Showing posts with label RHS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RHS. Show all posts

8 Jan 2020

A good day at the library

This wonderful mosaic tiled floor at the entrance to the Lindley Library

A visit to a library is always a good thing.  When that library has shelves dedicated to all things gardening, it becomes a really good thing.  Yesterday I set out for my old stomping ground, Pimlico. I lived and worked there before I had my now adult son and always enjoy a wander down memory lane.  It was a wonderful place to live, just a short walk to the Tate and Hayward galleries, and the National Portrait gallery in Trafalgar Square; even Chelsea was just a quick hop by pedal power. My flat was 5 minutes walk from the Horticultural Halls but I hadn't discovered gardening ... yet. Yesterday’s mission was to return books to the RHS Lindley Library, equidistant between Pimlico and Victoria tubes but I prefer to avoid the hurly burly of Victoria's busy station and streets.

Gardening books on a library shelf
Just for starters ... 

I love gardening and I love books so when my twin passions collide, I’m in heaven. And this library is filled with joy for the gardening bibliophile. Shelves filled with gardening books of every topic, garden mags to read in comfy chairs, desks for quiet research and an archive of precious books, papers, artifacts, prints and manuscripts dating from the 15th century.  Add to that friendly helpful staff, a quiet atmosphere and regular small informative exhibitions - I find I don’t need much of an excuse to pop in when I’m in the area. (The RHS also has libraries which I've yet to visit at their Wisley and Harlow Carr gardens.)

Metal engraved title page of 16th century book: The Herball written by John Gerard.
Title page of John Gerard's 'The Herball', 1597 - predating Culpepper's herbal by 120 years
Metal engraving had replaced woodcut printing, used to beautiful effect here.

My first encounter with the library was the result of a talk offered at one of RHS London shows; those shows were always wonderful and sadly missed.  Shamefully, I can’t remember what that talk was about but can clearly recall the very beautiful old books brought out from the archives for the group to look at. I think the talk may have been to do with early plant use as one of the books was an original Gerard’s Herbal. (1597! That's over four hundred years old and no white gloves were required. Perhaps that was an oversight.) Incredibly, to my mind, the archive is accessible to all by prior appointment which seems very generous.  (Currently Tuesdays and Thursdays due to staffing levels.)

At the time of that talk I thought the library was exclusively for serious writers and researchers but one day, following signs to an exhibition (The Healing Garden, I think) I tentatively went inside and discovered over a warm welcome that the library was open to everyone (not just RHS members, although I am) and that I could join and take books home. That made my day I can tell you and has helped my book buying budget no end. I always check the online library catalogue now before buying a gardening book.

Dig for Victory leaflets from Second World War
Making the most of a small plot? I could do with that today! 

I've been to several of the mini-exhibitions since - Dig for Victory last October was memorable with artefacts and photos illustrating the social history behind Britain's wartime food growing, supported by the government and the RHS. On show were maps and cloth bags used to send seeds over to prisoner camps, leaflets on success with veg, and photos of allotments (in Hyde Park!) and back gardens being turned over to veg growing. (I remember being told by one of the older residents on my estate that the gardens here were dug up for food growing but returned to shrubs soon after the war was over for practical reasons.)


Autochrome photo of a bowl of red and green apples.
 Stunningly beautiful up close. I'd be happy to give it wall space.
William Van Sommen, autochrome photo.
(All photos are protected with a glass frame so apologies for the quality
but if you look closely my reflection is at the lower left edge of the bowl
)

My visit yesterday was intended to be a quick turnaround to return some books and head home empty handed. After a friendly chat with lovely staff at the welcome desk, it would have been rude to leave before having a look at the display of William Van Sommen’s autochrome photos, and from there it was just a quick step to the library shelves and magazine racks.  Gardens Illustrated, Kitchen Garden, Grow Your Own and the latest Permaculture editions (and more if I'd had time) awaited.

So, funnily enough I didn't leave empty handed as planned but came home with a small selection of books on urban growing, Beth Chatto’s drought resistant planting and wildflower gardening. Oops.  And I get to take them back in a month's time.
😄



Colour in the Garden is on until 24th January at 80 Vincent Square. The library is open Monday to Friday, there are loos on the 4th floor, a lift and wonderful views over the Westminster School playing fields on the way down.  More about what the library offers here.

The two RHS London shows this year are in April, free for RHS members; I'll be there, will you?.

11 Dec 2018

How to easily grow avocados with guaranteed success!

... or, how I managed to grow an avocado, kill it, and then restore it back to health - all with advice gleaned from RHS Urban Garden shows.

Successfully grow an avocado plant.jpg

During the forthcoming holidays, I'd like people to stop and think before they toss out empty jars and avocado pits after making guacamole or whatever. With those two things, you have the means tp grow a free houseplant.


There are some people for whom the challenge of growing an avocado plant from the discarded stone/pit is easy.  Let me tell you now, I am not one of those people.

For years, I tried every method of sprouting an avocado stone without success. Feeling thoroughly defeated after so many failures, I gave up and started chucking the stones away. But this is not about my failures but about how to successfully grow an avocado.

I wasn't always challenged at growing avocados. In my first flat, a large soil filled pot in my living room stood ready to receive every avocado stone that I discarded. No special treatment required; I placed the stone fat end down, and left it. (With occasional watering.) The pot soon became a forest of leaves to challenge the Monstera at the other end of the room. But when I moved on, the avocado jungle stayed behind; I felt confident that I'd quickly grow another pot of avocados - after all, how hard could it be? But when I left, my green fingered houseplant magic stayed behind - and the years of avocado growing failure commenced.

Fast forward to autumn 2017 to a mini-workshop at the RHS Urban Garden Show; an RHS trained gardener promised to guide participants through a Guaranteed Method of growing avocados.

Here's what I learned that day.

How to grow an avocado

  1. Carefully cut the avocado pear in half, taking care not to score or damage the root end of the stone with your sharp knife.
  2. Ease the stone out of the flesh with a teaspoon, again being super careful not to damage it.
  3. Wash or wipe any flesh off the stone - you don't want it to get mouldy.
  4. Fill a 9cm wide plant pot with regular potting compost to a half-inch from the top.
  5. Tap the pot on a hard surface, eg table top, to settle the soil.
  6. Make a slight dip in the centre and place your avocado stone in it. The top of the stone should sit above the soil. Think Orca coming up for air. 
  7. Water the pot well until you see water draining from the bottom.Allow the pot to drain fully - no more water dribbling out from underneath.
  8. Label your plant with the date and name. (Latin naming not obligatory although 'Persea americana' if you so desire!)
  9. Cover your pot to give the stone its own little greenhouse. We were given small plastic sandwich bags for this, secured with string. Now I would try and use a clean upturned glass jar. 
  10. Place the pot away from a cold windowsill - mine sat on a shelf above my kitchen sink where I could keep an eye on it. (An airing cupboard would have been better, if I had one.)
  11. Check the moisture levels in the soil on a weekly basis - if dry, water sparingly.
  12. Don't overwater; the soil should be slightly damp, definitely not wet. 

    After the workshop, I carried my little pot home and then I waited. And watched. And waited some more. Four months later, convinced I'd got another non-starter, the pot and pit were destined for the dustbin when I saw a tiny crack in the stone! I swear I couldn't have been more excited if I'd had a hatching dinosaur egg in my hands.

    Avocado stone sprouting


    Over the next week, a shoot slowly appeared. In another month, I was the proud owner of a healthy, albeit spindly, little plant with several leaves. By summertime (just before its demise) most of the leaves were six inches long; I was so proud of it. And then, at the height of the summer heatwave, I reasoned that avocado trees natively grow in hot climates and put the little plant outside to enjoy some fresh air. (I can't now believe I was that stupid.)  I introduced it to the wider world of my balcony ... and the glaring sun. Game over.

    Successfully growing an avocado
    Successfully growing an avocado - 14th April, one month after sprouting.

    The mistake I made

    Plants really don't like drying heat - unless they're a cactus. And I hadn't checked the moisture in the soil before putting it outside. The leaves scorched, the plant withered. I was devastated as I watched the leaves drop, one by one, and shelved a triumphant post of avocado growing success.

    For some unknown reason, I kept the dead plant. A serendipitous move as it turned out.  Returning to the RHS Autumn Urban Show in late October this year, I learned of a little known hack that has enabled my avocado to rise Lazarus-like once more.

    And the resurrection secret is ... 

    decapitation; or, more correctly, trimming back.  By lopping off the top of the stem above a leaf node, I triggered the plant to produce more leaves. Not bad considering it had been 'dead' for over 8 weeks and mostly unwatered! I'd noticed a microscopic green bud forming at the top of the twig/stem so cut just above it - and it worked.

    ========================================

    A few more tips for successful growing:

    • Avocado stones can be sprouted over water as well as in soil - grower's choice.  The bottom of the stone must be in contact with the water until a root system has formed, then the stone should be transferred to a small pot, planted in well draining compost and left to grow on indoors in a warm environment - 20°-25°C (68°-77°F).
    • Toothpicks not your thing?  I'm sprouting a stone using a stylish ceramic disk bought from Studio Janneke - an independent ceramicist working from her studio in North London.  I think it looks lovely, and so much prettier than watching a brown pot for four months. 

    • Patience is key. The stone should germinate in four to six weeks but, as I've shown, can take considerably longer.
    • Once the plant has outgrown this first pot (roots can be seen at the bottom of the pot), repot in spring into a larger pot, at least 1ft in diameter.  Use a soil based compost for this.
    • Plants with fresh compost won't need feeding for several weeks but otherwise give established plants a liquid feed (seaweed fertiliser is good) every 2 to 3 weeks throughout spring and summer.
    • Established plants like to be kept on the cool side in winter 15°-18°C - definitely not above a hot radiator - but move to a slightly warmer spot in summer in bright light, but away from direct sun!  

    I hope you've found this post useful - it didn't occur to me that I could prune my plant back into life so I'm happy to pass on a helpful tip.  

    Growing any plant from a seed is fun for children but I think avocados are especially exciting (next to potatoes and tomatoes).  If you do think about giving it a go, I'd love to know how you get on!

    5 Jul 2018

    Some observations from the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

    Settle in for a long post, folks - I spent Monday at the third of the four main RHS summer flower shows, held in the best of locations at the rear of Hampton Court Palace.




    28 Feb 2018

    From Winter to Spring: the RHS Early Spring Fair

    ~ The Wisley Winter Walk garden at the show ~


    While icy winds and snowfalls have taken the UK back to winter over the past few days, I'm reminded of the RHS Early spring show that was held recently.  It's the show that, for me, heralds the start of spring and it's where gardeners gather to break out of their winter hibernation to revel in an array of glorious spring flowers.

    As the first garden related show of the year, and standing on the cusp between winter and spring, the show divided its contents accordingly.  The Lindley Hall was predominantly white with snowdrop displays, a winter inspired banqueting table, and botanical art, while the Lawrence Hall proudly strutted the best of winter colour with award winning nursery displays and a recreation of the winter walk at RHS Wisley. For anyone that had the time to linger between browsing, there was also two days of talks and workshops - it was a bumper package, well worth the admission price.

    ~ Botanical art workshop, each participant left with a hand painted card ~


    On Tuesday, I'd gone to explore the show with my blogger's hat on but had spent the previous couple of days as part of the team building an exhibit garden in the Lawrence Hall.  The garden took inspiration from the winter walk at the RHS Garden at Wisley and was a shining example of winter's colours and scents - who says there's no colour in winter! It was designed by a friend and, for me, lovely to work alongside garden design students from KLC college. I'll come back to this in another post.

    ~ Vintage terracotta pots from Embergate, ex blogger, now purveyor of gorgeous vintage gardenalia ~

    During the build, I'd watched as the many other exhibits came together in the two RHS halls. It was fascinating to see the huge amount of work that each exhibitor puts into their displays and gave me a whole new respect for them. The nurseries have to keep their plants fresh and vigorous throughout the build and three days of the show - no mean feat when dealing with plants that really prefer to be outdoors.


    As a flagship spring show, the halls were lush with displays of hellebores, cyclamen, iris reticulata, primroses and snowdrops - oh, the snowdrops! Everyone has a favourite spring flower but these stole my heart away this year, they were so beautifully displayed.

    ~ Galanthus 'Cowhouse Green' suspended at eye level ~

    I was fascinated by the hanging 'Celebration of Snowdrops' installation in the Lindley Hall. Garden designer Fiona Silk had wired hundreds of bundles of Galanthus nivalis and autumn leaves to a raised rig so that they slowly twirled in currents of air. Walkways between these led to a central ring of specialist snowdrops, suspended at eye level in brown paper parcels tagged with identifying numbers. It was mesmerising. These 'specials' were on loan from private collections so it was a rare treat to view them. In matching them to the accompanying list, I fell into conversation with an elegant woman whose husband had ordered Galanthus plicatus 'Blue Trym'  for her birthday next month. Each bulb sells for £120 but even at that price she wasn't hopeful that the order would be fulfilled as she'd heard that stocks had been snapped up in the EU. I like a snowdrop but I doubt I'll ever join the ranks of the true Galanthophiles at those prices.  Personally, I rather liked G. 'Cowhouse Green' at a more modest £25 per bulb but even that would break the budget!



    In keeping with the fantasy floral theme, a Narnia-like banqueting table drew visitors to the far end of the hall. The white and crystal elements were intended to represent the transition of winter into spring, with greenery and snowdrops appearing through snow. It was visually stunning and much photographed but, as with most art installations, largely impractical. The birch trees behind every seat would have hindered sitting down somewhat.  I came to think of it as Miss Havisham's Wedding Breakfast as it made a rather icy and forgotten tableau - what do you think?



    Talks are now a feature of the spring shows and I'd already determined to get to a talk by Alys Fowler on houseplants, a tie in with her latest book 'Plant Love' which she kindly signed for me afterwards. It's so lovely to meet your garden heroes. The talk was packed out, presumably we were all after a few tips on understanding and managing the mysterious world of indoor plants, and Alys didn't disappoint. It all sounded so easy once she'd explained a bit about leaf colour and shade. There was even time for a quick Q and A afterwards.  My question? I wanted the name again of the carnivorous plant that feeds on fungus gnats - apparently Venus Fly Traps just don't cut it. (It's Pinguicula but I've since found that it seems to be quite difficult to get hold of one. So perhaps I'll need to look out for Gnat Off instead, Alys's other suggestion.)



    I would have liked to stay for some of the other talks but I had potatoes to buy.  Pennard's Plants from Somerset always bring their huge selection of tubers to this fair.  I've been a bit overwhelmed by the choice in previous years but I knew that I wanted just salad potatoes this year and the tubers were in colour coded tubs with short descriptions of each. At 24p a tuber, I was able to buy exactly the amount I wanted - mission accomplished.

    And of course I couldn't leave without a couple of bags of Iris reticulata, as well as some gifted daffodils and crocus from a neighbouring display to the garden I helped with.  All in all an uplifting and very educational week.

    The next RHS show in London is the Orchid and Plant Fair on 6th and 7th April. 

    26 Feb 2017

    Wisley inspired early spring colour



    At the onset of spring, we gardeners navigate towards colour like a thirsty man towards an oasis. We can spot an emerging snowdrop or primrose at fifty paces, swoon at crocus, irises and Hamamelis and can accurately identify a Daphne or Sarcococca from a whiff of scent on the breeze.  Even in a mild winter, deprivation of outdoor time in our gardens and the sight of grey skies can feel endless and leave us longing for spring to begin.

    I am not immune to this and for my quick fix antidote I took myself off to RHS Wisley on Valentine's Day -  my gift to myself. That was just over ten days ago and I can't believe how many spring flowers have opened since then. As I set out, I was blissfully unaware that it was half term and the gardens likely to be busy - they were but, strangely, the only clue was that the overflow car parks were in use.  Once in the gardens, all was calm and peaceful, just how I like it.  Families, couples, visiting groups, even schools, were all there but Wisley's 60 acres had easily absorbed them all without anyone's enjoyment being compromised.

    Bursts of colour were my motivation for visiting, especially the newly expanded Winter Walk, but first I headed off to see the butterflies in the Glasshouse.  To be honest, the textural planting is what lures me inside but it's still thrilling to see so many colourful butterflies swooping and gliding around. A spotter's guide is available for a small donation so I was able to identify the ones that stayed still long enough for me to photograph, although there were quite a few on the guide that eluded me. And not just because the lens on my camera kept steaming up.

    Back outside, it was warm enough to grab a sandwich from the cafĂ©* and sit outside watching the ducks on the Winter Walk lake. Aren't they gorgeous! I'm hopeless with birds, anyone know what kind of duck this is?  His plumage was attracting a lot of attention!

    Wisley ducks


    Sitting by the lake, I was surrounded by colour. The Winter Walk is just, wow, breathtaking! I promise, it's worth a trip to the gardens to see, it's such a treat for colour starved eyes.  I've been many times in the past when multicoloured stems of dogwood and Rubus lit up the water's edge but this year the planting has been extended to the borders opposite the water.  Rivers of iris against a backdrop of red witch hazel and golden willow - dramatic planting with the look of an impressionist painting. (I know I can be a plant nerd but I swear my heart beat faster at this sight.)

    ~ Iris histrioides 'Lady Beatrix Stanley', Hamamelis x intermedia Rubin, Prunus serrula (for red bark and spring blossom), Salix alba 'Golden Ness' in background.




    Stems of Cornus stolonifera flaviramea (green), C sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire', C. sericea 'Coral Red' (centre front), C. alba 'Kesselringii' (purple/black) and Rubus cockburnianus (white bramble)
    Stunning, huh?

    I recently met some garden owners whose previous gardener had overlooked the colour and scents available in spring, leaving them with a view of clipped box balls, yew hedges and muddy lawns. Tidy but sterile - what a missed opportunity! The collage below shows a tiny bit of the colour I found on my walk.

    Clockwise from top left:  Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame'. Camellia japonica 'MarguĂ©rite Guillon', crocus, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aphrodite', Iris histrioides 'Lady Beatrix Stanley', Hellebore (unknown)

    I love to be outdoors throughout the year so, for me, a slow meander through the gardens gives an opportunity to fully appreciate spring unfolding. I marvel at the synchronicity of nature's timing, providing for wildlife who then return the favour by providing a service in the garden. Cyclamen seeds have a sweet coating that's irresistible to ants who carry the seeds away from the parent plant to increase chances of germination, while bees love the early nectar they can find from hellebores, crocus, heathers, witch hazel and iris. Even camellias which would appear to be too tightly petalled to be of use, lure bees in.  I spent a happy hour last spring watching bees all over the camellia under my window at home.

    A favourite plant that I was delighted to discover in the borders was Hellebore 'Anna's Red', named for garden writer, Anna Pavord.  I last saw these at Great Dixter a couple of years ago; they're a stunning addition to the species, a deep red with marbled leaves raised by nurseryman Rodney Davey over a 12 year period. I really want some of these beauties in the garden at home; as luck would have it, the RHS plant centre has some for sale.  I had to beat the rush hour traffic back so resisted but, next visit ...

    Hellebore 'Anna's Red'


    My visit was a very successful and inspiring day out, especially as entrance was free as I'm a member of the RHS. The butterflies will be in the Glasshouse until Sunday 5th March, entrance is free to garden visitors.  And I presume the winter walk dogwoods will have to be cut back soon.



    (*)  I chose a very affordable kid's lunch bag, choice of 5 items for less than a fiver, which I filled with drink, 2 sandwiches, fruit and crisps. It was all very fresh and delicious.




    19 Feb 2017

    Never mind the roses

    Hellebore atrorubens
    ~ Wisley borders, Valentine's Day - Hellebore atrorubens aka the Lenten Rose ~

    It's rare that I can look back on a week so positively plumped with gardening goodness but the past seven days have been  just that - filled with gardening hygge, the feel good vibe that I get when surrounded by nature, chatting to fellow garden enthusiasts or getting my hands into the soil or around a pair of secateurs.

    17 Nov 2016

    RHS London Urban Garden Show 2016

    Cactus light

    Hoping that the weather forecast was accurate for the weekend, on my agenda for a very wet Saturday was the new Urban Garden show from RHS London.  What's that? A gardener hoping for a wet Saturday? I had my reasons; I wanted to get along to the show without having to choose between indoors or outside. The pull to be outside on a sunny day is strong.

    As you all know, I do love a gardening show, especially when it's new. It's good news to see the London shows being extended again with this new addition for small space gardeners. (The early summer Rose Show was added in 2015.) We've recently had the Harvest Festival and Shades of Autumn shows at either end of October, the Christmas Show is still to come (17th/18th December) and now the Urban Garden Show has been sandwiched into November. The RHS Westminster shows that I've been to in the past have allocated a lot of space for the usual retailers and plant displays, with (I'm sorry to say) an uninspiring small cafĂ© area squeezed into the gallery. Would this one be any different?  Happily, yes, I believe so; indications are good. The plant displays were still much in evidence - amazing cactus and tropical plant installations by Cityscapes (see top photo), styled by garden designers Jarman Murphy - and a new host of retailers too.  Entrance to the show was by navigating a path through a tropical jungle of potted plants, creating a contemporary ambience which matched the theme of urban and indoor gardens.


    Cakes
    Cakes with fruit, veg, flowers and herbs ...
    Seedlip bunny
    Surprisingly delicious non alcoholic spirits from Seedlip.  The bunny approves.

    Reluctantly leaving the cake and delicious eats to one side for the moment, the show was all about encouraging and inspiring people to garden, even if space allows for just the one tiny plant. Preferably stylish and in a funky pot or glass bauble. That might sound a tad cynical but actually the show was visually rather exciting. Smaller, nicely understated and with lots of really good artisan eats (vegan or otherwise) and drinks on offer and, crucially, the space to comfortably take a seat and enjoy your food. We gardeners like to linger over a cup of tea and a good slice of cake.


    A cactus retailer named Prick seemed very popular!
    Naturally, there was plenty of retail therapy with the focus on indoor gardening: terrariums, air-plants, cactuses and succulents in abundance, books, apps, bulbs, wooden planters and seeds.  It was good to reconnect with Joy Michaud from Sea Spring Seeds; I've been perplexed as to how best to use the tiny Fairy Lights chillies that are still growing on my balcony. Joy makes a delicious freezable sauce with hers; she cuts off the stalk, leaving the rest of the chilli intact (seeds as well), combines with other veg (courgettes, onions, tomatoes, etc) and cooks the mixture to a pulp before cooling and freezing for winter use.  I was told that my other round chillies, Tangerine Dream, are best hollowed out and the firm pods stuffed with a savoury filling such as seasoned mince.  I was getting hungry just listening. Joy had a beautiful chilli plant on show called Apricot; the fruits are perfect for eating raw in salads as they're mild and perfumed. I was sold on the idea and came away with seeds for next year, plus a small bag of fruits for my kitchen and a big smile on my face.  Lovely people, lovely produce.

    The show would have been sadly lacking if it was only about shopping but there was also an excellent programme of talks and workshops - and advice from the RHS On The Road campervan. There was a very tempting sounding 'behind the scenes' tour of the Lindley Library exhibition 'The City Gardener' but, silly me, I stupidly didn't realise that it had to be booked in advance; disappointment levels were high and lessons learned. This time all went to plan as I got to the show in time for 'Green is the new Black', an illustrated talk on the relationship between fashion, culture and gardening. The talk was by Tom Loxley, the editor of Rakes Progress, a new contemporary gardening magazine. His take on the upsurge of interest from a younger generation of would-be gardeners was interesting and I was able, like many at the show, to have a further chat to him afterwards. His words had put thoughts into my head and afterwards I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of twenty-somethings wandering the hall, engrossed in plants. It seemed everyone wanted to take home a cactus or Hippeastrum.

    I didn't have time to attend any of the craft workshops but serendipitously bumped into a friend who was proudly showing the two macramé holders that she'd just made at Grace + Thorn's workshop. Apparently, they're the latest trend for household plants. I might have to rescue the ones I made in the 80s from my mother's house!

    I would have liked to return to the show on Sunday to take a look at workshops on making flower crowns and botanical jewellery, kokedama and succulent frames plus talks on the benefits of a plant based diet, maximising space for food growing and successfully growing indoor plants.  I've heard this show is a trial run but I also overheard people remarking on the success of the event - I hope the RHS feels the same way and will be back with this show again next year.  It could just inspire a whole new generation of urban and small space gardeners  - and it was great that the show tapped into the trend for healthy plant based food and drinks.


    RHS bus

    1 Apr 2016

    Extravaganza! The RHS Spring Plant and Orchid Show

    I have a thing for automata and this one was on show at the RHS halls in February

    While I often hanker for the country life, living in London does have its occasional perks. One such is coming up over the next two days with the second of the RHS spring shows - this one is billed as a Spring Plant Extravaganza and includes the RHS Orchid show. There will be talks throughout both days and there's also a sneak peek at the show garden being built for RHS Tatton Park by the Young Designer of the Year. Wowzer!

    It's wonderful that the RHS puts on these shows because, no matter what the weather outside, visitors can be cozy and warm indoors, drooling over a selection of the most beautiful plants and getting advice from experienced nurseries and growers. Not to be missed, especially if you have a bit of cash to spend.

    This is not to say that non-London folk will be overlooked as it's only a couple of weeks before the RHS spring show in Cardiff, followed by Malvern at the beginning of May and Chelsea (whoop whoop) just three weeks after that. * By which time it will be almost summer.  So, plenty to entertain us while waiting for our seeds to grow.

    I can't get to this weekend's show (gardening deadlines to meet) but I did make it to the earlier show in February. I went because I knew that Pennard Plants would, as usual, be there with their enormous A-Z selection of seed potatoes plus I needed some more Polka raspberries from them - and why pay postage? I also wanted to pick up some baby chilli plants from the very reliable Sea Spring Seeds; my home-sown chilli plants matured very late last year, giving me just the one fruit, and then died overwinter. I knew that I could pick up healthy little plants at the show and these are now growing steadily on my kitchen windowsill - sorted! Sea Spring also sell an awesome selection of seeds if you want to grow your own salad leaves, tomatoes and chillies, including the infamous Dorset Naga, one of the hottest chillies available - but I think I'll stick to the salad leaves.

    Having made my purchases (including some Heritage tomato seeds, again from Pennard, and some more gardening gloves), I was free to wander around the show drinking in the buzz and excitement of gardeners embracing a new gardening year. It's part of the fun, knowing you're among like-minded passionate gardeners and there were plenty of impromptu chats among visitors. There were the usual award winning displays of snowdrops, primulas, hepaticas and iris reticulata (all heart-stoppingly beautiful) but, hey, that was February, we've moved on since then.  For a taste of what might be found in today's show,  photos in the collage below were taken at last year's spring show.



    With so many nurseries and trade stands here, there's always the possibility of picking up a really exciting new plant.  I bought the glorious Geum 'Totally Tangerine' from Hardy's Garden Plants here a couple of years ago, the same plant that was all over Chelsea flower show that year. Hardy's are fantastic at putting together stunning and inspirational plant combinations in their exhibit - in fact, Rosy Hardy has a show garden at Chelsea this year.  How do I know that?  The RHS had put on a large display of the drawings and plans for this year's Chelsea gardens in one of the halls and it looks like it's going to be a corker.  More about this in a later post.

    So please go along to the show if you can - I want to read about it! The show is on today and tomorrow (1st + 2nd April,  10-5 pm).  Venue is the RHS Halls in Westminster (Victoria or Pimlico tube stations) and there's a cafĂ© on site.

    Totally Tangerine - how could I resist?


    * The Harlow Carr flower show is in June, Tatton Park in July and Hyde Hall is in August.  Check out the RHS Events page for more info.

    19 Jul 2015

    Pollinator Awareness Week


    Hoverfly on Linaria leaf


    While I'm on the subject of bees (last post), I've picked up lots of tweeting in the past few days about it being Pollinator Awareness Week.  I would probably have missed this if not for the Twitterati so am overdue for a bit of an awareness boost.

    While we all know that our summer crops would be dismal without help from pollinators and that it's essential in spring to tempt bees towards the fleeting blossom on our fruit trees, what can we do to attract bees into our gardens all year round and, more importantly, keep them there?

    Veg and allotment gardeners provide rich summer feeding grounds with the flowers of annuals such as broad beans, peas, climbing beans, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, redcurrants, all the berry bushes, asparagus, artichokes, fruit trees and herb flowers.  Comfrey is a spectacular bee magnet and worth growing to have a very useful plant fertiliser to hand.  And if, like me, you find your autumn sown carrots bolting into flower - leave them! Carrots belong in the Apiaceae plant family, so named for their affinity with bees (Latin name - apis).

    I found a very good page on the RHS website with downloadable leaflets of what can be planted to make sure there's plenty of insect food in your garden from wintery-spring right through to late autumn.  Even if you only squeeze a few of these plants into your garden, it will be a case of, as they say, "every little helps".  I won't repeat what the RHS writes - the link is here.  

    I like to think that I'm a pollinator friendly kind of gal so, for a bit of fun, I traipsed down to the garden to see how many boxes I could tick. Here's a few of them in flower today:

    How many can you guess? Answers at post end.

    The RHS lists have made me think about moving some of my plants around - replacing some of the poorly fruiting strawberries with Sweet Woodruff and planting more snowdrops, tulips, hellebores and forget-me-nots for springtime and Erigeron (fleabane) for summer.

    It's fairly blowy day here so it was interesting trying to get photos - speed rather than aperture being of the essence.  It didn't take too long (I stopped to gather a few bits for lunch) but nearly every plant I stopped at was attracting bees.  My halo is shining.

    A garden friend, if not exactly a pollinator. Couldn't resist.


    Grid Quiz answers! 

    From left to right, top to bottom:
    Allium, Echinacea, Linaria, Perovskia, tomato
    Phlox paniculata, Eryngium, Blackcurrant sage, Achillea, Mange tout
    Bupthalmum salicifolium, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve', Borage, Scabious, Fennel
    Comfrey, Sedum Thundercloud, Honeysuckle, Sweet William, Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
    Cosmos, Lavender, Nasturtium, Thyme, Calendula




    With that picture grid above, I'm also linking to Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for July.

    30 Apr 2015

    A fruitful visit to RHS Wisley's orchards



    As Chief (some might say 'only') Grower in the food garden here, I enjoy an opportunity to see what other people are up to, so it was with a happy heart that I went to have a good nosey around the orchards and trial grounds at RHS Wisley.  Here's what I found.



    Harking back to my perennial fascination with the art of pruning, I couldn't help but notice the way the apple trees have been shaped over the years. Look at the way whole branches have been pruned off these trees, leaving the centres open for ventilation and better pollination. The pruning cuts seen on young trees were also very edifying - look where the central leader has been removed on the tree in the middle.  It's healed over, possibly a couple of years past, so I assume this shaping is to encourage production of fruit. Return visits with my membership mean that I can pop back to see how that's working out.

    There's something very special about seeing this range of varieties and the ways in which the trees are managed. I'd love to know more and hope to find out on one of the Wisley courses. The Summer Fruit Pruning workshop in July looks mighty tempting and I'll definitely be thinning out my plum trees this summer so a boost of knowledge would be put to good use.

    Onwards to the trained fruit. I do love the look of this, it's just so clever, so neat and tidy.  I wish I'd known how to do this with our fruit trees at home. It not only looks beautiful but is productive and perfect for a small growing space or as an edible boundary.  (I recall my grandad used espaliered apples to cleverly section off his allotment area from the rest of his 150 ft long garden.)  A range of shapes can be seen: pear and cherry trees growing as fans, apples grown as step-overs and cordons against the shed.




    I stopped to photograph the step-overs - making note of the tub that each tree is being grown in and how the length of the main stem has been bent and tied in with pruned spurs left for fruit bearing. I imagine they'll be moved in the future once the trial is finished and illustrates how well a tree will do in a good sized tub (and the right care).

    I was intrigued by the way grapevines (top left) are being grown, up a column. Where's it going to go when it reaches the top - or will it be stopped? Very interesting, worth following up. It was the same in January when I came across a row of gooseberry standards. Eh?  I thought they had to be grown in a low growing goblet shape (so the berries could be accessed without injury). I'll make a point of going back because if this works, this is very good news for growers with little space.  I must admit that I've pruned my redcurrant bush as a standard although it hasn't given me more than a small bowlful of fruit yet!

    There is much to be learned here.  Strawberries are spaced far apart; at home, mine are pretty much crammed in as nature would have it. Not that I have an option, space is in short supply, but I wonder what the benefits are of leaving that much room between plants. Bigger strawberries, do you think? Less slug attack?

    Note the straw mulch over the raspberry beds - a good way to keep the soil moist in hot or windy weather.

    And these raspberries… In the past I've pulled out all the runners, now I'm thinking I should leave a few as long as they stay within the set boundaries. What do others do, I wonder?



    But it was the rhubarb trials that were the real eye-opener.  Four wide beds with two plants of each cultivar growing on each side.  There were over 60 rhubarb varieties growing there! Most I'd never heard of but noted the difference in size - the 'Earlies' were huge while others had barely started to put out leaves; others had much thicker stems and smaller leaves; some had the bulbous centre growth that also heralded the flowering of my rhubarb. Again, worth taking note of any varieties that appeal as rhubarb plants can produce over many years so choosing a monster plant for a small garden may cause regret. Specialist fruit suppliers will be able to advise on the wide range of choice available.

    But for any gardeners reading this who grow blackcurrants, I'll leave you with this advice from the RHS. Their bushes have been cut down to try and eradicate Big Bud Mite as indicated by this sign.  I don't grow blackcurrants but, if I did, I'd be checking the buds right now.









    23 Apr 2015

    Blossom, bulbs, bunnies and bees - Spring at RHS Wisley

    Rhododendron, Hellebore, Magnolia stellata,
    Primula 'Iris Mainwaring', Skimmia, bee on comfrey.

    Last weekend I had to return a plant to the nursery at Wisley. I'd bought two identical white Echinacea in mid-January; one grew, the other didn't. No problem, the RHS nurseries guarantee their plants so I was confident of getting a replacement or refund. As a bonus, the sun was shining so the trip also provided a good excuse to use my membership to have a wander round the gardens.

    There was a Lindt sponsored bunny hunt over the school holidays, an excellent idea to tempt visitors into all areas, with the promise of chocolate at the end. Who could resist? Not I! I collected a form and kept an eye out - even adults like a treasure hunt! It also provided a good framework for my walk, taking me through areas that I explore less frequently like the Glasshouse, Rockery and  Children's play area.


    I had every intention of making this a short-ish visit, a couple of hours max.  But that's just silly.  Even at this time of year, I was stopping every few paces to take photos or peer at a label - hence the delay in writing this post, so many photos!  I'd last visited in mid-January in search of scent, winter colour and texture; in the three month interim, most of that has now, as expected, been overtaken by spring planting. People not busy hunting for gold bunnies were busy photographing the magnolias in full bloom - a breathtaking sight on a sunny day.



    As ever, I found wandering around such an education.  Admittedly, I'm completely addicted to plants but there really is no substitute for seeing established plants growing throughout the year or how to combine plants for maximum effect: Muscari under a gorgeous ornamental cherry (Prunus 'Shirotae') or primula next to saxifraga growing out of a wall in the rock garden, sedums (starting spring growth but with last year's seedheads intact) next to grasses Eragrostis curvula. Often shrubs will grow much larger than nurseries would have us believe, given the right conditions - at Wisley, you'll see how big that unpruned bay (Laurus nobilis), sweet box (Sarcococca) or Fatsia will grow! (I walked around a huge mature Fatsia, checking to see if it really was just the one shrub. It was.)





    Banks of Skimmia took over where January's Daphne odorata left off, scenting the air all around; white camellias were still looking good while the red camellias were getting a bit, well, past it.  I walked past swathes of Erythronium 'Pagoda' on my way up to the orchard, a small woodland plant I was particularly taken with. Useful and beautiful ground cover is always worth noting.

    Erythronium 'Pagoda'


    The pruning in the orchard is a lesson in itself which I'll cover in a second post on the soft fruits and edibles growing at Wisley. I always have a look at the trial grounds when I visit, it's so interesting to see the methods that are used and what's growing. The route that I usually walk to get there is via the Glasshouse Borders; as a big fan of Piet Oudolf planting, this is my must-visit part of the gardens. In January the borders were breathtakingly lovely in their midwinter monochrome with the dried seedheads of herbaceous perennials left intact; now those have been cut back as new growth comes through and all is green and fresh, albeit seen at a distance as the borders have been roped off while the grass is reseeded.



    Part of my bunny hunt directed me into the glasshouse. There were two bunnies to be found here but first you had to tear yourself away from the scented air at the entrance! Scented plants had been lavishly arranged around citrus trees - it was an extraordinary treat to smell the gorgeous clove like scent of a dianthus or sweet pea in April!

    Sweet peas, freesia, dianthus, Linaria reticulata 'Flamenco', Heliotrope and geranium

    Lilies clambering up through palms gave me more than one photographic Georgia O'Keeffe moment and heavily scented stocks (Matthiola incana) added to the perfume although eventually I reached sensory overload and had to move on. All of these can be grown outdoors in the garden in the summer. (Although a neighbour here in NW5 has freesias in bloom in a sunny spot under her window as I type!)

    I admit that I hadn't expected the gardens to offer so much of a sensory treat this early in the gardening year but there's always something to take away from a garden visit whatever the time of year. In my case that was literally true as I came away with a haul of useful pollinator plants plus some low maintenance/high visual plants for my mum's garden. More importantly, I found so much inspiration for transitioning 'spring into summer'/'shade into light' planting, no matter what size a garden is - an invaluable resource for a fledgling garden designer.

    There are heaps more photos which I haven't found room for here so, if interested, have a look at  my Flickr slideshow and I strongly recommend a visit soon - I've pencilled my next visit into the diary already.



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