper truck full of compost or a vehicle delivering a fully grown tree was bound to be in my wake. All with hazard lights blinking away merrily and beep beeping when reversing their way down the road (which was frequently). All this was orchestrated by the Traffic Management team who ensured the delivery lorries safely made their way through the narrow entrance gate on Chelsea Embankment or around the corners of the showground roads. These were often quite narrow owing to all the other vans and lorries parked up next to the show gardens and exhibitors' stands

If that wasn't enough, then there was the constant sound of sawing, drilling, hammering, shovelling, and the concrete mixers of a multitude of building sites in full throttle. Unbelievably, noisy parakeets could still be heard above the din whenever they flew over the grounds. And whilst it might seem like there was absolute chaos and bedlam, there was still an aura of calm over the entire showground. No-one was in a [visible] panic: everyone was quietly and purposefully getting on with their job. I was there just a few hours, but everywhere changed enormously in that time as next week's show sprang into life before my very eyes.

One thing which really surprised me - though sporting my project manager's hat it really shouldn't have done so at all - was not everything starts at the same time. The large Show Gardens start first (beginning of last week) as theirs is the biggest job and have the most materials to use. They spread themselves out over where various stands will be whilst they can. Most of these had nearly finished their construction yesterday and had moved on to the planting phase, hence the masses of trolleys of choice plants squeezed into every possible corner. Next come the Urban Gardens (last Thursday) who were nearing the completion of their construction yesterday and are aiming to move onto planting today. The smallest Courtyard Gardens had only just started - and one was still a lonely marked out exhibition area on the ground - though another was already moving in its trees, showing how quickly some of these 4x5 metre plots can be progressed.

The Great Pavilion was another area in the early throes of its transformation. I suspect most of the first week comprises getting it constructed ready for the various nurseries and other exhibitors to move in. Yesterday's main task appeared to be the construction of the plinths for them to take possession. Only some of the larger exhibits were in evidence: Hilliers in their usual position around the Monument, plus Gateshead and Birmingham parks departments with their massive constructions. Owing to the volcanic activity this week, I'm crossing my fingers the Grenada and Barbados contingent are able to get here on time. Judging by the accents in the tea queue yesterday, the Kirstenbosch people have already arrived from South Africa.

This is just a little taster of what I found yesterday: it's going to be a fantastic show this year. On Thursday I'll reveal a little more, including some of the trends I've spotted :) In the meantime, you can see more at the RHS and BBC Online Chelsea websites.

Monday, 17 May 2010

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #17

  1. 'Land grab' a nearby house with a lovely walled garden
  2. Obtain planning permission to tear it down and build 14 'retirement cottages'. However once the site is reduced to rubble, don't start building them because of the 'credit crunch'
  3. Start building them 18 months later now things are looking a little better and so in turn ramp up your marketing campaign via the local newspaper
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice your mind was probably elsewhere when describing the facilities
  5. Et voila!

Ironically NAH, who loves puns and plays on words, was making jokes about conservatories during the recent election campaign (e.g. conservatory = conserve a Tory = a campaign to preserve an endangered species in Chippenham. NB we returned a Lib Dem MP and Tory is another name for someone who belongs to the Conservative party or is politically inclined that way).

Saturday, 15 May 2010

GBBD: Whilst I Was Away...

I was gone only a few days, but I was quite surprised when I returned from Malvern last weekend to find my garden had transformed itself whilst I was away. It's the time of the year when our gardens are changing at their fastest rate, but I thought the March-like weather would have stopped things in their tracks. My plants are still behind where they usually are, but mother nature is trying to catch up. So, let's have a look at some of the changes in my garden this month...

You'll see from the top picture that my boring fence isn't quite fitting its description at the moment.

It's a basic plant and easy peasy to look after, but I never tire of my Centaurea montana, especially when they've bulked out nicely and started to produce their deep bluey/purple flowers.

At last the final apple tree in my garden has started to blossom. It's a Herefordshire russet and I like the way some of the branches have combined with one of my Clematis obelisks. It's been a very cold week here at VP Gardens and I've been worried about the absence of pollinators in the garden. However, today's warmer sunshine has finally bought the bees out in significant numbers and there's some blossom left on my other apple trees for cross pollination.

Not everything is in full flower at the moment, but I always like the way Alliums get going.

In the side garden my potted Lingonberry is flowering for the first time...

... and the Azalea nearby is showing off in my miniature Japanese garden (i.e. everything crammed into a pot).

Finally, out in the front garden the Anemones have been topped with a surprise complementary tulip.

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