Friday, 29 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Munch Munch Munch


The RHS have brightened up my day by emailing me a list of the Top Ten garden pests of 2007, as calculated by the number of complaints / enquiries they received about them at the Entomology service within RHS HQ at Wisley.

You may not be all that surprised to hear that, after the very rainy summer we had, those old favourites slugs and snails moved back into the top spot; beating up-and-coming pest the Harlequin ladybird into second place.

If you are a member of the RHS, you're entitled to use the advisory service free of charge - last year, some 30,000 members did so. Or maybe it was 3,000 really keen members ten times each. You never know.

The point is, if you have something weird happening in your garden, these are the experts. One tip - they often prefer a nice digital photo to a rotting-in-the-post example of the real thing.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Gardening - A Nice Green Leaf: Plants/Shagbags of the week


Spent some useful time yesterday wondering who would win a general naughtiness head-to-head between Ashley Cole and George Steiner. One's a Premier League footballer, the other's a seventy-seven-year-old intellectual, but the betting's not as much as of a sure thing as you might think.

Pondering such weighty matters while walking in the last light of a nice sunny day, I ground to a halt and took this phone picture of what is definitely my plant of the week.

The attractively fiery-looking flower is the first signs of a quince tree coming back to life after winter. Chaenomeles x superba
is the latin name, the variety is probably "Crimson and Gold" (though I
can't be sure because it's somebody else's garden). But it's one of
those plants that once you start noticing it, you'll see it again and
again. The blossoms are this amazing colour and have these gorgeous
tassled-looking insides.

Best of all, the fruit is actually edible. In this annoying
and selfish world of ours, really pretty blossoms usually only seem to
occur on varieties you can't eat. But this quince is an exception,
managing to be both beautiful and edible. (I have John Cushnie and
Monty Don's authorities on that, in books on my bookshelf - I just
checked.) And see this blog for a wonderful-sounding Estonian recipe.

And if you don't fancy quinces Estonian stylie, you could always try Nigella on the subject. She will go on and on about quinces in her sexy way, putting them in everything from jelly to brandy to "quincemeat". Bringing me neatly back to general naughtiness.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Squirrel seen doing something useful - nation expresses 'amazement'


Look what I saw out of my window this morning! Yes, it's a squirrel munching the contents of my garden. I know that squirrels usually prefer to exist on a diet of fine wines and crocus bulbs, but this one is helpfully gobbling up a banana skin. 

Why am I feeding the squirrels bananas? Well, I have been experimenting with biodegradable bin bags for compost stuff. They are totally great, but my god, they biodegrade ridiculously fast. I never thought I'd be complaining, but yesterday I carried a full bag out to the compost heap and it just completely collapsed, leaving the slightly rotting contents all over my garden... The side of the packet says the bag is only meant to last for three-four DAYS before it will start to rot - I think I can safely substantiate that.

Anyway there I was with potato peelings all over the gravel on a freezing cold day and I just couldn't be bothered to pick them up. Sorry. But within hours the helpful squirrel had pulled up a chair and was nibbling his way through my kitchen refuse. Frankly, if he tidies up and doesn't eat the crocuses as a result, I need to get this mother caught and cloned for distribution throughout the UK. I could be a national hero...

A Nice Green Leaf: Willow Info

By Emma Townshend

A couple of people who read actual real newspapers said that they loved the picture of Gandalf, sorry, Trevor Wood, the willow expert I wrote about on Sunday.

However they also complained that there were no snaps of actual willows. To rectify the omission, I'm posting two of my favourites - taken at Wisley this winter.

Both are up the bright end of the willow spectrum - young willow
twig colours vary right into the subtle deep greens and greys, but
these particular twigs are fiery. For those planning a bit of willow
shopping, the image on the left is Salix "Yelverton"; on the right is
Salix "Golden Ness". You can click on them to see them bigger.

If you want to see the willows in person at Wisley
(along with others in even gaudier colours) they are by the smaller
lake over to the right as you come in the gardens. The one with the
horrible stork sculptures in. Sigh. Now if we could get rid of them, frankly, I'd feel like we were actually getting somewhere.

PS. Not exactly crazy for the Japanese pavilion either, actually...

Dsc_1145jpeg Dsc_1144jpeg

A Nice Green Leaf: Trees for Mama


I actually just had to check Mother's Day hasn't been yet. Which doesn't bode too well for my mum. Or maybe it does, at least I haven't failed to send a card... yet. But if you are even moderately disorganised like myself, how about a nice London street tree for the old dear? 

(Please don't anyone tell my mum I referred to her, even indirectly, as an old dear.)

Handkercheif_davidiainvolucratefl Trees for Cities are a really good organisation that I've written about before, and I've gone to see them actually planting trees. Also, having walked around Southwark quite a bit in the last year, I've seen their dedicated trees doing well and with their little plaques still intact. I really like the choice of trees too - an apple, on the left, and a Handkerchief tree on the right, with its distinctive flowers like hankies hanging down off a washing line. Hang on, I'm not really selling that.

Prices currently stand at £25 for a tree with gift card, and £175 if
you get the special one with a plaque and a nice map of where it's been
planted. And if you hear of any other superior gardenesque ideas for
Mother's Day post them below! I need help!

(Photos by Peter Wells at Barcham)

Monday, 25 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Ps.. Because I really wasn't lying about the storks

Dsc_1145jpeg Not exactly crazy for the Japanese pavilion either, actually.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Aloe Blondie


At Kew at the moment, the Princess of Wales Conservatory is full of flowering aloes, beautifully set in a dry river bed of other spiny plants. But I just got some pics from Eden in Cornwall where they have massed the aloes together to provide a less natural, but much more over-powering effect. Over-powering in a good way, that is.

Eden_290108_sb1 Eden have added to the impact by circulating photos which feature their blonde aloe expert Florence Roux. With a name like that, she presumably also comes with an alluring foreign accent. And here she is, slightly grautitously, with her arms around an enormous Amaryllis: a pair of Felco's - the world's best secateurs - are slung in a holster across her hip. Just the thing to brighten up your day.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: $254m worth of art as environmental intervention


I was interested to read this story from the New York Sun about Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's plan to create giant waterfalls in the East River. They will be free-standing pillars of water, up to 60ft in height.

The bit that intrigued me were the figures given for the costs and benefits of staging these kind of giant artworks. According to the paper, a source estimated that the cost of the waterfall project could be between $9m and $11m.

You might not be that surprised at this ginormous sum, but despite
the price, the benefits to the city might be even bigger. The
city's economic development supremos reckon that 2005's amazing red Gates
in Central Park, by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, attracted one and a half
million extra out-of-town visitors and earned city businesses an
incredible $254m.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude paid for the Gates themselves, so the fact
that NYC is now considering shelling out for the waterfalls shows that
the city understands the economic value of these large-scale projects.
There are exciting possibilities ahead for artists who blend the world
of art, architecture and landscape together like this.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Why palm trees are like cockroaches


This Saturday 16 February Robert Irwin, the acclaimed artist-turned-landscape designer for the Getty Center, will add his unmistakable flourish to the city of Los Angeles. He and a specialist in landscape design called Paul Comstock have been travelling round the USA for the last year, compiling a fabulous collection of palms. Now that collection is going to form an integral part of the space around Renzo Piano's Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) at Los Angeles County Art Museum, which opens that day. 

"I first introduced plant material into my works for the simplest
reason," explains Irwin on the LACMA website. "Most of the projects I
had were radically underfunded, with no real money. And you take a
space, and you think about what you're going to do to give the thing
the proper scale, and you realize you can buy a great tree - I mean a great tree
- for, like, five thousand dollars. And to do a sculpture on the scale
of that would cost more than five thousand dollars just to put the
foundation in. So I starting realizing that in some of these situations
a tree was a spectacular solution."

An article in the LA Times
tells more about the Los Angeles Museum project. It's not just a
botanical collection, though it is broad in terms of species. The trees
will be laid out in different ways depending on the time of year, with
many planted in containers, but some really big date palms and Mexican
fans are already planted in the ground, giving the entrance a typically
LA feel. "The thing about palm trees is that they're primordial," Irwin
explains, clearly entranced. "I mean, they go, it's like Paul says,
they're like cockroaches. They've been here long before we were, and
they'll be here long after us. Think of the La Brea tar pits; this is
plant material that probably was around at that time."

The first aim of the planting is to provide a way of guiding the visitor into the building and to orientate them. (See number 28 in the 31 day countdown to BCAM's opening)
But as with Irwin's work elsewhere, the patterned palms will also get
the visitor in the right headspace for thinking about art - he has a
way of shaping the planting so that you feel it's been done
purposefully and with great thought - so you begin to think about
shapes and colours and patterns. It's like the best warm-up for looking
at contemporary art. "What you've done," says Irwin again, "is create
more than one reason to come, and therefore creating a venue for more
than one kind of aesthetic. And it's nice to spread it out so it's
really about looking."

I first saw Irwin's work at the Getty Center, and then at Dia:Beacon in upstate New York. I also loved Lawrence Weschler's idiosyncratic biography of him. I'm really looking forward to seeing the palms in the flesh! But in the meantime (you know I love this stuff) you can see the Chilean Wine Palm arriving by putting your mouse over number 4 on the BCAm countdown.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Fair Trade gardening


The Fair Trade campaign gets better every year at publicising their promotional fortnight, which this year runs from 25 Feb to 9 March. In a really imaginative move, Eden and Fair Trade are bringing two Ghanaian chocolate growers to Cornwall, Kojo Aduhene and Paul Ayepah, who'll be giving talks and demonstrations in the Rainforest Biome.  

I really hope this event is being recorded for TV. What will the Ghanaians make of the Eden project? And what will the Cornish make of the chocolate growers? It's a fantastically direct way of reminding us that our food is always grown by other human beings. And that we should all be more aware of the implications of that simple thought.

A Nice Green Leaf: Too much too early


How do you feel about everything flowering much too early? Part of me wants to be really happy that spring flowers are arriving to cheer me up quite so promptly. But the explanation is likely to be depressing old climate change rather than some innate generosity on the part of the plants towards me.

Amateur Photographer magazine reported yesterday that while daffodils are only eleven days early, hawthorn bushes are expected to burst into flower some two months prematurely. Which is worrying for amateur photographers, who have resorted to using the internet to check out when to bunk off work for the best crocus shots.

Kew Gardens has kept records of the first flowering date of a hundred different species, since the 1950s. The science of when things come into flower is called phenology, and Kew's records are invaluable. Still, they only go back to 1952, so is there a chance that our traditional English flowers have flowered this early before? Well we also have many Victorian amateur
observations and even some from the eighteenth century (never knock the amateurs, whatever I said earlier).

And why are there such sharp differences between species - why aren't
all the flowers early by the same amount? Well that turns out to be
because different species use different environmental factors to decide
when to flower and come into leaf. Some use temperature, others use day
length. The day-length-determined plants aren't flowering very much
earlier at all - just a matter of a few days (like the daffodils). But
the ones which judge when to start growing again by temperature are
terribly confused - as the hawthorns, eight weeks out of whack,

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Orchid Vesuvius


A brilliant article in the New York Times today about Robert Fuchs, who featured in Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief". (Those confused individuals who saw Spike Jonze's Adaptation will remember Orlean was played by Meryl Streep in Jonze's weird film about trying to adapt the book for the screen.)

Fuchs is no actual thief, though the article does describe him as “a very dominant personality who can be relentless and needs to have absolute control.” For the 20th World Orchid Conference (which ran last week in Miami) he prepared a diorama of the orchids of Mandalay, posed on plastic mountains made by his brother.

Faced with possible character assasination as a control freak, Fuchs countered: “I’m organized and want to run it right, play by the rules and play with the team, but every team has a captain.” You can admire his firm leadership in action at the Central Florida Orchid Society, where pictures of the Mandalay display are posted. 

Apologies to Bob, but I prefer WFG's orchid volcano. "Free orchids were given to the first twenty-five people to run over to their booth when the volcano starting erupting." I am in awe. Why can't they run the Chelsea Flower Show a bit more along those lines?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Never Knowingly Out-Valentined


I have just had a slightly stalker-ish email from Waitrose. Well, weird, anyway. It said:

"Hello, I'm David, I'm the Horticulture Buyer at Waitrose and I've bunched together a special Valentine's selection of flowers and plants. See what I've picked for you at your local Waitrose. The other Partners have also been getting into the spirit. See the results in our special Valentine's section. I hope you enjoy it. David Mitchell."

I got a bit excited there for a minute. A handsome plant-loving man has
been emailing me and going on about
his other partners, too, a phrase rarely heard outside the
Genito-Urinary Medicine clinic. He's not the world's least attractive
David, either. He looks enough like David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon in
last month's Sense and Sensibility, pictured right, keep up) to get
middle-class Waitrose-email-subscribers like me a bit hot under the

Presumably that is the point of the exercise. However, in the end it was wasted. While the Boudoir Rose Boot filled with roses that David is touting - albeit in his lovely boyish way - may do it for some, I am not really a cut flower footwear person. Faced with the John Lewis partnership's best online cornucopia of love gifts, I let poor David down. Without really thinking about it, I revealed my true colours; totally bypassed Valentines and clicked
straight onto "Pancake Day".

Monday, 4 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Olympics Fever Hits Sussex Gardens


Great Gardens of Sussex, an organisation which unites five of the county's most spectacular visitor attractions, is organising an extravaganza for May half-term 2008. This is the second Olympics-related garden event I've heard about this year, and it's only the 4th of February.

If you are failing to see the link between the Olympics and British gardening, perhaps you haven't been spending enough time doing Bunny Guinness's new garden workout.

On the other hand, maybe you just don't realise the immense passion
aroused by China amongst English horticulturalists. Tree experts in
particular can get a little bit overcome about the whole idea of the
riches that are still to come from China - let alone what already
arrived during the previous three centuries of travel.

Even though it sounds like I'm making fun of it a bit, I think the
extravanganza idea is growing on me. We are really unaware of how many
of our garden favourites come from China. We also tend not to know the
exciting stories of the collectors who shinned up trees, fell into
bogs, and generally skinned their knees to bring plants back. The idea
of linking the five gardens at Leonardslee, Wakehurst, High Beeches, Nymans and Borde Hill
is particularly good because they used a lot of the same collectors
(three of the gardens belonged to members of the Loder family). So a
visit to more than one of these gardens will give a real sense of
increasing returns, as each garden will fill in a little bit more of
the story.

All in all I'm quite happy to celebrate the Beijing Olympics by going
around some Sussex gardens. Just don't ask me to do any of Bunny
Guinness's weird flowerpot lifting exercise regimes.

A Nice Green Leaf: Is My Garden Hot or Not?


Do you fancy a bit of poking your nose into other people's business? The Financial Times ran an article at the weekend about Bring Fronts Back,  who run a cute website devoted to campaigning for more front gardens that aren't just cement carparks. 

Despite the helpful tips about how to avoid flooding in your street, my favourite bit is their picture gallery, where you can nosily enjoy a bit of virtual neighbourhood snooping. And as Bring Fronts Back provide their own commentary on the gardens they show, it's like having your favourite bitchy friend along with you.

I personally always like front gardens. I like them with gnomes, I like them with smart topiary. They are our one chance to express ourselves, artistically, to the neighbourhood. The choices we make when we decide how to put ourselves on show to others are sometimes hilarious, sometimes impressive, nearly always interesting. I'm particularly fascinated by these people. I'm imagining a whole story behind every garden. 

I think perhaps Bring Fronts Back should give up on the campaigning and just run a front garden mark-awarding site along the lines of Hot or Not?. I post a photo of my front garden and then everyone else can pitch in about whether it's any good. See, it could earn pounds and pounds.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: What have the Romans ever done for gardening?


Quite a lot, actually. I hadn't realised before, despite having been made to go on an infamous school trip to Fishbourne Palace. But an article written by Mary Beard, a classicist at Cambridge, pays tribute to one of the finest minds in the field, Wilhelmina Jashemski, who died just before Christmas. 

Jashemki was a bit of a gardener, and her home in a suburb of Washington DC was surrounded by trees and plants, especially azaleas. However I bet that quite a few of her neighbours were unaware of her amazing work on the archaeology of the gardens at Pompeii.

You've heard about how archaeologists poured plaster of paris into the holes left by bodies covered by ash during the eruption of Vesuvius. Well Jashemki did the same thing to the holes left in the solidified ash by tree roots. She started off working on Roman law, and only later did gardens become her fascination. Her comment? "It sounded entirely too much like fun to be a serious project."

And here's my favourite thought from her: "Life," she said, "is still much the same. Did you know I have never found a garden in Pompeii that did not have a dog?"