Can you quite believe that Chelsea starts tomorrow? I mean, I know it’s May, but still! I suppose the late start to the year has started me off on the wrong foot rather and I can’t believe that the worlds biggest and best (in my opinion) flower show has already begun for those folk lucky enough to get a PR pass – or be in the royal family.
Due to the significance of Chelsea 2013 – its hundredth year, don’t you know – RHS have brought out their beautiful hardback ‘A Centenary Celebration‘ book. Its pages are crammed with info, gardens and historic photo’s to get you in the mood if you’re not able to get to Chelsea this year. Even if you do – it’s worth a read.
One of the lovely things about A Centenary Celebration is that is split into distinct historical eras for easy reading. We start off in 1827 before the Chelsea Flower Show even began and end up in 2013, so there’s actually over 100 years of history crammed into the pages. The RHS aren’t scant on pictures, and if you’re more of a flick-through-the-pages reader like me, it’s amazing to see the developing show and changing trends within the images themselves.
There are a lot of nice little touches with this book, one being that you’ll happen across a little section about Chelsea from a judge’s, garden designer’s or groundsman’s point of view. This offers some additional insight into the show and works well with the overall historical nature of the book. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever been trawling through computer files looking for your past Chelsea snaps, then you can just dive into this hardback instead because there’s inspiration everywhere you look. Whether it’s a nostalgic ‘aha, I remember that,’ or a ‘ooh, I haven’t seen that before‘, there’s inspiration to be had.
This really is a gem of a book, and it celebrates Chelsea with a welcome mix of nostalgia and inspiration. Whether you’re preparing to beat your way through the garden show masses this year or not, A Centenary Celebration offers a rich and informative read with plenty of images to capture the eye.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration (9780711234512) then there’s a special offer price of £20.00 (inc UK p&p). All you’ve need to do is call Bookpoint on 01235 400400 and quote the code 46CFS.
This week I’ve got a guest post written by freelancer Steve Nelson. Steve enjoys spending time in the outdoors, gardening and cooking in his spare time. The weather’s finally starting to warm up, and so if you’re in the mood for some shopping, then he’s got some great gardening ideas.
With the spring season under way and warmer months ahead, now is a wonderful time for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. Of course, every year spring gardening brings on a number of activities and purchases. From researching the best new flowers and plants to put into your garden, to purchasing basic essentials such as a new pair of hedge trimmers from mysmartbuy.com or some new gloves for rugged yard work, there are always things that need to be done.
However, what can truly make spring gardening enjoyable and unique this year is to add a few accessories and new features to your garden. This keeps things interesting year in and year out and gives you ways of improving your garden that go beyond simply keeping the plants fresh and healthy. Here are 5 specific items and accessories you might want to purchase for your garden this season.
1. Stepping Stones
Stepping stones can make your garden more accessible and enjoyable in a matter of minutes. Of course, you’ll need a strategic path or area prepared to lay down stones, but having a stone path through, around, or alongside your garden completely changes its atmosphere for the better. This invites people to spend time in your garden and gives you a better way of moving through it.
2. Birdbaths & Bird Feeders
Inviting birds into your garden is a wonderful way to improve its atmosphere. Of course, too many birds could be a problem, but a single birdbath and/or bird feeder can be a very nice addition. Plus, birds provide natural pest control for your garden, which saves you from having to use harmful chemicals on the environment.
Statues and garden figurines are very popular, and can often be purchased at normal gardening centres. Too many of these statues can become a bit tacky, but one or two tasteful statues can serve as elegant and interesting decorations within your garden. This can also be a great talking point when visitors see your garden.
Just as these other items provide your garden with a more active and inviting atmosphere, furniture provides you and your family and visitors with actual places to spend time in the garden. Whether it’s something as simple as a single bench, or something a bit more involved such as an outdoor dining table or a gazebo, furniture can completely change the functionality of your garden.
Finally, you might also consider making your garden a bit more unique by installing lighting to use at night. Of course, the best gardens maintain a natural feel, but having a few lights strategically placed to allow you to spend time outside at night can be a wonderful touch.
When it comes to gardening equipment, I’m a ‘I’ll make do’ kinda chap. Of course, there are must-have’s such as lawnmowers, spades and secateurs, but all these modern cons – such as the Bosch Garden Saw – are products that I wouldn’t actually think twice about buying. Especially when it comes to sawing, drilling and construction, I suppose I’m a bit of a backwards thinking male who thinks that a bit of energetic exercise won’t do me any harm.
So, when I first got the Bosch Garden Saw, my first thoughts were ‘Well, what the hell am I going to use this for?’ I’m a man, I don’t need an electric saw. I have muscles and wouldn’t be caught dead using a piece of motorised machinery when I could be sweating buckets and chaffing the already rough calluses on my hands whilst taking an eternity to belligerently saw half a tree. Grrrrrr.
Then, I half heartedly thought ‘I better give this tool a try, before stowing it on my garden shelves to remain unused’. And, now comes the part where I have to eat my words and grovel. This Bosch Garden Saw is the single most useful thing that I’ve never wanted in my life. I cut’s like a breeze, and jobs that would take me 10 minutes, now take mere seconds. I probably shouldn’t have, but I took off the safeguard and chopped up an old garden fence. An actual WHOLE GARDEN FENCE PANEL. I know this isn’t what this product was made for, but it was a breeze. Then, today I was installing some wooden edging at a client’s and needed to nip a bit off the end. Once again, the Garden Saw was ideal. For actual plants, thick trunks which you’d normally being straining to get the secateurs around can be dealt with easily and efficiently. Job done.
I’ll quite happily say that after not thinking I’d use this product, I’d now never be without it. It’s well worth the money, charges up fantastically quickly so that you can get going with garden jobs and makes those annoying jobs that you put off for so long a simple and joyful few minutes.
As a child, my visits to National Trust properties were numerous. Though much time was spent tirelessly moving from room to rope cordoned room, I have to say that I was only really happy when exploring the gardens of stately homes and estates. As a teenager I became an obstreperous young thing, and obstinately refused to even get out of the car at National Trust properties, instead being left to my hormonal induced angst with my CD player. As an adult, I finally returned to enjoying National Trust properties, though I still whizzed through the house like a blue bottle on speed so that I could get to the gardens.
The reason that I say this, is because Kitchen Garden Estateby Helene Gammack, will joyfully thrust any reader back into the popular National Trust ambience. Whilst being a fantastic vegetable and smallholding handbook, there are historical points scattered amongst its pages, so that you’ll learn a little something extra, rather than just some horticultural tips. From the traditional potager and the monastic physic gardens to 18th century kitchen gardens and the rise of landscaped estates, there’s something of interest for everyone.
For actual horticultural and smallholding use, there’s also a veritable feast of information. Though clearly laid out into distinct sections, this is a book for flicking through. For landing on recipe pages and being inspired. For finding companion plant guides and edible flower lists. For instantly wanting to keep bees, make pigeon pie and cultivate your very own orchard. The pages are brimming with photos and illustrations to catch your eye and allow a minute or two to indulge in the page, before flicking again and coming across another great treat.
I highly recommend this book, not so much in regards of it becoming your vegetable growing bible, but as somewhere to retreat to whether you’re enjoying a sunny five minutes or are huddled up in the depths of winter trying to get some inspiration. There’s a beautiful National Trust vintage style about this book, and Helene Gammack has certainly managed to charm me.
The main reason for having a well-maintained and attractive garden is that it provides you with your own natural space in which you can relax, unwind, and recover your energies in our increasingly busy, complex, and demanding world. Admittedly, it does take time and effort to keep your garden well maintained, but if you follow a few basic guidelines you should find that your garden repays the effort you invest in it many times over.
In the spring, add grass seed to the lawn. Homeowners often forget that grass is a plant and that it needs to be well maintained, fed, and replenished regularly in order for a lawn to stay healthy and looking good. Feed your grass at least once a week, especially in summer, and cover damaged areas with plastic sheeting as it recovers.
Plant blooming flowers and other colorful plants in mid to late spring to allow them time to grow for the summer months when you really need them. It is best to weed regularly rather than having to do it all at once, in which case it can become a real chore.
Trim the edges on a regular basis. Not only will this keep the garden looking neat and tidy all year round but it will also encourage your grass to grow vertically rather than invade the edges and borders.
Tips and tools
Remember to only water the garden plants when the sun has gone down in the evenings. They will over-absorb and wilt if you water them in the hotter parts of the day, which will be counter-productive.
Get somebody to water your plants at night if you go away for a few weeks in the summer. If you just leave the garden to fend for itself when you disappear on vacation it will look a real mess when you return. More importantly, many plants will die and have to be replaced if there is a prolonged hot spell.
To give the garden more depth in winter and keep it looking good all year round, consider using potted plants and evergreen trees, bushes and shrubs, and take delicate plants indoors during bad weather, or move them into a greenhouse. You don’t want to be in the position of having to change all your plants as the seasons come and go.
Make sure that you have a good pair of pruning shears on hand for the autumn pruning, a trowel for regular weeding, and a good lawnmower for keeping the grass well trimmed; make certain that you sharpen the blades on your lawnmower several times during the mowing season, as dull lawnmower blades can damage grass. You should also have a good spade for the borders and for planting shrubs, as well as a fork for turning the soil and letting it breathe.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of preparing the earth properly and sowing grass seeds from scratch, or if your soil is not suitable for growing grass, consider opting for artificial grass. This, like artificial flowers these days, is as good as the real thing and will need very little if any maintenance. Purists may balk at the idea, but for people short on time and skills it can be an excellent alternative to a real lawn.
In keeping with tradition, April has arrived, bringing with it lashings of rain which seems ironic under the current environmental conditions of drought. With a hosepipe ban in place and the promise of a scorching summer ahead, I was anticipating a lack of grass mowing over the next months as beautifully green meadows turned to dusty barren tundra. Without being able to use a hose, my client’s would have to cope with fields of brown instead of green. Though, with Wimbledon, The Diamond Jubilee and The London Olympics all occurring this year, I should’ve realised that this summer will probably be the wettest we’ve had in years.
When I first unpacked the Bosch 34 Li Ergoflex, it has to be said, I wasn’t that convinced. It looked rather flimsy, and though it went together fairly easily, that in itself instilled a sense of trepidation. Surely, click, snap, bolt into place, means only one thing; whir, grind, puff of smoke, break. It’s a lawnmower, I wasn’t too sure how much I’d be thrilled by this device, even though it was cordless. And, my first impressions weren’t great. So, I set this thin and fragile looking device a challenge; conquer the allotment. A world away from a beautifully flat lawn. Here was an undulating, tussock-filled, unkempt wasteland to navigate through – take that on and do your best.
As Ron Weasley would put it, this lawnmower is actually bloody brilliant. Its blade is quick, and it whirs into life in just seconds. Did it navigate the dent festooned plains of the allotment? Yes. Did it actually cut well? Yes. Did it do its job in about a fifth of the time that cutting the allotment grass normally takes? Well, once again, yes. I’m actually amazed how good this lawnmower is, and as soon as I got home I rushed out into the garden to try it on my godmothers back lawn. Would it, and this was pushing it, stripe the garden just as my godmother’s partner likes? It only blimmin did!
It takes a lot to get me going on about garden equipment. I’m a plantsman and a wildlife geek, indulging in crisp foliage, tender petals and vivid scurrying beasts. I’m not really one for machinery, even if it helps immensely with the gardening task in hand. But, Bosch’s Ergoflex really did it for me.
Not only does it leave a great cut and deal with far more than the perfectly flat English garden you’d think it would handle, but it’s battery driven so you can take it anywhere. The battery lasted the entire time I used it (which was about 45 minutes), and the speed at which it cuts counters the negative that you have a limited energy supply. It’s easy to put together, easy to charge the battery, and easy to use. And, then it gives you an amazing cut too. Definitely one for any gardener’s shed.
If you’re anything like me, a crazy plantsman, then your garden will be pretty much rammed with every plant you’ve ever been able to get your hands on. I collect plants as I garden, I pop them in wherever there’s space, and every few years I try to bring a bit more of a designed appearance to my garden sprawl by overhauling beds and borders. But, away from the prestigious shows and competitions, most gardens tend to evolve over time and take shape as you collect plants.
The same thing could be said when it comes to garden furniture. The more you garden, the more you develop a style and discerning eye to the things you like. In the same way, you’re likely to collect bits of furniture over time because, frankly, most gardeners don’t have the money to fill a new garden with beautiful furniture AND plants in one go. However, this can cause a problem, leading to a space packed with plants but with nowhere to actually enjoy them because in the midst of filling your trolley with seedlings and blooms, furniture has taken a back seat.
This is the case of my own space. I don’t have a lawn to relax out on, and the only path I have winds its way between two wide borders to the garage. I put in a patio area a couple of years ago with the intention of buying a small round table and two chairs, but the space soon became overtaken with seedling pots and cats sprawling out in the sunshine. On a day such as today, when spring starts to send tendrils of warmth into the receding winter chill, I have a great desire to get out and amongst my plants, not to garden, but to simply enjoy. With only one faded bench by the hen coop my places to sit, other than on the ground, are minimal.
Whilst all of us gardeners love nothing more to potter around, deadheading, pruning, potting up as we go, remembering to actually put areas of seating into our oasis is important. If you’re anything like me and don’t want to pay much attention to the upkeep of seating, pieces such as rattan garden furniture, stone benches and willow constructs are great, with the latter particularly beautiful because, in many cases, you can get to the willow to root so that you’re effectively sat on a living structure. We may not actually take a breath readily, but when the sun shines and you want to take the weight off, to watch and listen to garden life all around you for a moment, having that place to sit is important. In addition, garden furniture can actually turn dead space and odd corners into fascinating places. A winding path is of no interest if it’s not really going anywhere. Place a seat at the end of it and you’ve created a destination. This allows you to do away with paths that need to meander back to the main area as you can simply create areas of seclusion and privacy just by placing benches and loungers at dead ends. And, though I’m unlikely to stop collecting plants at a mad man’s rate, I will make sure that this year I buy that table and chairs so that when the sun’s high in the sky, the birds are singing and it’s Pimms o’clock, I actually have somewhere to sit back, breathe and enjoy my garden.
If you’re looking for the most expensive snowdrop in the world, then I may have just found it. On Thursday 16th February, 2012, Ipswich based Thompson & Morgan bought Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ for a whopping £725. You raise an eyebrow? Well you’ll be even more shocked to discover that this incredible price was for a single bulb of the rare new hybrid. But, why has this variety caused such a bidding furore?
Over the past few years there have been several high prices for snowdrops, with 2011 seeing Galanthus ‘Green Tear’ selling a single bulb for £360. You might ask yourself why on earth these bulbs command such prices. Elizabeth Harrison truly is a rare gem in the snowdrop world, having it’s green ovary and petal markings replaced with vibrant yellow. But it’s cost is not demanded by the hybrid’s variety but by the fact that it is extremely slow to reproduce. This means that it can take decades for enough bulbs to be created to sell commercially, which results in their prices rising to astronomical rates.
Like Thompson & Morgan’s ‘Midnight Mystique’ Black Hyacinth which commanded £50,00 per bulb in 1998, Elizabeth Harrison is set to be in very high demand over the coming years. Midnight Mystique still cannot be produced to meet consumer demand, and you’ll be very lucky if you manage to get your hands on this precious bulb. Through tissue cultures, Thompson & Morgan hope to speed the reproductive process for this snowdrop, allowing them to bring this beautiful specimen to your garden in coming years. Meanwhile, snowdrops are now in full bloom across Britain, and there several top gardens to see snowdrops this month.
Anglesey Abbey Gardens – Cambridge
Amongst 100 acres of garden, you can discover more than 240 varieties of snowdrop, including the rare Galanthus lagodechianus.
Ickworth – Suffolk
Amongst their Oak Walk, Trim Trail and Geraldine’s Walk, Ickworth showcases beautiful shows of snowdrops accompanied by aconites of gold.
Hodsock Priory – Nottinghamshire
Hodoskc Priory has five acres of snowdrop beauty during January and February, including a woodland walk to showcase these beautiful flowers with even great attraction.
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal – Yorkshire
A stunning World Heritage Site, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal combines 323 hectares of countryside all with the January and February show of snowdrops to make you smile.
Nymans – West Sussex
A 20th century garden which has an impressive plant collection, Nymans is a sight for sore eyes in the spring, with snowdrops and early daffodils underplanted amongst magnolias and camellias. Meanwhile, the Wall Garden combines rare hellebore species with a meadow of Galanthus.
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.
Good online gardening courses are hard to find. And there’s a reason for it; gardening is predominantly a practical skill, and whilst of course you need the theoretical knowledge to know that the huge stem you’ve just hacked off won’t kill the plant, the best way to learn horticulture is to go out and get your hands dirty. You want to see pruning in action, learn how to lay a lawn by actually doing it, and actively contrast plants against each other in real life to see how they’ll look. However, if you have a busy life and fitting in a new horticultural course is just not feasible, turning online and heading to My Garden School is ideal.
I was invited to take part in one of their four week courses earlier this year, and opted for ‘Shrubs, Essentials of Planting Design‘ as I already know a little about the subject. The course consisted of four weekly lectures, approximately 30 minutes in length, done through video format which became available every Saturday. There are optional assignments to submit if you want extra feedback to ensure you’ve understood the lecture. And there’s an easy to use classroom forum if you want to chat amongst yourselves or ask questions, though I admit, I was very busy and didn’t have a chance to actually post.
My Garden School has taken lots of steps to ensure that classes are as productive and appealing as possible. My course was run by Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner Andrew Mcindoe, and other courses are also headed by renowned horticulturists so there is no expense spared in ensuring you have the best in experienced lecturers. Meanwhile, the lectures didn’t even attempt to go down a practical route, so I didn’t feel I was missing out on actual real life experience. Rather, they gave a great framework of theoretical knowledge that you can then use in the garden. I was a little disappointed that the videos consisted only of plant images with a voiceover and, even if there was a short opening and closing presentation piece with Andrew, I think it would hold interest a little more.
However, is this a good online course? Yes. You can be assured of the quality of information, you can fit the short lectures into an evening or weekend fairly easily, and you can become as involved with other classmates and the lecturer as you wish. There are a great range of courses to enjoy, and if you want a theory based gardening course to brighten up a dull evening, then My Garden School gets a green thumbs up.