Monday, 9 October 2017

Roy Lancaster, Achocha, and The Cotswold Wildlife Park

Autumn brings out the forager in me. I love roaming along hedgerows in search of fruit; it makes me feel like the heroine in a Thomas Hardy novel.
I was a scavenging child. My favourite windfalls were almonds. I bashed the shells with a stone until they cracked open. It might not have been the quickest or easiest method, but there was no social media in those days so I could spend happy hours communing with almonds without the pressure of posing for a selfie every five minutes. 
My latest garden grazing took place with the full permission of the head gardener at Cotswold Wildlife Park. Cornus 'Norman Hadden' fruits are blessed with delicious flesh and disgustingly bitter seeds. It is not a fruit I will be caught scrumping any time soon. 
Cornus 'Norman Hadden' fruit
Thankfully, I was visiting with a group of fellow gardeners, and one had a pocketful of cucamelons (as you do). They were wonderful Cornus seed bitterness eradicators. I cannot recommend them highly enough. The cucamelon grower was also carrying achocha. Having never eaten this particular fruit before, I was keen to try it so I took some home for a Sunday breakfast achocha fry-up. It was rather good and made a complete change from the cake that had kicked-off my previous morning.
Cucamelon and achocha
I only eat breakfast cake when I’m travelling. Much of Saturday was spent on the road because with complete disregard for the adage that we should never meet our heroes, I set off on a seven-hour round trip to meet mine. 
Roy Lancaster at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Roy Lancaster, the raconteur with encyclopaedic botanical knowledge, is credited with having introduced some of our most popular garden plants. It would be very easy for him to sit around being the doyen scattering pearls of wisdom at his feet, he has, after all, earned this accolade. But while he is generous in sharing his expertise, his quest for knowledge continues at a staggering rate. As we toured the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park, he asked questions about plants that he might not have seen for some years (the gardens are home to some superbly grown rarities). No wonder he is so knowledgeable! He is in his eightieth year, an expert in his field, and still keen to find out more.
I learnt a lot about plants during our tour of the gardens, but the biggest eye-opener was that the most knowledgeable plantsman I am ever likely to meet is still asking questions and learning. We can never stop learning. My gardening hero remains atop his pedestal. I feel privileged and delighted to have met him. 

Do you have a gardening hero?

Cotswold Wildlife Park is very well worth a visit for the plants alone. Needless to say, the animals are wonderful too! 

Roy Lancaster's latest book is 'My Life With Plants'

Friday, 15 September 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - An Annual Event

Every year I grow a handful of annuals to plug the gaps in my garden, and in September they strut their stuff as if there is no tomorrow. Which, in the event of an early autumn, is tragically the case. Perhaps I should elevate annuals beyond gap-plugging, but I love using them to lift a dull corner of the garden or to add a new dimension to permanent schemes so that each border is slightly different every year.
Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cupcakes'
Cosmos is a stalwart of the garden gap. This year I stuck to Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cupcakes' with its remarkable unbroken single petal. It might be beautiful but I should have known better than to attempt to grow a plant with baking connotations. Needless to say 'Cupcakes' turned out like many of my culinary efforts: disappointing. For every light fluffy sponge, there were at least three flops failing to develop that gorgeous cupcake shape. 
Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cupcakes'
I accept that I am no Mary Berry, but for once I am unable to blame my culinary inadequacies. Perhaps other seeds infiltrated the batch, or 'Cupcakes' isn't as stable as we would hope. Either way, I have some very ordinary looking Cosmos among the cakes. It's like getting turnip surprise when you’re looking forward to double chocolate gooey pud with cream and custard. I might be disappointed, but the bees like the flops. Then again, more cupcakes might have made us all happy. 
Persicaria orientalis
A year ago today I posted about my hope that Persicaria orientalis would do the decent thing and seed itself around*. The good news is that it has! The even better news is that it relocates well. I have dug up a number of plants and placed them where I want them and they have all thrived, although they are shorter than their parents, unlike one particular Nicotiana affinis. It has reached dizzying heights by comparison to its bedfellows and would give Nicotiana sylvestris a run for its money. 
Nicotiana reaching for the sky
Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch' has exceeded my expectations. This huge, glorious clump of shining orange blooms towers over the sunflowers that are hanging their heads in deference to its marvellousness. Who can blame them? Even the wind and rain won't stand in the way of tithonia's magnificent display.
Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch'

Zinnia elegans 'State Fair' has been brightening up a dull corner for weeks. Next year I plan to sow more. I had intended to add these beauties to the cutting garden, but got sidetracked on the walk there by some Zinnia-sized gaps in the border. 
Zinnia 'State Fair'

Cosmos was destined for the cutting garden too and fell into a gap in the border en route. Seeds were more successful in getting to the cutting garden. Marigolds and cornflowers are mingling together and look particularly loved-up.
I have cut very few cornflowers because they are so popular with bees, yet all of these annuals have been used at some time in flower arrangements this summer. They have made such a difference in the garden and indoors. I really should sow a greater variety of them in future. Which annuals do you use for plugging border gaps and flower arranging?


I am linking this post with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at
Why not pop over there and see what is blooming in gardens elsewhere in the world?

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Secret Gardens of East Anglia

Beautiful books with depth seem to me to be a rarity. Many of the visually arresting publications gracing my coffee table and shelves have little to say beyond the photos. Secret Gardens of East Anglia differs in that it might have been two books. One, a masterclass in photography by the hugely talented Marcus Harpur, who, sadly, died recently; the second, a fascinating insight into gardeners and their gardens by Barbara Segall. The two combine to create a visually delightful experience and an exceptional read. 
Parsonage House (Photo: Marcus Harpur)
The private tour of twenty-two gardens ranging from a dramatic, densely planted city plot to spacious stately homes is a joy. I have lived in East Anglia for almost half of my life. Some of the gardens in the book I know well, others are new to me. Proximity is irrelevant though, as this is a book for everyone who loves gardens, regardless of whether they will ever set foot in East Anglia.
Ulting Wick wildflower meadow (Photo: Marcus Harpur)
Yes, I want to visit the gardens - who wouldn’t after drooling over all those mouth-watering photographs? But the stories of the gardens and their gardeners, so engagingly told by Barbara, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and propelled me outside to reconsider my own plot. The stories and photographs in this book have inspired me to be a braver, more audacious gardener. To garden bigger and better and with greater passion than ever before.
Wyken Hall (Photo: Marcus Harpur)
I must confess that I know Barbara and I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher. That said, had I not been given a copy, it would have been at the top of my Christmas list. I have returned to Secret Gardens of East Anglia on several occasions since I read it for the first time. It is, without question, my favourite book of the year.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Why Blog?

After nigh on a month of gallivanting, I have returned home to discover that a rabbit has taken up residence in my garden. This is no ordinary rabbit. It has super-rabbit powers. How else could it have entered a garden fortified by rabbit fencing? The super-rabbit has given a whole new twist to the Chelsea Chop, the method of pruning championed by Christopher Lloyd whereby selected perennials are partially pruned in May to control size and flowering time. The super-rabbit's pruning technique, known as the Hampton Court Chomp, is applied only to much loved ornamentals and involves mowing them down to within an inch of their lives in July. It is clearly not suitable for weeds as they have been left completely unchomped and are romping away.
Geranium, Monarda and Sedum proving themselves to 
be rabbit-resistant (until the rabbit decides otherwise)
The cutting garden has been renamed the weed garden and the sweet peas have jettisoned their precisely placed supports in favour of rampaging through sow thistles. I suppose I should be grateful that the sweet peas haven’t gone to seed. I would cut some for the house if only I could machete my way through the thistles. Elsewhere, the Christmas hyacinths are putting on a most unseasonal show.
Small and preposterous hyacinth

 All of this mayhem will take time to put right, so why am I blogging instead of hurling myself into the fray? This is something I have been pondering because I have been asked to give a short talk to my local gardening club on the subject of inspiration and blogging. The two definitely go hand in hand. Reading blogs inspires me, so much so that I was inspired to join in the fun and write a blog; but it is the wonderfully supportive community of the blogosphere that I miss most when I take a break. Since my first tentative post I have been advised and supported all the way, and for that I am immensely grateful. Thank you!
Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cupcakes'
A fellow blogger recently expressed her concern about being too busy to post. There are times in every year when life takes over. Work, home, family and everything else will not juggle themselves, and blogging is sometimes forced into the back seat. Like many avid readers, I miss blogs when they disappear for a while and I am delighted when they return. This is why you see blogs on my blogroll that haven’t been updated for months. They stay there because I want to read them and I hope that some day the bloggers will post again.
Lavandula x intermedia 'Sussex'
What are the benefits of blogging? For me, I think that blogging has encouraged me to be a more thoughtful gardener. Of course, you might argue that I should think less and weed more, which is a fair point, but if I look closely enough at the bulb catalogue I can’t see the weeds in the garden (yes, I am already compiling spring bulb orders). Meanwhile, the super-rabbit has been named Christo, and as we all know, once we name anything, saying goodbye becomes more difficult. Time to order some rabbit-resistant bulbs.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Crazy paving, Skirret and a spot of Hugelkultur at RHS Hampton Court

Aeons ago, when I was six, crazy paving was de rigueur. Since then it has gone the way of Aubrieta and my all-time favourite boiled sweets, Spangles. While Aubrieta is enjoying a return to being a cool, must-have plant, I am still awaiting the resurrection of my beloved Spangles (my dentist is probably crying into her mouthwash at their sad demise and the resulting loss of income).
Memories of Childhood... rose gardens
As for crazy paving, if I were a betting gardener, I would say that we are on the cusp of a revival. For this we should thank Andy Sturgeon and his cleverly conceived RHS Hampton Court Show garden incorporating iconic elements from a decade of Chelsea show gardens. He has rummaged through other designers' sheds to find ex-Chelsea seating, paving, columns and fins to reuse (which makes my shed seem woefully dull with its clapped-out washing machine, a few sorry plastic plant labels, and the national collection of unpaired gardening gloves). Reliving memories of Chelseas past is fun, but even better is the beautiful modern take on crazy paving. It makes me want to smash up and relay my perfectly linear patio.
As we step back in time down our crazy paving paths, let us spare a thought for colour. Flower shows in the twenty-first century have flirted with a tasteful splash of orange, or a sprinkling of lemon in a sea of blues, whites and greens. The planting at RHS Hampton Court embraces colour clashes and reintroduces estranged sections of the colour wheel to one another in a glorious celebration of dazzling flamboyance. 
Tom Massey's giant colour wheel design
Charlie Bloom's Colour Box Garden sums this up perfectly. The garden exists because of the generosity of the Twitter community. Gardeners have always shared plants, knowledge, expertise and skill, and the Colour Box Garden is proof that this culture of generosity lives on in a new, broader-reaching twenty-first-century form.
Colour Box Garden
Relinquishing control and letting nature take its course does not sit comfortably with some gardeners, but it is at the heart of London Glades, a garden created using Hugelkultur, the ancient process of mounding up garden waste and rotting wood to mimic the rich environment of the forest floor. The plants in the garden are all edible, from skirret to Stachys affinis and there is a genuine sense of calm in this space. It is like escaping to a time long ago - the time that existed before crazy paving, colour, and Spangles. Hang on, was there a time before Spangles? Oh our poor, poor ancestors.
London Glades

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is open until July 9th. For more details visit

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

In the Pink at RHS Chatsworth

When it comes to gardening pedigree, Chatsworth has it all. William Kent, Joseph Paxton and Capability Brown had a hand in its creation; it is, without question, a breathtaking setting for the newest RHS Show.
The Agriframes Garden
With two floral marquees, a conservatory, show gardens, a plant village and a floral installation by Jonathan Moseley on one of the three bridges, flowers take centre stage. Sam Ovens' Wedgwood Garden is a riot of colour set against purple beech hedging. 
But if there is a colour trend, it has to be pink. 
Paeonia lactiflora 'Bowl of Love'
Deutzia hybrida 'Tourbillon Rouge'
(It looks pink to me!)
Dahlia MT New Pink Single
Pink on Tanya Batkin's Moveable Feast Garden
Even Mary Berry sports pink (accessorised with wellies).
Far be it from me to suggest that disused quarries are a trend, but since James Basson won best show garden at Chelsea with his abandoned quarry and Paul Hervey-Brookes has won best show garden for the IQ Quarry Garden at Chatsworth, we might be forgiven for thinking that old quarries are quite the thing for 2017.
Pink in The IQ Quarry Garden
Chatsworth's long horticultural history provides a strong foundation on which the RHS can build; and build it has. Bees in the twenty-first century, a bug hotel competition for schoolchildren, the RHS Garden for a Changing Climate and Tanya Batkin’s moveable garden for Generation Rent all point very firmly to the future. 
Bug hotels in front of Chatsworth House
Past and future collide with memorable force in The Good Within Garden. The juxtaposition of this installation against the facade of Chatsworth House is unforgettable. The idea behind the garden is that we should look beyond exteriors. Young people, many of whom face difficulties as a result of their start in life, helped in its creation, including painting portraits of Joseph Paxton. Paxton came from humble beginnings and went on to design the Crystal Palace. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect setting to communicate this installation's powerful and optimistic message.
Similarly the placing of Behind the Scenes, which pays homage to gardening tasks and gardeners, could not be bettered. 
The RHS Chatsworth Show is large and varied, but it isn’t too spread out. My gardening-averse family would certainly enjoy it. From a hydrogen car to eye-catching sculptures, with floral sheep and delicious fudge in between, they would all find something to spark their varied interests. 

Will The RHS Chatsworth Show inspire future gardeners? I hope so. It has certainly inspired this present day one.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

My Garden Right Now with the Chelsea Fringe

I have learnt to garden with my camera - not in a trowel or scythe kind of way (that would do little for the health of a lens) - but because venturing into the garden without a camera invariably results in a hurried return to the house and the frantic search for a lens, battery, or even the whole kit and caboodle (why is nothing ever where I thought I had left it?) so that I can capture the plant or creature screaming out to be photographed.

Despite my best athletic scuttling in gardening clogs, by the time I return, camera poised (which is more than can be said for the photographer), the subject of my study has meandered off elsewhere. I am no Usain Bolt, nor am I the kind of gardener who is above being sidetracked by coffee and biscuits, so there is little need for my photographic quarry to move with any haste to avoid my lens. Consequently, wherever I garden, I try to leave a camera dangling from a gatepost or languishing on a bench.

Here I am, camouflaged in my garden today and adding to my already extensive photographic collection. Is there such a thing as too many photos of plants?

This post is part of a celebration of gardens this weekend with the Chelsea Fringe 
Why not join in with a photo of you in your garden right now using #mygardenrightnow on the social media platform of your choice? And please take a look at Michelle's wonderful blog to see more gardens right now

Monday, 15 May 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Like many bloggers, I post elsewhere from time to time. One of my regular haunts is The Hardy Plant Society Blog where I post every month about fabulous plants for pollinators. 

Here is my latest offering: 
I hope that you enjoy it. 

My apologies for redirecting you today. I will be back here next week, by which time, fingers crossed, we might have had some rain in Norfolk. The soil is so worryingly dry!
Best wishes,

More gorgeous blooms in gardens around the globe may be found at

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Comeback Gardener

One of the many wonderful things about gardeners is that when a crop fails or a plant turns up its roots, we dust ourselves down, work out what happened, and look forward to next year when conditions will be better. We might be in this optimistic state of waiting for an improvement for several years until we reluctantly call time on that crop or plant and move on to a more reliable substitute. This happened to me with a whole group of plants: the brassicas. Sick of slugs, snails, pigeons, caterpillars, greedy hens, ugly netting and dangling CDs, I ruled out pretty much every brassica known to gardenerkind and welcomed other edible lovelies onto my veg plot. 

Broccoli Harvest Circa 2008
This year I have reneged on my anti-brassica stance and depending on the outcome, I have The Blogosphere to thank or blame for this. After all, there is a limit to the number of seasons that a gardener can sit back and watch glistening white cauliflower curds and beautiful broccoli florets paraded across a computer screen before a toe is tentatively dipped back into the brassica pond. So far this gentle return to brassicas has involved seventy broccoli raab plants, more red cabbage than there is the spirit to braise, four varieties of brussels sprouts and a whole bed dedicated to swede or rutabega. I say so far because turnips are waiting in the wings along with kale, cauliflowers and winter cabbages. 
Red Cabbage and Scarlet Kale
I am embracing nets in a manner I had never previously thought possible - not physically obviously, that would make for a rare sight in rural Norfolk, or anywhere else for that matter. The chickens have been given a stern talking to and the slug pubs are stocked and ready to welcome their first guests. 

In the unlikely event that these brassicas should make it to harvest, there will be a glut to manage so I have been scouting around for delicious recipes. Love Your Greens is a site dedicated to brassicas and I am salivating in an unseemly manner at the prospect of swede cake and swede ice cream (not necessarily together, but I am happy to give it a go). 

Perhaps it's time to sow another bed of swede... or three.

Love Your Greens may be found at:

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Kitchen Gardening and Mingling Springs

At last! The propagators are fired up and churning out seedlings on a daily basis; the cold frames, reassembled and reglazed after Storm Doris took them for a spin around the orchard, are stuffed to the gunnels; and the soil is warming up and looking as welcoming as it can, given its history. 
Living on a former farm in rural Norfolk means that I have land on which to grow food, but the soil is riddled with flint, chalk and hulking lumps of clay muddled with detritus from centuries of building and farming. Last winter, the notion of a flowerbed was redefined when I unearthed a bundle of bedsprings. Every time I pulled at a spring, it either stretched and refused to budge from the soil, or it attached itself to a fellow spring. Knitted together they were lethal and I found myself under attack from all sides as springs already exposed and languishing on the soil rose up and propelled themselves towards me. They made untangling a hosepipe look like child's play and the never-ending spaghetti of bindweed roots seem benign. I will never complain about weeding again (at least not this year). Whoever thought that it would be a good idea to bury a bed? 
The Good Old Days... a barrowload of stones circa 2011.
I thought this was bad at the time (little did I know)
It is a few weeks since my last run-in with mingling springs. The pile of masonry dug from the soil continues to grow, but progress is being made and every so often I am treated to the delights of sowing into something akin to friable.
Hyacinth enjoying some better soil
- that really is her happy face
My favourite gardening task for a rainy day is the allocation of crops to their place in the kitchen garden. I stick to a basic rotation plan, but I like to mix things up in each bed because the kitchen garden is the one place where I feel free to experiment with different plant combinations every year. Of course, I could do that elsewhere in the garden, but an annual shift of perennial ornamentals is beyond me and I suspect that the plants would vote against the whole shenanigans by turning up their roots.
Aubrieta is definitely not rotating anywhere
In a sense, there is a secondary rotation happening on my veggie plot because it is circular. Although there may be an argument for maximising light to individual beds, I arrange them in this way because I like the idea of sitting in the middle, surrounded by food. That said, the crop circles have been there for over half a decade and I have never sat down in the kitchen garden.
The area is bordered by fruit and nut hedging with views through the food to various focal points. One focal point is an oak, another is the pear tree under which I plan to put a seat on which I will probably never sit, but I do like to have a selection of benches to not sit on. Is this complicated arrangement of crops necessary? Of course not! It just amuses me to grow them in this way. Gardening should be fun. Crop circles make me smile.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fruit Blossom, Seed Sowing and the Joys of Spring

Fresh green leaves are unfurling on the gooseberries and mirabelles. The pluot has burst into flower and I am screaming "No! Not Yet! Get a grip on yourselves and wait a while!"
I might be filled with the joys of spring were it not for an all-pervading fear that Jack Frost will sneak into the garden and teach these precocious blooms a lesson or two in timing. 
Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer'
If, like me, you garden without a greenhouse in the UK, you are probably exercising more patience than you ever thought possible. Every year I exceed my own expectations in the self-control department and with gargantuan effort, I usually manage to put off sowing vegetable seeds until late March. Even so, my office window has already disappeared from view thanks to a handful of ornamentals.
The table I use for seedlings has been backed by reflective foil and moved to a window. It is ready for action, and where am I? Still in the throes of bare root hedge planting. Meanwhile the weeds are having a field day hurling their seeds willy-nilly and the Wisteria is strangling a drainpipe. All of this activity means that while half of me is hoping that temperatures will not plummet, particularly as I am excited to try my first homegrown pluot, the other half is wishing that winter could last another week or three to give me a chance to catch up with long overdue gardening tasks. 
Unfurling Ribes
The answer, of course, lies in a cloak of fleece for the pluot to snuggle under should the weather turn, and for me to tackle the weeds and Wisteria. The fleece is a must, but if spring turns wintry, I shall be holed up in the potting shed with my seed collection and, joy of joys, a packet of pristine plastic plant labels. After all, it would be folly to climb a ladder to deal with a wayward Wisteria in bad weather, and as for the weeds, well, they can wait. They are, after all, a never-ending task.