BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 19 April 2020

Notes for anyone listening to BBC Radio Leicester today. You can send e mails, texts and messages for free gardening advice. I’ve been a travelling head gardener and a garden designer for 25 years. I write for weekly Garden News Magazine. I grow my own fruit, veg and flowers at home on a one acre plot created from a ploughed field. Currently, I’m speaking each week from the potting shed during the corona virus epidemic. Here’s the view from the potting shed, for anyone who likes blossom. Turn up the sound to hear the birdsong.

We cater for everyone. So if you’ve never gardened before and want some essential tips to get started, get in touch. We can help experienced gardeners wanting to grow the latest varieties or try something new. Maybe you want to grow more salads and veg for the family. Or you might fancy the challenge of growing for a “virtual” flower show. We can help.

This week we talk about growing tomatoes. I’m growing classic beefsteak variety Marmande for cooking, and tasty cherry tomato, Tumbling Tom for salads. My plants are 12cm (5″) tall and the roots are coming out of the bottom of the pots, so I’m potting them on. They’ve been growing in 7.5cm (3″) pots and I’m moving them up to 12.5cm (5″) pots. They will eventually go into 25cm (10″) pots and window boxes, but they have to be moved up in stages as tomatoes don’t like lots of cold wet compost around their roots.

Tomatoes like plenty of warmth, so I’ll keep mine indoors until the end of May. Tomato leaves turning yellow could be an indication the plants are getting too cold overnight, especially if they are right next to the greenhouse glass. Move them to the middle of the greenhouse and create a fleece tent to keep temperatures more stable between night and day. Remove fleece promptly in the morning. Alternatively, yellow leaves could mean the plants are running out of feed. Composts usually contain feed for about six weeks. But yellow leaves indicate a lack of nitrogen, so feed with a very dilute tomato fertiliser. Move plants on promptly when the roots have filled the pots. Don’t over water as plants also hate cold wet feet. Use tepid water. Bring the watering can in to the greenhouse to warm up. Cold water causes shock. Tomatoes need warm steady growing conditions and don’t like swings in temperature. Try to water them in the morning so they are not left cold and wet at night. Aim the watering can at the roots and keep the foliage dry.

While I’m stuck at home, I’m looking about to see what I can do to keep connected with the outside world. One thing I’m doing is joining in with the Rainbows 5K challenge.

Rainbows is a hospice in Loughborough, supporting children and young people with life-limiting conditions. They receive only 15 percent of their funding from the government and everything else has to come from donations. The corona virus lockdown means they can’t run all the usual fund-raising events. But the 5K challenge is one way everyone can help out.

You can take part anytime between now and May 31st. I’ll be logging my walking while I’m mowing the grass, weeding, raking, hoeing and plodding about the plot between the greenhouse and potting shed. I am sure digging also counts!

You can also help by tagging rainbows on social media to keep them in the public’s eye by posting photos on Facebook @rainbowsfanpage and on twitter and Instagram @rainbowshospice.

Children and all ages can take part. You can walk, run, hop, skip, cycle. Think of me weeding and cutting the grass for hours on end. At least the garden will look lovely, and it’s all in a good cause!

The National Gardens Scheme is also a charity close to my heart. Mum and I usually spend every Sunday visiting an NGS garden, having a cup of tea and piece of cake and buying a few plants. The lockdown means no gardens are open this summer. But the charity has launched a ‘Support Our Nurses’ campaign with virtual tours and JustGiving pages.

There are three gardens so far featured in leicestershire: Brook End in Wymeswold, with spring blossom, tulips and daffodils and ponds. There’s also Donna’s Garden at Snowdrop Ridge in Market Harborough, which should have opened for the first time this summer. There’s a wonderfully calming goldfish pond video.

Also a ‘walk through’ at Oak House, South Kilworth.

Donations support nurses working for MacMillan and Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers Trust, The Queens Nursing Institute. The NGS also helps Parkinson’s UK, Perennial and Horatio’s Garden for spinal injuries.

During the programme I mention our concerns for growers, garden centres and nurseries which are not allowed to open during the lockdown. There are fears many might go out of business with plants having to be skipped. Livelihoods are on the line.

I mention the Garden Centre Association #SupportYourLocalGardencentre campaign at gca.org. There’s a list of garden centres providing local deliveries.

Val and Steve Bradley from BBC Radio Kent, the Sun newspaper, have created a list of growers and nurseries offering mail order and/ or deliveries.

I’ve provided a limited and ever-changing list for Leicestershire here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/05/contacts-and-information-to-help-you-through-corona-virus-lockdown/ If you want to be added, please get in touch.

Thank you for joining us at BBC Radio Leicester. These are strange and difficult times for all of us, but we can keep connected through social media and listening to the radio. It’s amazing how we can all help by taking little steps at a time. They all join up to a giant leap forward, don’t you agree. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking good in your garden and how you are getting on during this lockdown time. Are you managing to get on with your gardening? Is your garden providing a calm sanctuary. I know mine is right now.

Links:

Rainbows 5K Challenge : https://www.rainbows.co.uk/events/rainbows-virtual-5k-2020

National Gardens Scheme https://ngs.org.uk/virtual-garden-visits/

Garden Centre Association lists : https://gca.org.uk/

Val and Steve Bradley nurseries/growers list: https://47flt.r.ag.d.sendibm3.com/mk/cl/f/nsnLPDyBJajPGKKpPRt5x9TOx4tu9x1Dz-v5FiKvBC10LYC0JB45oC3rcwqKse2n5D7aQhdwFnOZEulP7NPET4tRxtfv-n5eUr7mNx6H7gjRIWSVXN-QVsXdmRICgr44KOhL_NeHecmmxD8URqGk4-jf5QBzcACiRe7I8jdByhWKnFH9LN4d2C-sA4qsiNVzl4nQDttx7wgdEKWIS89NuNt-XaZCrrIiTT3B

You can follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram @karengimson1

And Pinterest @karengimson

Some photos from my garden:

Seedlings in the greenhouse, tomatoes, cosmos, onions, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers.

Planting out calendula Snow Princess grown in plug trays.

We had some winter storms and dead elms in the hedgerow.

The whole garden is scented by this viburnum. Planted in front of white cherry tree, prunus avium, and pink cherry Prunus Kanzan.

Pheasants Eye narcissi, still looking good in the cut flower beds.

Not all things go according to plan.

Cherry blossom. Stella. Lots of fruit, hopefully. Have never seen blossom like it. A good year for fruit trees.

Pear blossom. I’m keeping an eye on the weather. Fleece will be thrown over at night if there’s a frost.

Thank you for reading!

Easton Walled Gardens -Open for Snowdrops Today- Sunday 23 February 2020

Last chance today to see the snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens. Opens 11am -4pm. I visited last week for a preview and if you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester you might have heard me talking about the history of the gardens.

Here’s a slide show of my photos from the event.

There’s a link to the website for more information: https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/gardens/snowdrops

Daffodils are just starting to flower at the same time as snowdrops. It’s been very mild and wet they year.

Yellow cornus mas (cornelian cherry) and white snowdrops. A perfect combination.

The summerhouse and spring flowers. You can hire the venue for an afternoon. Lovely spot for tea and cakes.

A favourite view of the walled garden. Sweet peas will be grown along the sunny walls this summer.

Looking across the terraces for a view of the steps and topiary yew.

Apple tree pruning in progress. I love the shaped apple trees and heritage varieties at Easton. I watched carefully how the pruning is managed. Might have a go at home. Lots of inspiration in this garden.

The finished topiary apple tree. Trained around a circle. Looks architectural and productive. Very pretty with apple blossom and bright red fruit to follow.

Spring bulbs in the woodland near to the gatehouse. The hellebores are looking fabulous at the moment.

I particularly liked this pretty hellebore with a ruffled centre.

Stone troughs look beautiful planted with spring bulbs. I might copy this idea. I have a small stone sink covered in moss with nothing growing in it at the moment. Was just waiting to decide what to do with it.

I can never go home without buying a pot or two of bulbs. The cyclamen coum are looking very cheerful. I fell in love with the dwarf iris. There’s a pale blue one called Painted Lady. I couldn’t resist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slide show of photos. Even if you can’t get there today, bookmark the gardens for a visit in spring, and make a note of the dates for the sweet pea festival, which is always a lovely day out.

I wrote about Easton Walled Gardens here : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/02/13/happy-valentines-day-with-a-tour-of-easton-walled-gardens/

And here : https://bramblegarden.com/2016/05/20/a-visit-to-easton-walled-gardens/

As you can see, it’s a favourite of mine. Enjoy!

Diary of a Modern Country Gardener

Secrets for Every Season Straight From the Potting Shed

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Orphans Publishing ISBN 9781903360422

Hardback. 248 pages. £20

Illustrations by Hannah Madden

Book review and prize draw. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw.

We are all standing at our house windows gazing on waterlogged, storm lashed gardens, aching to be outside gardening. It’s doesn’t matter what kind of gardening, anything, as long as we can run some compost through our fingers and see green shoots emerging. It’s been a long wet winter.

Luckily Tamsin Westhorpe has a beautiful new book which transports us immediately to gardening heaven- Stockton Bury in Herefordshire. It is a very welcome and timely escape.

Tamsin is the 5th generation to garden at her family’s farm. The four acre garden within the farm has fruit and vegetable plots, a stream and pond, ‘rooms’ with different planting themes and a dovecote dating back to the time of Henry 1. The land has been worked by the family for more than 100 years, and the much-acclaimed garden is open to the public.

In her new book, Diary of a Modern Country Gardener, Tamsin lets us into her world as we see her facing all kinds of gardening challenges, accompanied by lots of laughter.

There’s expert advice on growing cut flowers, staging summer garden parties, selecting and planting trees, planting bulbs, storing produce, keeping chickens, coppicing hazel and more. I particularly like the ‘tool kit’ panels detailing equipment and materials needed for the list of jobs suggested each month. A useful reminder before getting going on tasks. There’s nothing worse than starting something, and then having to stop to search for forgotten items to complete the project.

I also like the list of ‘must-have’ plants for each month. January suggests Cornus mas, crocus tommasinianus, cyclamen coum, eranthis hyemalis, hamamelis, hellebores, iris reticulata, mahonia, snowdrops, viburnum Dawn and narcissus Bowles Early Sulphur. You can almost smell these spring delights. There’s something cheerful on every page.

As we follow her daily life there’s lots of hints and tips on what to do and when. But this is much more than a ‘how to’ book. It’s a book about solving problems, dealing with gardening conundrums, interacting with people, and simply enjoying every single moment.

I love books where you can really hear the author’s voice. Tamsin’s voice is loud and clear and full of humour. Her stories are compelling. She makes you want to jump in a car and drive over to see what she’s getting up to today. You’d have a real good natter, and come away smiling and fired up with ideas to get going on your own plot. She’s that kind of person who makes anything feel possible.

Her diary does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a daily insight into the workings of a country garden. There are plenty of ‘secrets’ to be told. I won’t spoil them by retelling them here. But there’s a very interesting story about what she wears in the garden! Apparently her mother set the trend. You’ll have to read the book to find out more. It’s perfect escapism. And the one place you’ll all want to be is in Tamsin’s garden.

The book is beautifully produced and bound by well-respected Orphans Publishing, accompanied by truly gorgeous illustrations by artist Hannah Madden. A thing of beauty. Highly recommended. You’ll soon forget all about the weather! I promise.

Tamsin going through the proofs at Herefordshire Orphans Publishing.

Tamsin and Hannah Madden celebrating their first copy of the book.

Some pages from the book, taken with my i-phone camera. The quality of the photography is much better than I’ve managed to capture here.

About the author, taken with my i-phone camera.

Excerpts from the book for March

Excerpts for June

August

Tamsin Westhorpe’s diary was my book of the week on BBC Local Radio Gardening. It would make an excellent BBC Radio 4 read-aloud Book of the Week. A best seller, I think.

Thank you to Orphans Publishing for offering a free copy for our prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the draw. Please also comment if you do not wish to be entered in the competition, and let me know. Some of you may have already ordered a copy. The publishers will randomly select a winner. No cash prize alternative and usual rules apply.

Links: Tamsin Westhorpe https://www.tamsinwesthorpe.co.uk/

Orphans Publishing https://www.orphanspublishing.co.uk/

Stockton Bury http://www.stocktonbury.co.uk/

Garden Media Guild https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/

Karen gimson on twitter @kgimson

On instagram karengimson1 and Pinterest.

Thank you for reading. I am very grateful for your 150,000 page views, all kind follows and shares. Please share this on any social media platform. It all helps me immensely.

Garden Visit : Little Ash Bungalow, Devon NGS

Plant Paradise

It takes a lot for me to leave my cosy potting shed. I’ve created a happy little haven, with all creature comforts; kettle, toaster, comfy chair, reading corner. Cat and new puppy for company. But, I was enticed out recently to visit a garden I’ve heard a lot about, Little Ash Bungalow at Fenny Bridges, Devon. And I’m happy to say, it was well worth the journey. The garden is a delight. Rare and unusual perennials, trees and shrubs. A plant paradise. Here’s a photo ‘slide show’ of my visit. The garden is open this Sunday, 18th August from 1-5 for the National Gardens Scheme.

Francoa sonchiflolia. Known as bridal wreath. An evergreen perennial with lance-shaped basal leaves and 80cm tall spires of rich pink flowers. Not totally hardy in more exposed gardens.

Astrantia Little Ash Seedling, blue echium vulgare and pink Salvia Penny’s Smile. A lovely contrast of flower forms. This combination has a long flowering season. Astrantias have a good ‘skeleton’ structure once the flowers have gone over.

Purple Veronicastrum Fascination partnered with red Persicaria amplexicaulis and white Persicaria alpina. I’ve just discovered ‘persicum’ is Latin for peach and refers to the long peach-like leaves.

Grey-leaved Melianthus major (honey flower) creates a background to blue agapanthus, bright pink Diascia personata and mauve Verbena officianalis grandiflora Bampton.

Agapanthus thrive in the well-drained gravel beds up by the house. The evergreen agapanthus is deep blue africanus variety.

From the top terrace, looking down the right hand side of the garden, to the glorious East Devon country views beyond.

Owner Helen Brown has made the most of the views. Here she’s framed them with a series of arches covered with climbers such as ornamental vine, Vitis Purpurea and scrambling viticella clematis.

In the gravel just in front of the steps, there’s Dierama, known as angel’s fishing rods. Grass-like leaves with tall graceful flowering spikes. The flowers dangle down, hence the common name. I’ve found this difficult to grow in my wet Leicestershire clay. It’s a plant that needs a perfect balance of good fertile soil with excellent drainage. Not easy to achieve.

The view through the second arch. There’s a white clematis Paul Farges, or summer snow, on the right.

At the end of the view, there’s a granite and metal sculpture. These were originally rollers in wooden frames, pulled by horses to flatten clods in the surrounding fields. The metal parts came from more modern Cambridge rolls, pulled by tractors. In the background you can see an area of moisture-loving planting alongside a stream, with a path leading to a pond.

A focal point metal seed head sculpture in the centre of the mini-meadow.

Umbellifers in the meadow. Very attractive to bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Looking over a low farm fence, there’s a paddock full of grasses and wild flowers such as yellow rattle and yellow Lotus corniculatus, bird’s foot trefoil.

The whole field is covered in tiny white flowers. We know this as stitchwort, a type of stellaria.

Helen leaves flowers to set seed for birds to enjoy. This is a Silybum marianum with thistle-like seeds just about to take flight. I’m glad I captured the moment, and I’m glad I made the effort to leave my potting shed to see Helen’s garden in all its glory.

Little Ash Bungalow is a 1.5 acre garden regularly open for the NGS, and also open by arrangement for groups of 10 or more on pre-arranged dates. Admission is £4 adults, children are admitted free. Cakes and refreshments usually available. Dogs on leads welcome.

Little Ash Bungalow, Fenny Bridges, Devon, EX14 3BL

https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/21320/

Notes:

Other plants I noted, if you are a keen plants person: Roscoea Royal Purple, Crinum powellii Album, umbellifera Conopodium majus, Hedychium spicatum, Buddleja weyeriana, Clethra alnifolia for perfume, Grevillea victoriae, Cuphea blepharophylla, Buddleja lindleyana, pitcher plants, rudbeckia, Catalpa erubescens Purpurea, Phlox Starfire, Crinodendron patagua, Lobelia urens, Gladiolus papilio Ruby, Miaianthemum racemosum, bamboos, pond plants, bog plants and clematis – many unusual varieties.

NGS Garden Visit- Oak Tree House

Pam Shave has a garden packed full of plant treasures. There’s wonderful scented roses, clematis, special perennials, and a whole border of foxgloves. And the good news is, you can visit the garden and see them too. Pam is county organiser for the NGS-Yellow Book – open gardens scheme, which raises money for cancer care and nursing charities.

I was lucky enough to visit today for a preview. Here’s a slide show of plants that caught my eye.

Foxgloves stand out in a border packed full of geraniums, campanulas, poppies and day lilies galore.

Thalictrum aquilegifolium or meadow rue. A pretty filler between the standard and bush roses.

David Austin Roses are beautifully healthy and deliciously scented. This one pictured above is Princess Alexandra of Kent. Blue herbaceous geranium provides a pretty weed-smothering ground cover beneath them.

This James Galway rose with very frilled petals is growing along the boundary fence. The scent is like a summer fruit salad, all pineapple, peaches and melon combined.

Pink sanguisorba is a lovely “fluffy filler” in amongst the roses and echoes the spires of the foxgloves.

Geranium Summer Skies is a perennial worth searching for. It makes a statement plant mid-June, and then blooms again if cut to the ground after flowering.

Oriental poppies are another high summer attraction, and this one is a particularly pretty pale pink, with ink-black stamens. It’s called Papaver Royal Wedding.

I grow blue and white love-in-a-mist. I wouldn’t be without its delicate starry flowers and pretty seed heads. Pam grows this variety, with a range of pinks and whites, called Nigella Mulberry Rose.

There are little collections of containers all around the garden. I’ve never seen so many in one garden. Even some of the vegetables are grown in pots. Here there’s annual cosmos with scented-leaved pelargoniums.

Roses also grow in huge 50cm terracotta pots. This is a David Austin rose. I’m just waiting for confirmation on the names of some of these plants. I was enjoying my visit so much, I forgot to look at the labels. (Pam has reported back- this one is Lady Emma Hamilton. A must-have for me.)

Clematis Versailles grow in 45cm pots, as a pair, each side of the back door. Such a beautiful purple colour, with a deeper stripe down the centre of each petal.

Underplanting for the clematis is this pretty scented nemesia, an annual which can be kept going from one year to the next by taking cuttings and overwintering in a frost -free greenhouse .

Masses of flowers and full of bees and hover flies .

Bees love the violas, also growing in a collection of plant pots. Viola Florence and Martin came from Jack and Laura at Bouts Nursery.

A raised brick-edged pond spills into another horseshoe-shaped pond on a lower level. We sat on the pond side, watched the fish and admired the miniature water lilies.

Exotic-looking gazanias grow well in free draining compost with added grit, in a sunny spot, or in containers.

Oak Tree House opens this Weekend, 22 and 23 June. North Road, South Kilworth, Leicestershire, LE17 6DU.

Links : NGS Oak Tree House https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/20265/

David Austin Roses: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/

Perennials : https://www.hardysplants.co.uk/

clematis : https://www.raymondevisonclematis.com/

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising today’s visit : https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/

Please feel free to share this post and spread some good news. And follow me on twitter @kgimson, on Instagram karengimson1 . Thank you 😊

BBC Gardeners’ World Live- Photos of Show Gardens

I’ve written about the Watchmaker’s Garden, which has a family connection, here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/14/bbc-gardeners-world-live/

The Watchmaker’s Garden by Alexandra Froggatt.

Here are some of the other show gardens I saw on preview day this week.

Onward and Upward

Designer: Andy Tudbury

Andy’s 10th Show garden for BBC Gardeners’ World Live highlights the benefits of horticultural therapy, pioneered by the charity HighGround. A pathway takes you through the edge of a birch stand and wild flower meadow area, past a sculpture by Simon Probyn. The journey represents hope, re-birth and a new beginning. The path then leads you “Onward and Upward” to the recovery and leisure areas. HighGround focuses on horticultural therapy as rehabilitation for injured service personnel. They are based at a new DNRC centre at Stanford Hall near Loughborough, Leicestershire.

We watched the filming with Joe Swift on Andy’s garden.

Sculpture by Simon Probyn during the build for Onward and Upward.

Andy Tudbury http://www.halcyondays.biz/

HighGround https://highground-uk.org/

Canal & River Trust Garden- Making Life Better by Water

Designer: Chris Myers

Construction: Canal and River Trust volunteers

Inspired by ideas from trust volunteers David and Hilary Godbehere, lock keepers on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. The garden surrounds a central canal with a veg plot and flower garden alongside. The charity is dedicated to caring for 2,000 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales.

High Line

Designer: Lucy Bravington

Contractor Dan Ryan of Design It Landscapes

Based on the elevated public park in New York where Lucy visited last year. Features Corten steel, industrial elements and naturalistic planting with three focal point trees, grasses and ferns.

A Glimpse of South East Asia

Designer: Robyn Brookes

Contractor Timotay Landscapes

Inspired by South East Asian adventures, the garden combines a tropical planting palette with a simple selection of natural hard landscaping materials. Antique silver paving, yellow paddle stones and Caledonian boulders contrast with charred timber. Water cascades into a shallow pool, creating a feeling of calm.

Oasis of Peace

Designer: Anna Pawlowska

Contractor: Morgan Oates

A space inspired by Moroccan and Mediterranean style. You can slip your shoes off and cool your feet in the rill on a hot summer’s day. Water encloses an island to create the feeling of a relaxing hideaway.

Gadd Brothers Garden Getaway

Designers : Dr Catherine Macdonald and Rhiannon Williams

Contractor: Gadd Brothers

Garden for a young professional couple who have recently had an extension to their period style home. It’s designed to suit a small linear garden which is accessed by simple sliding doors. Height comes from the multi-stem trees and wood and metal pergola. There’s a water feature and two seating areas.

Revelation

Designer Mike Baldwin of Derby College

Mike designed the garden based on a combination of scripture and garden history. The four horses charging out of metal gates (Revelation and Versailles) flanked by an avenue of photinia Red Robin. The middle section of the garden was inspired by “In my father’s house are many rooms, ” (Hidcote and Sissinghurst-esqe).

The Macmillan Legacy Garden

Designer Martyn Wilson

Contractor: Big Fish Landscapes

Inspired by the gifts left in wills to Macmillan Cancer Support and celebrates the idea of leaving a legacy. These vital legacy donations make up over a third of its funding and help support people living with cancer. The “presents” in Martyn’s garden will each contain a different species of tree and symbolise gifts left in wills to Macmillan.

The Home Solutions by John Lewis Garden

Designer; Waitrose partner Shaun Beale

Contractor : Golden Gardens and the APL

Takes its inspiration from the beautiful gardens within the Leckford Estate and combines them with a contemporary functional, useable space. The John Lewis Home Solutions service aims to give customers access to a wide range of tradespeople, all of whom have the John Lewis seal of approval.

Harborne Botanics

Designer: Toby Pritchard

Contractor : Creative Roots

Marshalls Symphony paving takes you from the house to the patio. Matching paving takes you along the rill and on to the hardwood decking. The planting features a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, suggesting a more exotic location than the British climate can always offer. Walling and charred timber create surrounding screens.

The Dahlia Garden

Designer Jon Wheatley

Contractor Stonebarn Landscapes

Below is a fruit, vegetable and flower garden. It was fascinating watching the filming. Although I didn’t stand and stare, as it must be hard enough to remember what to say without an audience watching! Needless to say, the plants in this garden are total perfection. An amazing array and such an achievement after a very difficult growing season.

BBC Gardeners’ World Live runs until June 16.

https://www.bbcgardenersworldlive.com/whats-on

BBC Gardeners’ World Live

We did a little dance in celebration when The Watchmaker’s Garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live won platinum and best in show. Our family’s nursery grew some of the plants for the garden.

I was lucky enough to attend the preview and meet the designer, Alexandra Froggatt.

Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is a bustling, cosmopolitan area steeped in history. In the late Victorian era it was booming with trade as the jewellery and watchmaking industries expanded. Craftsmen set up workshops in their back gardens to meet demand. Alexandra’s design is inspired by these 19th century back garden horologists. Inside the workshop, the city’s iconic Chamberlain clockface is in mid-production with a workbench covered in original tools and artefacts. Antique specialists loaned jewellers’ equipment to add authenticity to the scene.

Outside the workshop, the garden is full of heirloom and heritage vegetables, including some varieties which would have been grown in the Victorian era; herbs growing alongside cottage garden plants.

I love the doorway planting. You really want to walk through that door to see what’s on the other side.

Wild flowers grow in the grass surrounding the garden, and nasturtiums, peas and beans scramble over fences and supporting hazel posts.

Sponsors for the garden include Odeon Antiques, St Paul’s Church, La Mons Jewellery, Stonebarn landscapes, Terry Porter- plants, Vande Moortel- landscaping materials, and RPG Herbs, run by my brother-in-law Paul Gimson and his wife Rozanne.

Gardeners’ World Live runs until 16 June at Birmingham NEC.

https://www.bbcgardenersworldlive.com/

RPG Herbs http://www.rpgherbs.co.uk/conta.html

Alexandra Froggatt http://www.alexandrafroggatt.com/

The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

Looking through the mansion window, I see a pretty stone terrace, balustrading covered in rambling roses, mighty English oak trees in the distance. And a rhinoceros. Or two. I’m at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s not your traditional garden view!

I can hear blackbirds, robins -and yes, there’s a lion’s roar, and black siamang gibbons “whooping.” I’m having a special behind the scenes tour with head gardener Tim Miles and gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft.

Tim and Harriet have spent the past 18 months working on a new book The Cotswold Wildlife Park- A Celebration of the Gardens. And there’s plenty to celebrate. The gardens are a paradise of exotic plants, special trees and shrubs, and wild flowers.

Photo: Front cover.

There are more than 250 species of animals and birds living at the wildlife park where important conservation and breeding work is being undertaken. The star attraction is undoubtably the white rhinos – saved from poachers in Africa, and now producing offspring.

Photo: my i-phone pic of page 60 in the book. Original photo credit: Harriet Rycroft.

Rhinos appear to have free rein in the parkland setting, but in fact, their paddock is ringed by a ha ha. It means there are no fences. They can clearly be seen from all surrounding paths. When I say “clearly seen,” I might add that the paths meander around flower beds containing thousands of ornamental onions, Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation, and grasses such as Stipa gigantea (giant oat grass) and cultivars of Miscanthus and Cortaderia (pampas grass). It’s rather a wonderful combination. Rhinos and alliums. You’ll not see that anywhere else in the world.

Planting provides browse material for many species, but also, importantly, shelter for the animals. This might be shade from summer sunshine, or protection from wind and rain. Planting must, of course, let visitors see into enclosures, but it is so exhuberant that the the lines are blurred between visitors, animals and the wider landscape.

I did manage to get a good look at African Spoonbills and Madagascan Teal. But if they wanted to hide from me, they could.

It is interesting to see trained fruit trees along the walled garden enclosures. There’s a perfectly-pruned fig, and around the corner there are espalier cherry and pear trees, fruiting kiwi and grape vines. Bamboo, a favourite fodder for many animals, grows inside and outside of the enclosures, again blurring the boundaries between them.

In the Tropical House I spy a Linne’s Two-towed Sloth. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. He’s nestled in amongst the foliage, rubber plants (Ficus elastica) cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) and bromeliads and orchids. Branches of oak provide “perches” and there’s an illusion that house plants have “escaped” to take root in this mini-jungle. In a fascinating insight into the relationship between keepers and gardeners Tim explains that any plant plagued with pests such as greenfly, is given to the keepers to be placed in the Tropical House. Exotic birds clean up the plants by eating the pests. A win-win situation all round. Natural pest control at its best.

Continuing the tropical theme, in the protection of the Walled Garden, there’s palm trees, bananas and cannas interplanted with dahlias, Begonia luxurians and Begonia fuchsioides. Plants overspill onto the paving so you don’t notice the concrete kerbs. Creeping plants such as Tradescantia, Plectranthus and Verbena cascade and intermingle.

Phormiums, banana plants and bedding such as geraniums and coleus (solenostenum) provide a contrast in form, colour and texture.

Container planting features fuchsias, begonias, scented pelargoniums, trailing Scaevola Sapphire, twining Thunbergia African Sunset, nemesia- and even a Protea cynaroides (king protea). It’s rightly described as a “theatre with plants.”

There’s a conservatory- leading to the Bat House and Reptile House- where I spotted a pretty pink Cantua buxifolia.

Some sort of pink grevillea also thrives in the protection of the glass.

I’m still searching for the name of this pretty blue flowering plant. Let me know if you have a name for it. It’s rather lovely to visit a garden and find something you haven’t seen before.

No surface seems to be left without cover. This is the end wall of the rhino house, smothered in golden-flowering Fremontodendron California Glory.

We just throw our weeds in a compost bin, but certain weeds growing at the park provide food for the animals. Giant tortoises love stinging nettles, and goose grass or cleavers are relished by some of the herbivorous reptiles. Banana leaves are popular with stick insects and locusts, but are also given to squirrel monkeys. Honey treats are stuck to the leaves. The monkeys have fun picking off the treats, and then spend time cleaning themselves of the delicious sticky honey.

Gardeners don’t just get requests for plant material for food and nesting; prunings such as lavender and rosemary provide useful enrichment / active entertainment for the lions. Keepers fill bags with the clippings to make giant catnip toys.

With so many rare and glorious plants, the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park are a delight to visit all year round. Visiting transports you to another world. A world that’s been created with imagination and passion. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

All pics, apart from the front cover and the baby rhino, are i-phone photos from my head gardener tour.

Links:

Harriet and Tim’s book is available from Cotswold Wildlife Park https://shop.myonlinebooking.co.uk/cotswoldwildlifepark/shop/product-list.aspx?catid=8

Borde Hill Garden

Rhododendrons, azaleas, woodland, sculpture, rare and unusual trees and plants.

We stand still and listen. “There’s a great tit…a chaffinch…a goldfinch…a robin.” I’m writing the names in my notebook, but the list is recounted faster than I can record them.

We are on a tour of Borde Hill Garden. And, what luck, one of our party is an expert on birdsong. The chorus of sound drifts through the trees. Such a beautiful melody, and a wonderful place to be. An English woodland garden on a spring day. Just glorious.

I spot a tree creeper. To my shame, it’s the first time I’ve seen one. A tiny bird, the size of a wren. My first thoughts are that it’s a mouse. Its speckly brown feathers perfectly match the tree bark it’s clinging to. It scurries up a few metres, and then uses its long downward-curving bill to fish out an insect from a crevice. Suddenly it moves to the other side of the trunk. It knows it’s been spotted. Then, making a “see-see-see” call, it flies away. A magical moment- and we’ve only just arrived in this woodland paradise.

We start our tour in the Garden of Allah, a dell created in 1925 where the the owners nurtured many of the species brought back from the great plant hunters of the time. Head gardener Andy Stevens points to a towering Liriodendron chinense (Chinese tulip tree) which was raised from seed collected by Ernest Wilson in central China. Borde Hill bought the tree as a 16ft mature specimen from the famous Veitch’s nursery in 1913. There’s a huge Magnolia fraseri which arrived in the garden as a seedling from the south-eastern USA in 1933. And further into the garden there’s a Davidia involucrata (pocket handkerchief tree).

I can’t decide whether to look up, or down. Up, into the branches of so many rare and unusual trees. Or down, at the ribbons of pure white wild garlic flowing into drifts of bluebells. It’s easy to see why Borde Hill has been described as “unforgettable.”

Leaving the dell, walking past rhododendrons and camellias planted in the 1920s, and magnolias planted as seedlings in the 1930s, we reach Warren Wood and Stephanie’s Glade. It’s here that many of Borde Hill’s fabulous collection of champion trees can be found.

There are many trees I have never seen before. We stop and admire a rare Meliosma Beaniana which is smothered in delicate creamy coloured flowers. Like many of the trees and shrubs at Borde Hill, there’s a fascinating history and story behind them. This tree came via Ernest Wilson who was plant hunting in China in 1908. It was planted at Alderman (now a boarding school) and transplanted at Borde Hill in early 1930s. Records show it flowered for the first time in its new home in 1933.

I found a particularly lovely tree, possibly a type of photinia. It is smothered in white flowers. A magnet for bees and hoverflies.

Borde Hill is famous for rhododendrons and azaleas which are reaching their peak now. I’ve never seen such a striking and colourful display.

Some of the azaleas are scented which adds to their attraction.

Walking out of the woodlands, suddenly you come upon a more formal scene, an Italian garden with topiary flanking a rectangular pond. There’s a statue and waterfall at one end, and large terracotta plant pots each side of the water.

There’s always a surprise around every corner. At the top of the steps, near the sculpture, I found this Peony Mai Fleurie.

Further along the walk, I found more peonies, looking at their best right now.

Tree peonies and perennial forms seem to do very well at Borde Hill and I make a note to plant more in my own garden.

This week sees the start of Borde Hill’s 20th anniversary Sculpture Exhibition (10 May to 30 Sept). Visitors can walk through the 17 acre gardens and enjoy more than 80 pieces by well-known and up-and-coming artists.

I love this one, which I think is Little Owl by Paul Harvey. The labels were being put out on the day of our visit.

And this one, which I’m guessing is Icarus by Nicola Godden. Such a perfect setting in front of the house. Checking the website, I see this winged figure was commissioned for the London 2012 Olympic Village. There’s also a wind sculpture by Will Carr to look out for.

There’s something for everyone at Borde Hill, and all-year-round interest too. But for me, the magic of the place will always be the peaceful walks through those magnificent trees. And the sound of birdsong. The very essence of spring.

Borde Hill: Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, opens from 25 March -3 Nov.

The garden, listed Grade II by English Heritage, is set within 200 acres of parkland.

Special events this year:

Roses. Talk and tour with Michael Marriott from David Austin Roses: 20 June 10.30-2pm

The Rabbit’s Eye View- long term plant performance, landscape masterclass by Noel Kingsbury, 11 Sept 10-4.30.

Practical Pruning – Juliet Sargeant 16 May 10.30-3pm

Designing a Romantic Rose Border – Juliet Sargeant, 11 July 10.30-3pm

Tasty Autumn Talk- Juliet Sargeant, 18 Oct 10.30-12noon.

Many thanks to Eleni and Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke for hosting our visit, and to Constance Craig Smith and the Garden Media Guild for organising the tour.

Links :

For more information about Borde Hill : https://www.bordehill.co.uk/

More on birdsong : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/04/identify-bird-song/

RSPB Let Nature Sing: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/

Fields of Gold- and White. Taylors Daffodil Day 2019

Today I’m trying to describe the scent from 341 acres of daffodils- that’s about 300 football pitches. I’m almost lost for words. It’s like a tidal wave of “spring.” That scent at dawn on an April morning. Dew on the flowers, and the sun just starting to shine. Bees buzzing all around. And then it hits you. Pure joy!

I am at Taylors’ bulb fields in Lincolnshire for their Daffodil Day to celebrate the company’s centenary. And what a celebration! Daffodils as far as the eye can see. Birds singing, blue skies and a line of trees in the distance. The trees are so far away they look like miniatures. I’ve never seen anything like it. Bands of gold and yellow daffodils ripple in the wind. And wow, is it windy here. I’m holding on to my hat.

Taylors grow around 500 daffodil varieties on their farm at Holbeach near Spalding. It’s a real treat to learn how they are grown, the machinery used, and the processes involved.

Daffodils are planted in August – 850 tonnes of them. Bulbs remain in the ground for two years and are harvested over a six week period in June and July. The daffodil lifting machine digs up about one tonne per minute. Around 2,000 tonnes are harvested annually.

It’s the same machine that’s used for lifting potatoes. Daffodils are taken by trailer to a sorting conveyor belt machine that separates the bulbs from soil and stones.

Bulbs then go to a grading machine that sorts them into sizes. 7-10cm bulbs are kept to replant. Sizes then are separated into 10-12, 12-14, 14-16. The largest will obviously be the premium bulbs that will cost the most, but provide the best flower display.

Here’s John Cubley explaining the grading process. The bulbs pass through a kind of riddle to separate the sizes. John has worked for Taylors for 25 years. In fact, I spoke to three other workers who’ve all been there for at least 25 years. It’s obviously a company that attracts dedicated and loyal staff.

Here’s the grading machine inside the warehouse. Bulbs travel along a conveyor belt to be stored or packed into individual sizes and varieties.

It’s a treat to see any behind-the-scenes production. I’ve now got a better understanding of just what goes into growing and selling the bulbs I buy and plant each year.

These are some of the varieties I picked out as favourites. I particularly love the scented white daffodils and narcissi.

Kimmeridge. Pure white broad petals with a bowl crown of deep orange red.

Tibet. Creamy white, frilled cup, with a green “eye.”

High Society. Pure white with pink-edged centre. Good strong stems.

Pastorale. Pale lime yellow flower. The corona becomes white.

Tranquil Morn. Very pretty rounded pure white perianth. White flat disk, almost geometrically perfect. My favourite.

Pueblo. A jonquil. Multi -headed lemon flowers that become white as they mature. Simply stunning.

I’m looking out for some of the new varieties for 2019: Worcester- a creamy white variety. Pacific Rim- yellow with an orange rim; Arctic Bells- a white hoop petticoat type; Sinopel- unusual white with a green cup.

I came home laden down with catalogues, packets of summer bulbs, Taylors also sell these, dahlias, lilies, gladioli- and bunches of beautiful cut flowers. I’ve no need to travel to Holland. Lincolnshire – and Taylors Bulbs -is the place to see spring flowers in all their glory. And I’ve found the word I was searching for to describe the scent. It’s heavenly!

Links: Taylors Bulbs also home of Walkers Daffodils : http://www.taylors-bulbs.com/

Walkers Bulbs : https://bulbs.co.uk/

Prize draw winners – The Immortal Yew

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN : 978 1 84246 658 2

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is sharing a love of gardening with like-minded people. Books are also a passion of mine, particularly anything with a horticultural theme. So I was happy to be invited to write a review of The Immortal Yew, written by Kew Gardens manager Tony Hall. Stories of myths and legends surrounding yews dating back 2,000 years had me glued to the pages from start to finish. I was drawn in by the sight of the “lion’s paw” yews flanking the doors at St Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-wold, a sight said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when he was writing about the gateway to Moria in Lord of the Rings. A photo of these strange, ancient yews provides the cover picture for the book. The publishers, Kew Publishing, very generously offered three copies for a prize draw on the blog. The winners, randomly selected, are Sharon Moncur, Philippa Burrough and Alison Levey. Thanks to everyone who left comments on the blog. If you didn’t win, please keep reading as there are many more books to follow over the next few weeks, including The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell, Island Gardens by Jackie Bennett, the English Country House Garden, George Plumptre, Oxford College Gardens, Tim Richardson, and The Christmas Tree by Barbara Segall. Winter is a great time to catch up with reading, before tasks in the garden entice us outdoors again.

To read my review, please click here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/25/the-immortal-yew-book-review/

What books would you recommend to gardening friends? What are your favourite books?

Links : Immortal Yew https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548966993&sr=1-1

Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

Kew Publishing https://www.kew.org/files/kew-publishingjpg

Sharon Moncur https://renaissancegardener.org/

Philippa Burrough http://www.ultingwickgarden.co.uk/

Alison Levey https://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/

Please feel free to share this blog on any social media platform, linking back to this site https://bramblegarden.com/

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html .

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

BBC Radio #SundaySupplement flowers/ hedgehogs/ my garden, 12 August programme

Some photos to accompany today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening Sunday Supplement programme. It was my turn to sit in and answer listeners’ gardening queries on the phone-in today.

As always, I ran round the garden and picked some flowers for my mother-in-law Joan and my Mum Marion to take in to the programme. Despite the heat and drought, my cut flower patch hasn’t let me down. There’s plenty of colour just now.

In the pink and blue theme posy there’s zinnia, Mophead hydrangea, cosmos seashells and white wild goats rue. The green umbels are actually parsley that’s gone to seed, and the whole bouquet is wreathed with blue borage. The pink whirls are Diascia Hopleys. Plants have grown to 5ft and been in flower for 8 weeks. There’s just one glorious inky-blue gladioli, and one annual pink chrysanthemum (Tricolor Mixed) which are only just starting to flower.

In the orange-theme bouquet there’s calendula, rudbeckia, spikes of verbascum, and seed heads from love-in-a-mist. White jasmine provides a wonderful scent, even if there are only two sprigs included here. Any more would be overpowering.

I could talk for hours about flowers, but the conversation steered towards wildlife in my garden. So for anyone wondering how my hedgehogs are getting on, we have four precious babies this year, one less than last summer. They are a month later than last year, but very healthy and active. I am feeding them with Spike hedgehog food to try to build them up for the winter. Fresh water is also really important and in scare supply, so lots of little dishes are placed all around the garden.

So far these hoglets are just 5″ long. I’ll keep an eye on them to ensure they meet the target weight of 650g by winter hibernation time.

I wrote about last summer’s hedgehogs Here. There’s also hints and tips on helping hedgehogs on the highlighted link.

Radio Leicester Sunday Supplement is available on i-player. There’s a link Here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06fs2mb . Gardening starts at 1.09.31. Put your feet up and have a listen in.

Let me know what flowers are doing well in your garden right now, and do any of you have hedgehogs nesting in the garden this summer?

Please kindly share this on any social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello in the comment box below.

Tour of MrFothergill’s Seed Trial Grounds

Photo : Silene Blue Angel. New for 2018/19

Growing plants from seed is a passion for me. It’s an affordable way to bulk up annual, perennial and biennial displays in the garden. And each year I try something new, as well as sticking with tried and trusted old favourites.

Next spring, I’ll be adding Silene Blue Angel to my seed sowing plans. It’s one of the new varieties on offer at Mr Fothergill’s. And this week I was absolutely delighted to be invited to view the trial grounds at the company’s headquarters in Suffolk.

These are the plants that caught my eye. The silene was top of my list. A hardy annual, sown in March and planted out in early June. Plants form neat cushions 25cm tall. For a continuous display, I’ll sow a few seeds at two to three week intervals. I’m picturing drifts of electric blue flowers running through the borders and flowering all summer long.

Brachycome Blue Star is another new variety available for 2019. I’m going to partner it with this one I spotted from the Brachycome Blue/White Mix range. I’ve always loved any kind of daisy flower.

Regular readers know I also love sweet peas. I grow a range of heritage and modern varieties along a rather wonky hazel wigwam structure. Next year I will be adding new variety Capel Manor to the garden. It’s a pretty pinky blue and has a delicate, though not overpowering scent.

I always plant cosmos in the cut flower garden. They are easy to grow and provide flowers from early summer right through to the first frosts. I spotted this beautiful new white variety called Snow Puff. Bees seem to love cosmos, so that’s a bonus too. I’m always trying to find ways to help pollinators.

Here’s some photos of the trial grounds. It was fabulous to wander about amongst so many beautiful flowers, jotting down names for future planting plans. The scent in the heat of the day just added to the wow factor.

Mr Fothergill’s is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In May, the company won Product of the Year at RHS Chelsea for its new Optigrow range of seeds. Optigrow is a revolutionary non-chemical seed priming treatment that uses only water and air to get the seeds biologically ready for germination. I’ll be trying out some of the 19 vegetable varieties available – including tricky to grow parsnips- next spring. I’ll need to write another post about all the new vegetable varieties. There are quite a few I’ve made a note of. And there are many more new flower varieties. I’ve just picked out a few. I’ll definitely have to write another post soon….

Please share this via any social media you like, and don’t forget to say hello in the comments box below. Let me know what new seed you are planing to try out for the spring growing season. I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.

Wordless Wednesday -Cosmos Snow Puff

I’ve had a wonderful day at the field trials ground at Mr Fothergill’s Seeds in Suffolk. This new cosmos caught my eye. Perfect for pollinators. More words to follow when I’ve recovered from the journey. I will be growing this and many other new seeds next spring.

Please feel free to share on social media, and say hello in the message box below.

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

We made a garden for Rainbows Hospice : Belvoir Show 2018

My very wise Welsh grandmother was full of quaint little sayings. I used to laugh at the time. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself down; ” and “Something good always comes out of adversity.” But I didn’t heed them at the time. Then two years ago, suddenly, out of the blue, I became seriously ill. In the middle of the crisis, those words came back to me.

While I was lying in my hospital bed, I decided, if I survived, I would raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children. Being so ill was frightening, and it took all my inner resources to cope. How much worse, I thought, must it be for a child to be ill and in pain. Since then, I’ve been hosting garden club talks, afternoon teas and book launch events. But my biggest challenge came last weekend when I helped build a show garden.

And this is how it started. Over the bridge is the lake-side setting for the first ever Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival. It’s a glorious Capability Brown landscape with rolling hillsides and ancient oak plantations.

We had four and a half days to make a garden. It’s a historic site, so we couldn’t dig down or hammer anything into the ground. Everything had to be built up from a protective ground cover.

We had no budget. Everything was begged or borrowed. Any money, I thought, should go to Rainbows.

David Greaves co-designed the garden and donated all the labour for the build. While I concentrated on the plants, David co-ordinated all the materials and deliveries we would need.

First the garden was marked out. Lewis lays the foundation for the dry stone wall. Alfie’s on the cement mixer.

The first stone is laid.

The beautiful honey -coloured stone was donated by Goldholme Stone.

A lorry load of topsoil arrives, a donation from Richard Fenton.

Such a stunning setting for a garden. Everyone works at breakneck speed, in 28C heat. There’s Sam, Pete, Gareth and David cracking on, mindful of the deadline.

Parents told me being given devastating news your children are not going to live long and full lives is like a hammer blow. They feel as if they’ve been knocked down and can’t get back up. One mother said she felt like Rainbows “picks you up and gives you a hug. ” Something she said was most needed when you’re at your lowest ebb. So I made a seating area in the shape of open arms, or a hug.

This is the artist’s impression of the garden. We designed the garden in two halves. On one side is a parent’s garden with the hug-shape seat set in a woodland glade with native trees and plants. It’s a calm haven. The idea was to highlight the message that Rainbows isn’t just for children; it’s for parents, relatives and siblings who need help, counselling and support.

Parents said, when told their child had a life-limiting illness, all their hopes and dreams for the future collapse. They can’t see what lies ahead. The future is clouded. The Perspex screens puts their words into our garden.

On the other side of the screens is the children’s garden, giving an idea of what it’s like at Rainbows; an insight for anyone who has never visited. There’s a music therapy corner, bird watching hide and wildlife area, water play wall, and a quiet retreat with swing seat covered in rainbow-coloured cushions.

I’ve been going back and forth to the hospice for months, helping the children and young people to grow their own plants for the containers. I loved working with them. I wanted them to share in telling the Rainbows story. Here’s my daughter Clare helping with the planting of seeds and bulbs.

Although nothing was said, I realised some of the children couldn’t see. They enjoyed the feel of dry compost running through their fingers and they spent a long time turning over and feeling the different shaped bulbs- gladioli, lily and begonia. It was an experience I will never forget.

The containers were sited in the middle of the chidren’s garden, and also all around a fund-raising marquee set up by Rainbows alongside our garden.

All the beautiful trees, shrubs and perennials were grown by Miles Nurseries Hoby Leicestershire. Thanks to Tom, Bel and Lawson for providing such fabulous plants. And for all your deliveries to the site. We could not have built the garden without your kind support.

Our water play and music wall.

Here’s the Duchess of Rutland viewing our garden, with David Greaves explaining the design. The good news is we won Best in Show. And even better, the garden is going to be re-built in the castle grounds.

The duchess tried out the drum kit in the music therapy corner.

My Mum, who’s been very ill too this year, recovered enough to come and see the garden. That really made my day to be honest.

This little visitor to the show was enchanted by the butterflies that arrived as soon as we’d planted the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my diary of building a show garden. We raised several thousand pounds with donations, pledges and people joining the Rainbows lottery. Here’s the link if you would like to support the work of this amazing hospice.

Rainbows Hospice – Ways you can help.

With many thanks to all our sponsors: David Greaves Landscape Design and Construction for co-design and build , Miles Nurseries for all trees, shrubs and plants, Bagforce Aggregates , William Hercock Builders Merchants , CED paving and stone Belvoir Saw Mill, Chris Cooper-Hayes for artists impression, Goldholme Stone , David Musson Fencing , Motorpoint for perspex screens and leaflets, Richard Fenton for topsoil ,Melcourt for compost and bark, Burgon and Ball children’s tools and kneeling pads, Mr Fothergill’s Seeds for children’s pots, Gee Tee Bulbs for children’s container bulbs, Elho for children’s containers and plant pots, CJ Wildlife for bird and wildlife corner supplies, Cooks Lane Herbs , Sitting Spiritually swing seat, Pete Brown Carpentry, Libby Greaves for planning and co-ordination, publicity and planting.

Also many thanks to Soo Spector, Marissa Ewing-Gerrard, Clive Gimson for planting and Gary and Alison at Rainbows for helping me; Emma Scarborough for mentoring, and Sue Blaxland who taught me everything at Brooksby College.

Please share this on twitter, facebook, and any other social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello below.

#wordlesswednesday – RHS Chatsworth

Cosmos Razzmatazz. 12,000 of them!

This is the first mass planting at an RHS Flower Show. Cosmos, an annual daisy that hails from Mexico, is planted on a bank between Chatsworth House and the River Derwent. There will be two more mass plantings this summer; Verbena bonariensis at RHS Hampton Court and Rudbeckia Prairie Sun at RHS Tatton Park.

Packets of annual seeds are relatively inexpensive. They often contain hundreds of seeds. So you too could create your own “river of flowers.” Bees and butterflies love them too.

RHS Chatsworth is open until 10th June.

Visit to Bowood House and Gardens

My invitation read: “Come and visit Bowood’s famous spring planting; and Lord Lansdowne will lead a tour of his woodland garden.”

Who could resist such a missive. Not me! So I set off for Wiltshire- dreaming of camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas galore!

And what I found was one of the best spring gardens I’ve ever visited. Over two miles of paths meander through the 30 acre garden- set within a former quarry. A stream runs through the valley with banks of ferns, candelabra primroses and bluebells either side.

Now, I’ve been on these garden visits before, where tours are promised. The owner is often there for a welcoming reception- but then frequently hands over to staff for the tour itself. So I was surprised and pleased to see Lord Lansdowne standing by his offer and giving us a walking tour of his garden – and one that ran an hour longer than planned.

If you come to visit my garden, I’ll take you around, show you the tree I planted when we moved here, my favourite seat, my favourite shrub and the plants I inherited from my grandparents’ garden. To be honest, our visit to Bowood felt just like that; a keen gardener showing us around his plot – with all his favourite trees and shrubs and viewing points. As soon as we arrived, Lord Lansdowne pointed to a group of cornus dogwood trees and described them as his “pride and joy.” And then followed a chat about how difficult they are to grow, and how “wonderful” they look when the white bracts appear in spring. His enthusiasm is something we all share as gardeners. We nurture and plant something, and then stand back and admire it, and want to share that moment with fellow gardeners. It’s something I recognise and understand.

One thing I haven’t got though (ok, there’s no rolling acres and stately home either) is a rhododendron named after me. This one is Lord Lansdowne’s – it’s rather lovely, with peachy cream petals and pink buds.

I can see why this is one of his favourite views, looking out from the garden. We are standing on the mausoleum steps looking out across the tops of the rhododendrons through a gap in the trees.

Some of the rhododendrons are called Bowood Hybrids, and Lord Lansdowne showed us the nursery beds where his selected seedlings are planted. He said they could be sitting there for 10 years before he’d know if they were something special or not. Patience is obviously a virtue when you are growing new varieties like these.

I must admit, there were a dizzying array of variety names as we walked through the woods. I should have written them down, but I was just listening to the commentary and enjoying what turned out to be a most unusual and special day. I mean, how often can you report that you were meandering through the woods and suddenly there on the path is the celebrated plantsman Roy Lancaster!

Roy, who is writing about the gardens, stopped for a chat and joined our group for a photo. It was fascinating to hear the two friends talking, the Latin names flying back and forth. And later, we visited a patch called Roy’s Corner, where specimens brought back from Roy’s plant-finding expeditions are being nurtured. Altogether, it had been, a day like no other.

Bowood Woodland Garden opens from 28th April until early June. Check the website for details. http://www.bowood.org

No wonder the owner admits he spends every Saturday lunchtime having a picnic in the gardens. I think I would too.

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising this visit to Bowood. If you work in horticulture, you can become an associate member. Membership is open to anyone working in garden writing, broadcasting and photography. Probationary membership may also be available for new starters in the profession and there are training courses and mentoring schemes available.

#wordlesswednesday – Smoke

Gardener’s Cottage at dusk at Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire.

Visiting the Food Fair in the courtyard. Famous for its jam and chutney, fudge and cake. The gardens look fabulous. Wonderful to see the topiary pruned and the beds prepared – all ready for Snowdrops 17-25 February. A highlight of our winter calendar. The photo below was taken this February.

Meanwhile. Some more autumn photos to brighten your day:

I worked here, the winter before last. Such a beautiful place. Historic gardens dating back 400 years. Visit the website to see more photos. Sadly the house was demolished after the war.

The terraces and walled gardens have been lovingly restored.

A special place to visit at any time of the year. Do you have a favourite garden you like to visit to see the changing seasons?

Help, I Need a Marquee………

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The conversation went something like “Hello, I need a marquee.”  The reply was “That’s ok. For how many and what’s your budget.”  “About 40 people. Er… there’s a problem with the budget. There’s isn’t one.”

I expected the phone line to go dead. But to my  amazement, Richard  from Storer Smith Events laughed and told me to go on.  He wanted to know more.

There followed a somewhat embarrassing account.  I was organising my first ever fund-raising event.   I’d failed to keep track of ticket sales. Now there were 46 people coming – and the venue could only comfortably take 25.  I was having sleepless nights. People were going to turn up for a posh afternoon tea- dressed in their Sunday best. What on earth was I going to do?

There was a silence on the end of the phone. Then a sigh. Then the words, “Well, I’d better help you out then.”    I don’t think I have ever been so relieved. My bacon had well and truly been saved.

Richard – I’ll forever think of him as my knight in shining armour -saved the day. He provided a 6m by 9m marquee,  with carpet, tables, chairs, and also a monster  (almost) fire-breathing heater –  complete with gas. A team of workers to put it up- and take it down.  All free of charge.

Thanks to Richard,  we had a fabulous marquee for our vintage afternoon  tea- all in aid of Rainbows Hospice.  We enjoyed a  wonderful talk  and slide show from celebrated author Barbara Segall   who was speaking about her newly-launched book, Secret Gardens of East Anglia. I wrote a review about the book here .    Gary from Rainbows talked about the wonderful facilities and work at the hospice for children. Such a heartwarming, inspiring afternoon.

We served six types of posh sandwiches, and tomato and thyme tarts. Followed by a mountain of cakes, mostly made by my wonderful Mum. And gallons of tea in pretty mismatched china.

It all worked beautifully and I’m pleased ( and mightily relieved ) to report that we made almost £1,000 for Rainbows.

I’m so grateful to Richard for his kindness. It is a relief to know that wonderful people like him still exist when there is so much bad news in the world.

There’s a whole roll call of people to thank for helping to make the event a success. But chiefly, I want to thank Richard, for his kind and generous help.  Also Barbara Segall, who refused a fee for her talk. My friend Alison Levey from blackberrygarden.co.uk  blog who fetched, carried and was fab at selling raffle tickets. Geary’s Craft Bakeries provided the bread ( thank you Charles Geary). The co-op at East Leake supplied the fillings for the sandwiches. The Printers in Loughborough provided posters and tickets.

For the goody bags for each person who attended, Lady Ursula at Easton Walled Gardens provided 50 complimenatry tickets to visit the gardens.  Burgon and Ball gave me beautiful tins of string. Mr Fothergills gave me  packets of  flower seed. Cooks Lane Herbs gave me gorgeously-wrapped, wonderfully-scented handmade Red Clover and Honey Soap. Seedball   sent tins of wildflower seed.

For the raffle, books came from Alison Levey, Frances Lincoln (Quarto Homes) publishers, wine from the Round Robin, East Leake, flowers and plants from Googie’s Flowers , East Leake, calendars from The Calender Club, Loughbrough, Chocolates from Thorntons. Six Acre Nursery at Costock gave a lovely hellebore plant.

The photos are examples of marquees provided by Storer Smith Events. As you can imagine, I wish everyone would now rush out and book him up for the next 10 years. Such a good-hearted soul has won my loyalty for life!  Contact Richard at info@storersmithevents.co.uk. Phone 01889 563200. He’s at Uttoxeter ST14 5AP but supplies marquees all around the country.

Taking Mum to the Dahlia Show

Regular readers will know that Mum and I spend every Sunday visiting gardens -especially NGS gardens raising money for charity. But this week – we had a change in our routine, we visited a dahlia show.

We marvelled over the blousy, dinner plate- size flowers. None were nibbled by slugs or dashed by the weather, like mine have been.

We loved these huge white flowers, Kenora Challenger. They won the prize for best exhibit in show. They were literally perfect.

Here’s a slide show of our favourites. I loved this coral pink cactus dahlia.

Mum loved this single ruby collarette-type dahlia called Mills Purple Velvet.

My favourite was this small cactus dahlia with needle-like petals. Such a pretty delicate pink.

The show by Leicestershire Dahlia Society was held at Palmers Plant Nursery in Enderby. Mum and I have signed up for more information and will go along to talks and events to find out more. And in November there’s an event where members sell off their spare tubers. I’ve earmarked a few for my cut flower patch.

Best of all- at the end of the show, the flowers were sold off in an auction. I came home with armfuls for my MIL Joan. All her window ledges are now bursting with colour. Happy memories of when my dear Father-in-law had an allotment full of cut flowers- dahlias and chrysanthemums – and regularly came home with an array of first prize awards.

Have you attended -or entered any produce or flowers in any shows this year? I’d love to know how you got on.

Words and Pictures

SECRET GARDENS OF EAST ANGLIA

 

Barbara Segall. Photography by Marcus Harpur

Frances Lincoln £20. Hardback.  Published 7th September 2017.

It’s impossible to resist dipping into the pages of any book with the words “secret” and “garden” in the title.

We all love peering over the garden gate  to get a glimpse of other people’s property.

And in Secret Gardens of East Anglia, Barbara Segall is our excellent guide, taking us straight down the drive and through the front gates of 22 privately owned gardens.

It is quite a revelation. We see sumptuous planting, grand sculpture, rose parterres, moated gardens,  and wildflower meadows galore! A real  treat – in words and pictures.

Here is just a flavour of some of the glorious gardens featured.

Wyken Hall, Stanton, Suffolk

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Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Perfectly co-ordinated, one of Wyken Hall’s peacocks is poised beneath a blue wooden pergola covered in climbing Rosa Blairii Number Two. The pergola is reminiscent of one at Bodnant in Wales. Owners Kenneth and Carla Carlisle have created a sumptuous rose garden, favouring highly-scented old rose varieties with soft coloured perennials such as delphiniums, astrantia and artemisia. The sound of water and the scent of roses always draws  me in. I could picture myself sitting in this beautiful garden on a hot, sunny summer’s day. Yes, I would be quite happy here!

Columbine Hall, Stowupland, Suffolk

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Photo credit Marcus Harpur. In my opinion, the most romantic of the gardens featured.  I’ve long been entranced by the walled kitchen garden which I first spotted on twitter. Head gardener and estate manager Kate Elliott ( @columbinehall) has worked here for 20 years and rightly describes the garden as her “pride and joy.”  Blue-grey paintwork used for gates, bridges and obelisks caught my eye, along with the planting scheme of silver and blue-mauve through to pink. Purple kales such as Cavolo Nero, Redbor and Rouge de Russie are set amongst  the silver leaves of globe artichokes.  I wasn’t surprised to read the owners’ comments :”We pick from the Kitchen Garden only with Kate’s permission, so as not to upset the colour co-ordinations or symmetry.”  A rare glimpse behind the scenes into the work and dedication that goes into creating a garden such as this.

 

Elton Hall, Elton, Cambridgeshire

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Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Home to Sir William and Lady Proby who chose to make a modern garden, rather than recreate the past.  The stately house has been in the Proby family for more than 300 years. It’s  fascinating to see how the contemporary design of the fountain and the pyramid topiary is set against a Gothic style house with turrets and castellations.  Proof that a modern style can work in a setting that’s steeped in history.

Wood Farm, Gipping, Suffolk

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Photo credit Marcus Harpur.    The photograph shows irises, cornflowers, mounds of lavender and box. On the other side of the property, the house appears to drift on a sea of white ox-eye daisies. The golden centres of the daisies are an exact match with the colour of the 500 year old Suffolk farmhouse. A very pretty house and garden and I would love to have the chance to ramble along that  garden path.

I must mention Ulting Wick, Ulting, Essex. Long on my  special-places-to-visit list, the owners Bryan and Philippa Burrough  have planted 10,000 tulips in the Old Farmyard garden. A particular feature of the garden is the bold and jewel-like colours set against the black paintwork of three listed barns. In spring, the bulbs take centre stage, but in late summer, it is the dahlias and bronze-leaved Ensete that turn up the heat. The garden has opened to the public for the past 14 years in aid of the National Gardens Scheme. After reading Barbara’s book you will want to follow  Philippa’s garden tweets @UltingWick. The sheer amount of work that goes into creating a garden such as this is highlighted in the stunning photos in the book.

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Barbara is a most entertaining “host” on what feels like the best holiday road trip /garden visit tour- ever.  Reading this beautiful book is like walking alongside Barbara. She expertly points out the secret areas and the special treasures in each garden.  The history and the background information is fascinating. And it feels such a treat to be “let in”  to these treasured, private spaces.

It’s a joy to read the stories behind the gardens and  to “meet” the people who own them.  And if the book has whetted your appetite- all but one of the 22 gardens are open to visit – on selected days of the year or by appointment only.

BARBARA SEGALL is a well-known horticulturist and garden writer. I’ve always looked out for her writing in the English Garden Magazine and also on the Richard Jackson’s Garden website. She is editor of The Horticulturist,  the journal of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, also editor of Herbs magazine for the Herb Society. Barbara lives in Suffolk and her first book for Frances Lincoln was Gardens by the Sea with photos by Marcus Harpur’s father, Jerry.  Barbara’s blog is http://www.thegardenpost.com.

MARCUS HARPUR . I’ve know Marcus since about 1992 when he left book publishing to join his father to form the Harpur Garden Library.  Sadly , Marcus died on August 6th this year after 18 months of illness. He saw finished copies of the book, but poignantly didn’t live to see it go on sale. When I spoke to him last, he described working on the book as “A joyful and satisfying project.”  He was a much loved and well respected photographer whose  skill in capturing the light and beauty in a garden is plain for all to see in this his final book.

Pre-order on Amazon at  amzn.to/2oqHgM2

Thank you to Frances Lincoln/ Quarto Group Books for supplying this advance copy for review.

 

 

 

 

 

Art in the garden- a visit to Cathy’s glorious plot.

When Cathy Lyon-Green wanted a garden room – she set to and built it herself. "Building really is as simple as laying one brick on top of another- and checking the levels regularly." And the result is stunning- a pink painted summerhouse with grey windows and pretty pantile roof. It's the perfect place to sit and survey Cathy's extraordinary garden.

Readers might recognise Cathy's name from the popular meme In a Vase on Monday and Rambling in the Garden blog. I've enjoyed joining in with the meme for about a year, so when I saw Cathy's garden would be open for the National Garden Scheme for the first time, I couldn't resist a visit. Mum and I were in for a real treat. Everything about Cathy's garden is out of the ordinary. There's a surprise around every corner. Quite honestly, I got out my notebook and started writing down ideas for my own plot. We loved these photo canvasses which brighten up the garden walls.

We spotted these pretty metal plant supports with jewel-like flowers.

Simple ideas are often best, and we loved finding little painted stones around the garden. Some said, empathy – peace, and love. Mum and I pondered what our stones might say. Mum said "giving," and "caring." Mine would say "sharing," and "loyalty." Doesn't it make you think.

You never know what you are going to find next in Cathy's garden. Nestled against the shed wall we found this character. Mum and I had an argument as to whether it was a male or a female of the species. We both agreed it was friendly though.

We thought this beautiful metal sculpture reminded us of wild flowers and cow parsley in particular.

These two birds on top of the garden wall made us laugh. Are they pigeons or crows? We couldn't decide. Just about everything in the garden sparks a debate. It's all a talking point.

I am always looking for new ideas- especially if they save money. So I loved this idea for a cane- topper. It's a painted wooden cube. So simple, but is a brilliant way to protect eyes, and make a statement. The cubes were in bright fuchsia pink and purple shades. They looked gorgeous contrasting with the lime green leaves, and popping up through the cottage garden flowers.

I might copy this idea on my cut flower and veg plot. The plant supports would also be a good idea to hold up the netting over the cabbages etc.

For once, Mum and I were in total agreement on something. This message.

It's always lovely to see items saved and re-purposed in the garden. We loved this little stained glass window set into one of the garden walls.

We found plenty of places to sit and relax in the garden. This cosy seat is enveloped in a pink planting scheme of astrantia, geranium and alliums. We loved the little green checked cushions which were a feature on all benches and seats throughout the garden.

And finally, after much backtracking and going round the garden several times to make sure we hadn't missed anything, we found the terrace in front of the garden room that Cathy describes as her sitooterie.

"I have always 'made' things, and if something is needed, I will want to make it if at all possible. I built my first low brick wall about 40 years ago, but my great interest in bricklaying was well and truly kick-started when we were constructing the extension in 1998 and I have created many more opportunities to continue bricklaying since then. The opportunity for the sitooterie came about when we dismantled the original greenhouse that was on the site. "

I asked Cathy how long it had taken her to create the garden. "We didn't really do anything in the garden except cut the grass until about 2000, then gradually we began reducing the grass by creating beds over the next few years, before coming to a standstill when work well and truly got in the way. Listening to my heart instead of my head and retiring in 2011 was when I was able to focus on the garden as a whole and consolidate or improve on what had been done up until then. There was still no overall plan, and many of the best ideas were created as a response to something that just wasn't working, or something that would otherwise have been a waste- such as the shrub border which came about because our neighbour was filling a skip with topsoil!"

We can report back that the home-made cakes were all delicious and Cathy's helpers Janet and Chris made us feel very welcome. We sat for quite a long time, making mental notes of all the planting combinations we loved and all the little touches that made this such an inspirational garden. Driving home, we kept saying to each other "and did you notice that……," and "what about that……." But neither of us could say how big the garden was because it was so deceptive. The little paths twist and turn through shady fern- filled corners and out into a stream- filled glade. We looked on the NGS website when we got home and it stated- one third of an acre. The blurb also says 'Plant-lovers garden, full of surprises." Mum and I nodded our heads in agreement!

Cathy's garden, East View Cottages, Tamworth, Warwickshire, will be open again for the Yellow Book NGS towards end of June next summer. Cathy had a good turn out for her first ever open gardens. 155 people in total over two days. Click on the highlighted words for more information.

#wordlesswednesday At Pensthorpe, Norfolk

I'm still trying to identify this fluffy bee. Spotted in the glorious wildlife garden at Pensthorpe.

The plant is a purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Recommended on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list.

Echinacea fact file:

Common name: hedgehog plant, coneflower

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Echinacea. Clump forming, rhizomatous perennials with simple, pinnately-lobed leaves. Long-stemmed daisy-like flowers with prominent conical centre.

Height: 0.5-1.5m with a spread of 0.1-0.5m There are some low-growing varieties such as Kim's Knee High (60cm). See RHS info link here.

Grows in: Full sun, tolerates some shade.

Aspect: Prefers south facing. Can cope with sheltered or exposed conditions. Any really well-drained soil.

Propagate: From seed. Available from Chiltern Seeds. Or divisions in spring.

Recommended: Elton Knight, Magnus, Ruby Giant, Pallida (drooping petals), White Swan, Green Envy and Green Jewel (lime). I haven't found the orange, yellow and apricot-coloured hybrids to be very long-lived.

Tips: Avoid damp spots for planting and don't heavily mulch over the crown in the winter. Add plenty of grit when planting to improve drainage. The cold weather doesn't seem to bother them, it's the mild, prolonged wet spells that kills them.

Anyone know the name of my bee?

A peek at my week. What I’ve seen- where I’ve been

Took Mum to Norfolk to see East Ruston Old Vicarage. A feast for the eyes. Loved this sunny wild flower meadow.


Got lots of container planting inspiration. Much scribbling down of names and taking of photos went on. Just look at the size of that brugmansia! You can see why it is called angel’s trumpets. The scent is out of this world. It’s underplanted with yellow argyranthemum, purple verbena, and lobelia. There’s even a grey-leaved melianthus squeezed in. Such an enticing entrance to an archway. 


Every second word we used had “exotic” in front of it! Loved this avenue of cannas planted with blue verbena bonariensis and orange tagetes. 

Saw two sumptuous deep red dahlias. Sadly no labels so we don’t know the names. I’m searching books though, so will post an update when I know for certain. 


I grow this tender purple-leaved Aeonium plant in the greenhouse at home. I might set it outdoors for the summer, now I’ve seen how lovely it looks. 

Also have this blue-tinged echeveria in a pot in my greenhouse. And I’ve got this Stewart Garden low planter which looks like stone, but is actually plastic. Much lighter to carry in and out of the greenhouse. 


Should NOT  have looked at the plant sales area. Fell in love with these two dahlias. Can’t wait to get home to plant them in my cut flower patch. 


Here’s a quick look at the barn we stayed in. It gets a five star rating from us. More information to follow. 


Do get in touch and let me know what you have been up to this week. It’s been sunny and hot in Norfolk and I’m expecting to arrive home to a lot of weeding and dead heading on the plot! 

Tiny bee on cow parsley

Photos from the lane outside my garden gate. 


Tiny bee and cow parsley. 


Sweet smelling dog roses in shades of white and pink 


Dog roses tumble from the Hawthorne hedgerows 


Dog roses as beautiful as any cultivated form


Loved by bees. I think this is called hawkweed. 


Wild sorrel. Leaves can be used for delicious soup.

Wild sorrel ripens to this beautiful red colour 


Pink cow parsley – as pretty as any garden flower 


Tiny wild geraniums  

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk along our country lane in June. Are there any wild flowers when you live? 

The view today

It’s been torrential rain here all morning. The ditch has overflowed and resembles a fast flowing stream, and my veg plot is half under water.

I’ve been watching a young buzzard, sitting on our hedge. Every now and again, it shakes itself and raindrops go flying. 

Suddenly the downpour halts. The buzzard looks about and stretches its wings to dry them. And then it’s off. With only three flaps of its wings it is gliding over the hawthorn hedge. Such power. By the time I get to the gate post to watch, the buzzard is only a tiny speck high up in the sky. But we can hear the cat-like mewing sound.  And now there are three. The young buzzard has been joined by its parents. 

We’ve been watching these buzzards for the past few years. They’ve made a nest in a small wood in the fields at the back of our house. Last year there were two pairs nesting, and they each produced two chicks. 


We will take a walk there later to see if we can spot their nests-without getting too close to bother them.

Anyway, the sun’s come out now, and suddenly there’s activity all round. There’s bees buzzing in the cotoneaster around the office window, the fledgling swallows are making wobbly flights past. We hold our breath, in case they crash. They just miss, by inches. The busy, twittering sound they make reminds me that I must get going too. I must dash off to work, before the next deluge. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick glimpse into my morning here in my garden. It’s our wildlife haven. 

Wild geranium,tiny but Jewel like. White clover, buttercup and grasses. Perfect for bees, butterflies and insects.


Pink-tinged  cow parsley. As pretty as any cultivated flower. 


Wild geranium maculatum, like crinkled silk. Also known as cranesbill because of its seeds. As beautiful as garden form.

Hoby Open Gardens

On a still summer’s evening, the church bell sounded the hour, and a flock of geese took flight from the lake. 

I was standing on the edge of the ha ha at Glebe House,  looking over the pasture lands that would once have been owned by the clergy. It’s a sight that gladdens the heart. Undulating wildflower meadows with contented sheep asleep in the shade  of ancient oak and lime trees. 

This is the perfect place to stand and survey the garden. Scent drifts from the roses planted all along the old brick walls. And there’s a tantalising view through an archway, wreathed with honeysuckle and climbing roses. 


Rosa Shot Silk makes a glorious background for the drifts of allium Purple Sensation. 
The hypocaust wall would have once had peaches, apricots and figs. Food for the clergy at the rectory next door.  Owners Steve and Diane  Horsfield say the clergy would have had rather a nice life here. They dined on shellfish from fishponds in the meadows below. The couple have been digging up quantities of shells all around the garden ever since they moved in. 


Rosa Mutabilis with euphorbia, alliums and nepeta. There’s a first floor garden room to take in the views.

 


The views from the ha ha. 


Rosa Crown Princess Margareta in the foreground.

Crown Princess Margareta. 

Glebe House in Hoby, Leicestershire, will be open on Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th June 2016 from 11am t0 5pm along with 11 other gardens to raise funds for All Saints Church. Tickets cost £5.  There will be lunch in the village hall and cream teas at Glebe House and Redwood. Pimms, ice creams and  a plant stall  can be found around the village, and an art exhibition in the church. The car park will be in Thrussington Road (LE14 3EB) 

I was lucky enough to have a preview of the gardens when I joined the BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth gardening team. You can hear more on the programme today  (12th June) at 12 noon on 104.9FM and on i player. 

A favourite of mine was Clematis Cottage.The Montana clematis (I think it’s Marjorie) seems to be trying to climb in through the bedroom window. Just heavenly! Don’t you agree?


A Visit to the Garden of Ninfa

These photos are for anyone who, like me, can’t visit the RHS London Rose Show this weekend. 

Curated by Rachel de Thame, the second annual show at the RHS Lawrence Hall, promises to be a “celebration of England’s favourite flower.” I’m really sorry to miss out, as Rachel tends to have an eye for all things elegant, and is well known for her knowledge and passion for roses.

Instead, I’m beavering away at work – but in my tea break, I thought I’d share my photo album of Ninfa. 


I was lucky enough to be invited on an Italian gardens tour at the beginning of May. Family commitments and work means I’ve not ventured abroad for around 10 years. I’m not complaining, I love British countryside and gardens.

But when a friend decided to celebrate her birthday with a tour of gardens, and invited 12 pals along, I couldn’t turn down the chance to go along.

We spent a week touring the gardens of Lazio near Rome. On our last day, we visited Ninfa. 

The garden planted among the ruins of the ancient town of Ninfa, is the work of generations of the Caetani family, most notably, Princess Lelia. Virtually every wall, tower and tree is draped in roses. They look as if they have grown naturally-all on their own- with no help from anyone. 

The approach to the garden is down a path with white rambling roses engulfing the boundary wall.

It was our lucky day. Our guide was the Director’s wife, Stella. Wherever there was a Sign saying no entrance, Stella lifted the rope barring our way and ushered us through. What a treat to see the secret areas of the garden, not open to the public. Such kindness is always appreciated, and never forgotten. 

The whole garden is filled with such fragrance. 
American Pillar, possibly. So beautiful against the blue/green walls. All the roses look so healthy.


Rosa Mutabilis- an old fashioned China  variety-quite often called the butterfly rose. 


We ducked down under this cloud of tiny red roses to cross the bridge.

The garden of Ninfa is open infrequently to protect its delicate environmental balance. More information from http://www.fondazionecaetani.org. We travelled on a bespoke gardens trip organised by  Success Tours  www.successtours.com accompanied by tour manager  Wendy Viney. We had the most luxurious coaches ever  and the best driver, Enrico (who saved our lives at least five times a day).Coaches by http://www.corsiepampanelli.it . We stayed at Villa Vecchia Hotel http://www.villavecchia.it   

Read more about Ninfa in RHS Lessons from Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs, published by Mitchell Beazley.  www.rhsshop.co.uk 

Look out for next year’s RHS London Rose Show. http://www.rhs.org/shows-events/rhs-london-shows/rhs-london-rose-show. I’m determined not to miss it next time.

Have you been to any gardens that have had a big impact on you?  

My Favourite Photos from Chelsea 2016

These are the plants and gardens that caught my attention at Chelsea this year. 


I love these purple beech mounds. A masterclass in planting by Jo Thompson. I am not using box, because of blight. I’m experimenting with yew and ilex green gem, and will now add beech to the list to try out. 

I’m not going to pull up my wild geraniums after all. I love the woodland edge planting by Cleve West, inspired by his childhood memories of Exmoor National Park. 


Step over fruit and the most glorious herbs in Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary garden. 


I would love to grow more clematis plants 


More amaryllis for the greenhouse 


Peonies do well in my garden. They can be grown in shade, and don’t mind cold, windswept conditions.


Such a beautiful colour. Coral Charm.

More tulips are on my shopping list for this Autumn. 


Mum grows begonias like this. Some are five or six years old. She just dries them out over the winter, and starts them back into growth in spring.


Delphiniums and begonias from Blackmore and Langdons. This beautiful pale lilac and  blue one is called Spindrift. http://www.blackmore-Langdon.com 


A few more fuchsias. This was the Roualeyn Fuchsias display, from Conwy, North Wales.


New pelargonium from Fibrex Nursery, a family run business from Stratford on Avon,UK. Holders of national collections of pelargoniums and hedera. 



The scent from these violas was just amazing. From Wildegoose Nursery,  www.boutsviolas.co.uk.


I lingered by these sweet peas for quite some time. This is a display by Eagle sweet peas, from Stafford. http://www.eaglesweetpeas.co.uk 


What a colour!


Foxgloves higher than me from The Botanic Nursery, Wiltshire . http://www.botanicnursery.co.uk 


These caught my eye. A new strawberry called Cupid for a late cropping. From Ken Muir. 

Hardy’s nursery new white Cirsium Frosted Magic. 

Hardy’s gorgeous white Centurea Montana Alba.


Hard to miss this Geum Scarlett Tempest. New for Hardy’s.  www.hardys-plants.co.uk 


Thyme path -A Modern Apothecary by Jekka’s Herb Farm.  This garden will be relocated to St John’s Hospice in London.  


More potatoes – a display by the James Hutton Institute, Dundee.


A bouquet for the Queen. I was lucky enough to watch this being created. 


Container heaven.


And finally. Where can I fit one of these in my garden. I’m sure I’ve got a space- somewhere…..

What were your favourites this year?

Chelsea Flower Show Highlights

Here’s my photo highlights of Chelsea 2016. If you have limited time and energy to see everything at Chelsea. Just follow this route to see my favourites.

Start at Diarmuid Gavin’s Harrod’s British Eccentrics Garden. You have to see it really. You just can’t go home without spying those twirling bay trees. And remember that while we are all worrying about box blight, Diarmiud has got mechanical failure to contend with. He’s got no one to blame but himself. 


You can’t hide in there, Mr Gavin. Diarmuid heads for the potting shed as the judges inspect his creation. 

Just along the Main Avenue is Ann-Marie Powell’s Greening Grey Britain garden, sponsored by the RHS.The  planting is a glorious combination of pink and orange. Wins my award for most cheerful garden at Chelsea, and there are lots of ideas to “borrow.” I love the edible planting in pots, the scaffolding pergola swathed in climbing Westerland Rose, and the seating where you can relax and watch the wildlife. It’s a  welcome change to be allowed to walk through a garden at Chelsea. That’s what we do in real life- we don’t stand at a barrier and just look into a garden.


Cross over the Main Avenue – and be transported to Provence. James Basson’s L’Occitane garden makes you feel as if you are standing right on the edge of a lavender field in sunnier climes. The scent is something you’ll remember long after the show. Wins my award for most relaxing garden at Chelsea. I needed to stand there for quite some time after battling my way on the train and underground.

Also on Main Avenue, The Telegraph Garden by Andy Sturgeon takes you to the semi-arid foothills of the Andes in Chile. I love the orange isoplexis. Beautifully captures the spirit of the place. I stood in wonder.

Virtually next door on the Main Avenue is Cleve West’s M&G Garden, inspired by the ancient oak woodland of Exmoor National Park. I love the woodland-edge planting and the little pools of water in the rocks. 



Don’t  miss Rosy Hardy’s first show garden, on Main Avenue, the Brewin Dolphin Garden- Forever Freefolk. A reminder of the fragility of beautiful chalk streams- and a plea to value and protect them.


Turn the corner onto Royal Hospital Way and find Jekka McVicar’s first show garden, created for St John’s Hospice- called A Modern Apothecary. This is the garden  I most wanted to transport home. A place of calm in the midst of all the busy chaos.


And finally, on the Rock Garden Bank is Matthew Wilson’s triumph- A Garden for Yorkshire. It really is a sight to behold. Inspired by the Great East Window at York Minster, it simply transports you to God’s Own County. 


What are your highlights of Chelsea 2016? Let me know what you think of this year’s gardens. 

 Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The words Fun and Happiness sum up Chelsea 2016- for me.

Diarmuid Gavin, as always, provides the fun. And Ann-Marie Powell has the word Happiness written in 10 different languages all through her paving. 

The moment I set eyes on those words, I thought Ann-Marie  had perfectly summed up the mood for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

For the first time, it’s not all about how much money you’ve got to spend- it’s about making the best of what you’ve got- and just enjoying gardening.

Ann-Marie’s garden- commissioned by the RHS – perfectly captures the message that gardening is good for you. It’s good for mental and physical health. And it’s not all about big budgets. Or big spaces.  The rose covered pergola -is made from recycled scaffolding poles. And the potting shed roof is packed with containers growing fruit and veg. I even spotted a beehive up there.

As for the planting-it’s a joyous riot of pink and orange. It shouldn’t work- but somehow it does. Maybe because the pink is lychnis flos-cuculi- a wild flower that has such happy childhood memories for me. I grew up on a farm with water meadows- waist high in those pink flowers, commonly known as Ragged Robin,combined with bright yellow buttercups. Ann-Marie has partnered the wild flowers with orange geums which give the same bright meadow look- mixed in with lots of grasses. 

It’s a sight guaranteed to lift the spirits- and sets the scene for the rest of the flower show. If you are heading to Chelsea this week, Ann-Marie’s garden is located directly in front of the new-look RHS Hub. But to be honest- you really can’t miss it.

Cheerful combination of pink Ragged Robin with Orange Geum Prinses Juliana and tufted hair grass Deschampsia cespitosa. The bird feeders are made by blacksmith Alex Moore, mooredesigns.co.uk  @MooreDesignsUK. The benches are also made by Alex. If you are like me, and notice beautiful small details, you can also spot his work on the Jekka McVicar garden. The pretty rose arch and twisty metal border edging is by Alex.

Ann-Marie working on the planting on Sunday. The flowers include alliums, lupins,salvia, geraniums and aquilegia. This is a garden to walk through,rather than just look at from a distance. 


I loved this bright pink geranium (possibly palmatum) waiting to be planted on Sunday. How do they get it to look so perfect by Monday.

All finished by Monday-and still smiling. Ann-Marie Powell in front of the scaffolding pergola with climbing rose Westerland. The garden was commissioned to promote the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign. I think it succeeded. 

And finally- a photo of Diarmuid Gavin’s British Eccentrics Garden, inspired by the cartoons of William Heath Robinson. It’s wacky, a bit  bonkers, and mesmerising for 10 minutes. But don’t take it too seriously. Go on- smile! It’s good for you! 

A Visit to Easton Walled Gardens

After  a visit to Easton Walled Gardens, I return to my own little patch, and feel like anything is possible- I can take on any challenge. 

Easton’s  Ursula Cholmeley has approached her major restoration project with so much courage and determination, spending a few hours in her company is all that’s needed to boost my enthusiasm.

Easton was lost under tree saplings and brambles until Ursula started work on the garden 16 years ago. The decline started when Easton Hall, the mansion house that used to stand on the site, was requisitioned at the start of the Second World War. The soldiers stationed there caused so much damage that restoration was not a viable option. There was talk of gunfire being heard in the house and grenades thrown into the greenhouses. 

As a result, the house was literally bulldozed down in 1951, and some of the stonework and debris has been left along one bank to show what conditions were like when Ursula took on the garden. Poignantly, only the gatehouse remains- and that only survived because the bulldozer broke down. It’s a tantalising glimpse of what glories have been lost. Photographs of the old house show magnificent tall glass windows and an orangery overlooking the terraces.

If you visit Easton, you can walk up the flight of stone steps and stand on the spot where there is just the ruins of a bay window left. Standing there, you can survey the scene, and imagine what it would have been like to live there.

Now, thanks to Ursula’s vision and hard work,  you can see a reconstruction of the gardens. Looking out from the terrace, you see the walled gardens in the distance with fruit trees and roses planted through a meadow. Mown paths represent the original paving. 

The terraced banks are full of wild flowers. They are yellow with cowslips today, and we think we spotted orchids.  We stood and watched the swallows, seemingly flying just a few inches above the terraces. Such a sight- and sound. That twittering noise has followed me home!  


A patch of blue Centaurea Montana shines out amongst the yellow cowslips. 

  Camassia bulbs are planted in the Cedar Meadow- taking over from the tulip and narcissi display. 

I particularly like this pale blue camassia in the Cedar Meadow. It looks like Camassia Cusickii 


Maybe I won’t pull up all those dandelions and cow parsley in my garden, after all. A lovely setting for the Meadow Retreat summerhouse. 


Phacelia tanacetifolia. Loved by bees. I’ve grown this as a green manure crop, and forgotten to turn it over in time. Such a happy accident. 
Records show  there has been a house here since 1592. What changes the gardeners must have seen over the past 400 years. 

Easton Walled Gardens  is just off the A1 near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Open from 2nd March to 30 October, and also for snowdrops. See the website for opening times and special events http://www.visiteaston.co.uk. Follow on Twitter @EWGardens and on Facebook. 

Are there any gardens that you visit for inspiration? 

A visit to Coton Manor

My car could probably drive itself to Coton Manor. The route is so familiar. I’ve been  visiting  the garden for about 20 years. And each time I learn something new. I  take a pen and paper to make a note of planting combinations. I always have to walk around the garden in the same direction. First, the top terrace, by the garden school, where there’s beautiful terracotta pots of seasonal plants. Tulips today, mass planted in a single colour. Then on through the rose and lavender garden. Through the arch to the top woodland walk. Down the slope, following the stream, watching the ferns unfurling, spotting a patch of erythronium dogs tooth violets and some maroon tipped trilliums. Crossing over the  rill, we walk through the wildflower meadow- full of cowslips and camassias.  Not horticultural matters, I know, but the little speckled bantams that live at the bottom of the stream garden are such a delight to see. We chuckle over their  fluffy feathered legs, and their funny little ways. Today, one spots a fly, and zigzags crazily through the orchard, neck outstretched to catch the tasty morsel. There’s flamingoes. Puzzling when first encountered.  But a treat to look forward to on every subsequent visit. They are seemingly colour-coordinated with the orange pink tulips along the stream bank. Today we walked through the bluebell woods.  We stood still and just gazed. A sea of blue, set against the smooth grey beech trees. And then, the scent. We store up such glory- to last the whole year. Until next time.  

Coton Manor’s five acre bluebell wood- open until 15th May 12 noon to 5.30

   
I am always drawn to houses built with the warm honey coloured Northamptonshire stone.  The original Manor House was destroyed during the Civil War and rebuilt in 1662, using  stone salvaged from nearby Holdenby House.  The current owner’s grandparents moved to Coton in 1926, extended the house and created the bones of the current 10 acre garden. A history of the house and gardens has been written by Ann Benson, available through the Coton manor website http://www.cotonmanor.co.uk. 

 


We always hope to be in time for the wisteria flowering. Such a glorious scent.

  

The lavender-edged terrace garden has Tulip Elegant Lady and double late peony flowered Black Hero. Soon there will be geraniums, erysimum and heucheras to cover the bulb foliage. The garden school is on the right. Courses still available (at time of publication) this summer are by Sarah Price, Tom Duncan,Johnathan and Peter Gooch, Martyn Rix, Brian Ellis, Rosy Hardy and the owner Susie Pasley-Tyler.

Tulip Black Hero- a double peony flowering form   

I always find plenty of inspiration for container planting. This is my favourite at Coton, the copper urn and Spring Green Tulips.

  

Tulip Yellow Spring Green. New to me and something I will try this year.   
ELegant Lady Tulip. Reliable and  lives up to its name.

  
fringed Blue Heron tulip. Such a colour!

 
  
Honesty (Lunaria annua) An unusual bi coloured form.

  
iris – possibly Plum Tart. 
Plants, seeds and bulbs can be purchased at the nursery. The garden opens Tuesday to Saturday 12 noon to 5.30  from 25th March to 1st October. Mum and I have bought season tickets, which means we can visit the garden through the changing seasons and obtain lots of planting inspiration. 

Do you have a favourite garden that you like to visit? What planting inspiration have you found?  Please leave a comment so that I know I’m not talking to myself here.