Sunday, 11 August 2013

Border Beetroot, Anne Boleyn and a Clouded Yellow

If variety is the spice of life, then this has been a vindaloo week. Despite spending too much time jostling in the underground with not even a cut flower for company (if I had my way, nosegays and buttonholes would be compulsory for commuters), I managed to escape into the great outdoors for two wonderful, inspiring days.

My first fresh air was at Blickling Hall in Norfolk. The former home of the Boleyn family (Anne is said to have been born there) is one of my favourite places to walk and after an enjoyable afternoon exercising my legs and jaw with friends, I withdrew to the gardens to commune with the borders.

The hotter end of the double borders was looking particularly exuberant. I was reminded of your comments following a recent post on creative vegetable growing* so I thought I would share this photo showing ruby chard and beetroot ‘Blood Red’ making a valuable, yet cost-effective contribution to the planting scheme.  

The other big discovery I made in the double borders was that time is no great healer where plants are concerned. I have always loved Monarda, but after years of sorry plants with powdery mildew, I took the difficult decision to try to live without this beauty in our new garden. Then Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ caught my eye and guess which plant has been catapulted to the top of my must-have list? 'Gardenview Scarlet' has better resistance to powdery mildew than most cultivars, so I am hoping for a happily-ever-after ending to my Monarda love story.

Midweek, I found myself sharing shed space with representatives from nurseries and some of the most well-known gardens in the U.K. for a trade show focussing on sustainable ornamentals production; a subject close to my heart. We gathered at Howard, an excellent wholesale perennials nursery, where we were treated to enjoyable and enlightening presentations, followed by a tractor/trailer ride around the field grown areas of the nursery.

It was a day to consider issues of an important and serious nature, but maintaining an air of professionalism and composure is a challenge when you are bouncing merrily along on the back of a tractor through thousands of glorious perennials. The sight of a Clouded Yellow butterfly did little to quash my excitement.

Clouded Yellow butterfly
After a fascinating and entertaining presentation by Fergus Garrett on sustainability at Great Dixter, we turned our attention to sustainable growing media. This is a hot topic for me, as I choose not to buy compost containing peat. Using peat in the garden is inappropriate on so many levels: loss of habitat; CO2 emissions; and, as a friend pointed out recently, it is wrong to use something which has taken thousands of years to form, to grow an annual which will be dead in a matter of weeks. 

Scabious proving its credentials as a Peacock butterfly
 magnet at the nursery.
You may be surprised to learn that there are no plans in the U.K. to ban, or even place a tax on using peat; and while there are targets regarding reducing the use of peat in horticulture, these are targets - not legislation. Away from the trade, I wonder if gardeners really care about peat. Do people buy the cheapest compost irrespective of ingredients? Perhaps some gardeners are still smarting after having tried one of the earlier, less successful peat-free alternatives. I hope not. Peat-free compost has moved on; it's time we all did.