I’ve been totally caught up in the Olympic frenzy this year. Having always loved the sporting occasion, I was excited to see the Games come to London. However, I was annoyed when I didn’t get tickets and became very frustrated about the whole event. Then, Mary managed to get me a ticket and I was once again enthused.
Us Brits are exceptionally good at looking down upon ourselves. At thinking that we couldn’t possibly accomplish the feats of other nations. We seem to prepare ourselves for the worst outcome before it happens; ‘the Games will be crap‘, ‘transport won’t work‘, ‘we won’t win anything‘. Then, we surprised ourselves and threw an incredible Olympics, won more than we ever had, and the Olympic Park…wow!
Why am I talking about the Olympics on a gardening blog? Because not only were the sporting venues well thought out, but the landscaping was too. I had heard about the wildflower meadows in the park, but hadn’t realised just however beautiful the Olympic landscaping would be. Winding their way like ribbons of colour by the Stadium, the Aquatic Centre, the concrete helter-skelter *ahem* piece of Orbit artwork, the colourful borders of planting are amazing.
Making the perfect place to meander alongside the beautifully restored River Lea, the borders have been crammed with planting. There aren’t only wildflower meadows here, but carefully thought out planting with echinacea, rudbekia and agapanthus throwing bursts of colour into the air. Tree lined lawned areas are the ideal place to stop and have a snack, whilst the Park Live where the giant screen hangs above the water is a stunning feat of genius for those creating an outside and landscaped amphitheatre.
I came away from the park being blown away by the level of detail that LOCOG have managed to attain. After the Paralympics the park will be closed for a year, but a lot of the landscaping is to stay. If you have Paralympic tickets, then I encourage you to take time to enjoy the scenery as well as the sport. And, if you haven’t got tickets, then I hope that visiting the park when it opens again in 2013/2014 will provide at least some of the landscaping beauty.
I think sometimes people are put off by the RHS. The Royal Horticultural Society can make you shudder with inferiority, and many amateur gardeners contemplating joining an organisation avoid the RHS altogether. It’s not that it’s a bad organisation, far from it, it’s the cream of the crop and therefore unworthy of an amateur gardeners association.
BUT, if you take the effort to look at the RHS you’ll discover that whilst it may have had a stuffy and slightly snobby past, it’s modern gloss is a lot more stripped back to basics. Of course, if you attend Chelsea or Hampton Court Palace garden shows, you’re sure to come across some of the ‘old skool’ folk. However, if you’ve ever wanted to see battling grannies and a free-for-all scrum no matter what your horticultural expertise is, just visit Chelsea’s sale day as the fight’s break out over £1 fushia’s.
Currently, the RHS has a promotion allowing you to get three months for free and, if you buy before January 31st you’ll be able to get in before the prices go up. This is by no means a sales pitch – I’m not even a member – yet. You can get free access to 140 RHS Recommended Gardens throughout the country. You get The Garden magazine every month; another means of horticultural inspiration. And, if I’m honest this is best feature of all, you get free email and telephone advice from RHS experts for your plants! That’s an absolute god-send if you ask me, and something which is never particularly highlighted and is practically priceless.
With prices at just £36.75 until the end of January, whereupon prices creep up to £51, getting in now will certainly offer a great start to the year. With an annual fee costing less than 11p a day, I’m about to join the elite and enjoy all that horticultural Britain has to offer.
As a passionate horticulturist I’m ashamed to say that this was my first trip to RHS Garden Wisley. Nestled amongst rural pastures in Surrey, this garden is not very accessible if, like me, you’re not a driver, and so getting to one of the Royal Horticultural Societies most prestigious gardens has always been slightly difficult. However, I can say without a doubt in my mind that the trouble is well worth the effort, and you’ll come away wanting to rip out your garden and start trying new planting schemes and palettes before you even really know what’s come over you.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the sheer scale of Wisley. It’s immense, and if you’re planning to only spend an hour or two here then think again because with so many plants, so many meandering corridors of vegetation that you just have to go and explore, and around 60 acres of gardens, you’ll need trip after trip after trip. Especially for those who are passionate about gardening, every month of the year will offer something different from the last. And whether you love trees, alpines, herbaceous borders or a simple afternoon wander in the sun around a stunning outside retreat, Wisley is ideal.
For one of the most spectacular sights its worth heading to up to fruit mount and looking down towards the tremendous Glasshouse. Whether the Glasshouse was here or not wouldn’t take away from the landscape of herbaceous borders rolling down the hill towards a beautiful lake. However, with icing on the cake is given by the 12m high Glasshouse which houses a fantastic array of plants and is the ideal place to shelter in when the heavens open or the bitter winter chill blusters through the air.
Another top spot is the recently opened Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden. One of this gardens advantages that it isn’t akin to many rose gardens and though there are over 4,000 specimens of rose here, there are also over 5,000 herbaceous plants making the gardens lush and vibrant without the need for simultaneous rose bloom coverage. Looking down from the Bowes Lyon Pavilion the garden looks like a garden you might find in your own oasis, with borders filled with both roses and firm favourites such as rudbekia, heuchera and achillea. Looking up however the terraces give the garden an Oriental intrigued, so remember to turn around and gaze before heading on.
I didn’t dare enter the nursery as I know I’d be bankrupt within minutes and didn’t have transport, but if you’re going to Wisley expect to have plants piled high and an acer sticking through the sun roof as you leave.
RHS Gardens Wisley are a spectacle to be seen by everyone, not just plant lovers, and with plenty of attractions, exhibitions and events on throughout the year you’ll be able to enjoy the passing seasons alongside the very gardeners who make this place stunning month after month. And, being open all year round apart from Christmas Day, you can shelter in the tropics of the Glasshouse, tighten the scarf and enjoy crisp winter borders, and indulge in Wisley’s Christmas Events for the ultimate gardening day out.
If you ever have the delight to be in Toronto then a top place to visit is Allan Gardens. Officially turned over to the city in 1888 and named Allan Gardens in 1901, the Toronto Horticultural Society has created a stunning glasshoused garden, filled with plants to enjoy. With grey weather at this time of year it is the ideal place to head if you’re looking for a little shelter. And set amongst the beautiful tree planted oasis which is home to black scurrying squirrels and a dog park catering to our canine friends, is a stunning greenhouse collection to inspire.
Located on Gerrard and Jarvis on the outskirts of the aptly named Cabbagetown, Allan Gardens is filled to the brim with plants. Autumn is obviously the season for chrystanthemum’s as the glasshouses were filled with bedazzling colour offered by these beautiful blooms. I’m not a huge fan of these flowers but you can’t deny that they offer the perfect plant for the September and October season. And with an enormous range of varieties you can fill your garden with huge blousy flowers or declicate blooms more akin to miniature dahlias.
Nor am I a fan of houseplants which, I must truthfully admit, often die a slow and drought ridden death in my house. However, Allan Gardens certainly managed to reinvigorate my interest in this area, showcasing spider plants and cacti in inventive and insirpational ways to prove that even these traditional and often forgotten plants can still give visual appeal.
Along with some of our more traditional specimens you’ll find stunning plants including the surreal looking Giant Swan Milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus). A native of Southeast Africa the seedpods swell to gigantic size, resulting in its common name of Balloon Plant, and it’s not every day you’ll come across such a stunner. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Calico Flower and some amazing Morning Glory show just how much colour you can bring to even small greenhouse or conservatory spaces.
Allan Gardens is a must if you’re visiting this beautiful Canadian city. It offers shelter from the cold, a fantastic variety of plants in an array of inspirational displays and, as a welcome bonus, it’s entirely free.
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This week I had the joy of attending the RHS’s Hampton Court Palace Garden Show; a delectable treat of shopping and show gardens. I’ve been once before and perhaps was slightly disappointed, probably due to the lack of show gardens. However, this was partly because I’m a huge fan of the Chelsea Flower Show and all it has to offer, and was comparing the two shows alongside each other. However, in retrospect this is highly unfair because the two are nothing alike. Chelsea is like the trendy bar in town, where you have to be seen, you have to visit, but where you really can’t afford to buy more than one drink. Hampton however is the opposite; it’s the quiet countryside pub where the food is divine, where you spend time watching the world drift by and whilst just as chic, doesn’t have the frenzied ‘posh’ pace that Chelsea does.
There seemed to be a predominant colour at Hampton this year; purple. Purple is of course a fantastic garden colour which is a brilliant contrast plant and therefore its unsurprising that it makes itself known year after year. However, it’s nice to see something breaking with the general trend and the LOROS Hospice Garden of Light and Reflection, whist still utilising some purple, also pushed vibrant pinks and oranges to stunning effect.
As a lover of the cottage garden effect and the slight rambling nature than such gardens taken on I was blown away by the Stockman’s Retreat Garden, which combined the rustic stone cottage complete with green roof alongside an incredible planting structure.
Meanwhile, there were some pretty innovative ideas too. ‘Landscaped Obscured’ is a mushroom garden planted underground with views by way of mirrored turrets so you can see the fungi. The WWF garden included a huge plughole; symbolising the precious commodity of water. Meanwhile, the Astellas Pharma Ltd – “A Matter of Urgency” Campaign garden also highlighted the importance of water and had a very cool ‘floating’ tap, whilst Cube Lighting’s ‘night garden’ was pretty inspired and is definitely worth a walk through.
As always, there is PLENTY of opportunity to buy plants, though whilst there are dozens of different nursery stands, much of the flora is similar. Achillea’s, grasses, dahlias, clematis, hostas…the list goes on, and if you’re out to get some great specimens you’re in for a treat. Unfortunately, being a plant hoarder, I already have many of the varieties on offer though I did buy my third sarracenia and a deep mauve coloured knautia. And even though the rain made its presence known, Hampton Court was a thoroughly enjoyable day out and, if you can, I encourage you to go.
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Getting out of bed isn’t a strong point of mine. I’m a night owl and find it hard to burn the candle at both ends. I never schedule a client before 10.30, and I’m rarely out of bed by 9.30 unless the chickens are making a racket or there’s the horrifying sound of one of the cats retching – most likely into a pile of fresh washing. However, the call of an event with Bosch at the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden drew me out from under the covers at the ungodly hour of 7.20 (after two snooze button hits) and I can definitely say I was rewarded for my efforts.
I’ve never been to the Chelsea Physic Garden and didn’t know quite what to expect. If you’ve never been then take the time to explore, for this charming garden encompassed by beautiful brick walls is fantastic. There’s something for everyone whether you love ponds, vegetables or ornamentals and the space is laid out like a wonderful touchable catalogue of greenery. And with great labelling you’ll certainly discover something new for both plants and historical significance.
However, the deal of the day was a pruning and topiary class with Geoff Hodge using Bosch’s range of cordless, lithium battery, garden equipment. The focus was, expectantly, on the power tools but I learnt something new with pruning too…primarily that my process for pruning roses back to the third leaf node is out of date and that it is generally believed that hips should now simply just be snapped off.
For any gardener, the strains of clipping, whether you’re using secateurs or loppers can be significant. As Geoff put so well, when it comes to pruning I’m a butcher not a hairdresser, but that means that sore wrists, tired fingers and palm calluses are the norm. However, a great range of battery powered devices can be used to great effect, making the process of pruning far less labour intensive. The Ciso cordless secateur’s were pretty cool and didn’t really feel like you were even pruning – though the mechanics may take a few minutes to grasp as the action feels very odd to those adept with a pair of traditional secateurs. I loved the Isio cordless shape and edging shear however, partly due to their versatility and partly due to the fact that, in a nostalgic way, they reminded me of sheep shearing season as I was growing up. It’s great for pruning, topiary in particular, and you can even get a telescopic handle which allows you to use it on rampant climbers such as clematis or jasmine which might have their tendrils gently invading your house from every possible crevice and nook.
Meanwhile, their cordless mowers and, in particular, strimmers were pretty impressive. I have a cordless strimmer for the allotment but it’s heavy, doesn’t last that long, and works with a spool of cable rather than a cutting blade. The ART LI cordless strimmer was pretty amazing in its weight I have to say, and anything that’s cordless is good with me because, even when you’re as careful as possible, there’ll always be a time when you trip over or almost cut through a wire.
Bosch is pretty groundbreaking when it comes to battery life too, with the lithium batteries working at full capabilities until the last minute, rather than gradually getting slower and slower and slower. Plus they charge up quickly, and will be far more reliable than equipment which uses petrol and cables. A thumbs up from me for these products, I’m off to play with my new Iso…topiary in my neighbourhood doesn’t stand a chance!
It’s not often that I leave the smog and head back to the fresh and balmy air of Suffolk. I love it when I’m there, but trying to actually set aside time to go home sometimes proves difficult. Visits are often fleeting and I never manage to quite catch up with everyone I wanted to see, or re-live the places of my childhood. An odd day trip to the beautiful beaches of the RSPB’s Minsmere or walking my parents Dachshunds around Framlingham Castle is just about shoved in amongst scurrying to and fro. However, in these past months I’ve had to head home several times for family reasons, and it’s been a great opportunity for me to rediscover the garden.
I’ve gardened from a very early age and I can still remember my first plant – an African marigold. I was much peturbed to discover that the following year it was nowhere to be seen whilst my sister’s Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort) was happily thriving in its border. Here was my first introduction to annual and perennials and I can’t have been much older than six or seven. My mum was the main force behind my gardening and whilst she contended with being a very active vicar’s wife, she also managed to maintain the 3/4 acre garden to National Trust level. We moved of course, as vicars families do, leaving behind that wonderful garden and taking on a new one. And, as a favour to my mum in my past visits, I set about tweaking and pruning and clipping and wedding to my heart’s delight.
The fantastic thing with gardening in someone else patch is that you discover all these wonderful new plants. Of course, my daily living is spent in other’s gardens but as these have largely been developed by myself there are no surprises to be found. However, in my parents garden, a garden of horticultural enthusiasts, there is all sort’s to explore. The additional bonus of plants is that, without much effort, if you like it you can have it. A stem, leaf or root cutting can easily be stashed away, whist if the plant’s large enough you can simply seperate and hey-presto, you’ve got new plants for your garden.
In the front garden a beautiful pin pricked border of red greeted me and I found some stunning little geums which, of course, I pocketed. My mum actually bought me my marmalade geums that I got at the RHS Green Gardening Show a few years back and these new red plants will add beautiful cohesian to the garden when they flower in spring. Meanwhile, great mounds of pasque flowers erupted in purple and pink from the rockery, a stunning sight especially with their centre’s looking like a little bee was visiting each indivdiual. And, growing out of the cracks of the pavement tiny speckled viola’s offered something new to this delightful little species.
All in all I came back with a great stash of new plants to fill my garden with. And as they grow, mature and flower I’ll always be reminded of just where they’re from and my wonderful green fingered parents.
I’m getting old. This year, in place of the Sex and the City razzlemadazzle of cocktails and glamorous birthday drinks, I headed to deepest darkest Suffolk to seek out some peaceful green. Ok, so I had a bottle of red wine stashed in my man-bag but away from the Big Smoke and with less than a year before a major birthday milestone, all I actually wanted to do was visit Helmingham Hall’s gardens and estate.
It was fairly nostalgic for me, driving through the green encrusted country lanes of Suffolk. Cowparsley and poppies dotted the verges, lush vibrant greens on trees enclosing the sky to form a roller-coaster of green tunnels. With the countryside whirring by, the roads I knew as a child, my old house with its 3/4 acre garden, the four parishes that became my family’s own, it was an odd feeling. A strange mix of thrill and unease. A lust for a time past, yet knowing that it could never happen. But there was one thing that was obvious, away from the concrete jungle I was home.
Helmingham Hall…no, not my home…is definitely worth a visit for any in the area. A once huge estate the house is still live in, surrounded by a working moat complete with fish, gently darting swifts and mysterious alcoves that disappear under the foundations. The traditional knot garden itself is enclosed by a beautiful brickwork wall, a sublime mix of vegetable rows and studies in one half, with sweet pea aisles leading down to herbaceous borders splashing with Aquilegia, Iris and Peony colour at this time of year. Further to the house moat, gently flowing rivers surround the square garden, producing a wonderfully historic garden flowing out over bridges to the countryside beyond.
Allowing much of the land to grazing pasture for cows and deer, ancient oaks continue to tower and overlook the land as they have done for hundreds of years. Within the outer reaches of the gardens themsevles, wildflower meadows with fluidic mown paths allow visitors to gently stroll around, emanating the rivers and filling the soul with green. And if that isn’t enough the estate also has several beautifully managed ponds, allowing for an eclectic and diverse mix of plants and environmental interest for visitors.
Meanwhile, with the family land still calling my name, and Helmingham Hall’s invigorating revival of my wish to depart the smoke, rural stirrings have made my birthday leave of cocktails truly worthwhile. And though that bottle of Red quickly disappeared, it may be more greenery than glamour for me from now on.
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