Friday, 27 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: The Big Green Leaf

By Emma Townshend

Yesterday I wrote about green leaves and asked you to send your best green foliage combinations.

Here's my contribution: I hope you enjoy it. You can have the slight quiz value of trying to work out which genus is my "never say no" plant shopping weakness.

One thing: I'm posting my slideshow here. But so that all the shows to browse are together, please post your addresses as comments to the previous post. Or, add your URL when you comment: then your name will be clickable.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: The Big Green Leaf is coming


I didn't call this blog "A Nice Green Leaf" for nothing. Apart from my great admiration for the work and ethical message of Eric Carle, just like the Hungry Caterpillar, I absolutely love a nice green leaf. 

Blue, red and pink in the garden (especially pink) can entertain me for a second, but looking at all the different greens I'm growing can almost hypnotise me into a greater state of calm. So when it came to Bloom Day this month, I felt a bit of regret that there was no room for my lovely green leaves in the show.

I know there are other people out there who'd love to share the great greenness of the world, so I'm asking you to join me on the halfway point of the year, 30 June, in posting A Big Green Leaf.

Either put up pictures of your best foliage combinations, wow us with your giantest leaf, or delight us with a technologically advanced slideshow showing the general verdancy of your plot. We don't mind. We just want to enjoy your greenery the same way you get to do every day.

When you have your post done, please put the details here in a comment, and I'll start organising to let other garden bloggers know that we are going to have this little event. Hopefully it'll be a fun way to address the balance a bit in favour of calm, collected, utterly
soothing, surprisingly varied, deliciously shady, photosynthetically-significant, beautiful green.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: New (half)-year's resolutions

519vmea35l_ss500_By Emma Townshend

With the Solstice fast approaching I had to drive down to Somerset to see a man about a bit of Japanese topiary. Stonehenge was coned off with all visitors being funnelled into enormous car parks west of the site to try to impose some order on chaos, as people arrived to celebrate the arrival of the longest day.

Driving past the huge stones made me think of the book I'm reading at the moment. In The Morville Hours, Katherine Swift describes her careful watching of the movements of the sun through her garden:

"I didn't know yet what form the garden would take, but I had an atavistic desire for the extremes of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset...

...I wanted the garden to reflect the sweep of the year, the lengthening and shortening of the shadows, the turning wheel of the stars. I wanted to mark where the midsummer sun rose and set - the azimuth, where the apparent orbit of the sun bisects the horizon - describing in the course of the day a great arc from the trees north-west of the school house right round to the barn north-west of the big chestnut."

Driving back from my topiary rendez-vous, I formed two resolutions for the post-solstice half of the year.  Number one, try out some cloud-clipping. And number two, find a way of having a personal Stonehenge in my garden.

Swift got to know exactly where the sun would rise and set in her garden, by just being out there and seeing. She describes marking the point where the midwinter sun would rise, and then watching it inch back week by week.

All the rain might be a problem but in the long-term I definitely want to start thinking about how to create my very own garden temple to the sun. It's a really momentous day in the calendar, especially for gardeners and SAD sufferers. I think marking the day properly is something I ought to do, and I think the idea of doing it in your own garden - rather than having to drive to Stonehenge - is really lovely.

Has any one else got any grandiose Henge-building-type aspirations for 2008 Part II?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: The Case of the Mystery Plant


I got an email on Tuesday from Tim, a good friend of mine, which came with this image of a much-loved flower belonging to his grandma. The only problem is, she doesn't know what it is.

I have some sympathy with this. For a start, I didn't recognise this bizarre specimen myself. I guessed it was a monocot growing from a bulb, which rules out about three-quarters of the plant world; but that still left about 59,000 of them to wade through.

My luck came when I took a chance that Tim's grandma had bought something relatively common, which I just didn't recognise out of stupidity.

I picked up the nearest bulb catalogue (as I am classy, this was Avon Bulbs' autumn
offering) and by page 34 I had a firm identification, with Avon describing the flower as "extraordinary, composed of a plume of many purple strands giving a rather fluffy appearance. A slightly weird addition." Well at least they admit it.

The general problem of the mystery plant spreads wider than this, though. There's nothing more frustrating to me than a garden where desirable plants remain unlabelled - though Typing on the Void's Pete Free completely disagrees. And elsewhere in the blogosphere, authors wrestle with the time-honoured problem of no longer knowing quite exactly what it is that they originally planted.

I don't know what to do about the mystery plants in my garden. The names of two roses I always used to remember seem to have recently gone the way of the fairies, and the plants I bought at Beth Chatto's in May without bothering to label (there you have to Do It Yourself: like at IKEA, it keeps the prices down) are left similarly nameless.

My only solution is to do what Tim did: use the internet to email a picture to someone who might know what you are on about.

*For those longing to buy the slightly weird plant, it's Muscari comosum plumosum. And please feel free to give yourself about 100 bonus points if you knew what it was without help. I take my hat off to you.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: A (Joe) Swift affair


I am starting to love Joe Swift. Every time he appears on Gardeners' World lately I start thinking "Oh, what a nice face he has." Everyone knows that is just girl code for I want to kiss him. 

Partly it's to do with the drubbing he got over the allotment he's started: I am a total sucker for the underdog in any given situation, especially if it's horticultural - I couldn't believe the level of vitriol aimed at poor old Joe. I also love the way he talks; he has one of those accents which couldn't be from anywhere but North London, swerving dangerously between educated Islington and market-trader-Hackney within the space of one sentence. 

In additional evidence for his lovability, I would encourage the court to accept in evidence the fact that he got his wife and kids (yes readers, there's no future in this amour foudre) down the allotment. There's nothing like a man who is fond of his children to make women go all gooey.

However, I am going to have to draw the line at the patio garden he started making last night on Gardeners' World. Oh my god! We said patio garden, Joe, not pub garden. First he put a jasmine in a pot with some random lavenders round the bottom, then made the grossest windowboxes ever - they were nice to start with, although a bit on the large side. But then he
painted them faux medieval browny-black and put them on curly iron supports. Sigh. Still, it had to go wrong somewhere.

A Nice Green Leaf: A Nice Green Read


There's nothing better on a hot day than gardening. Except maybe sitting in a chair under a tree and reading about gardening. 

I whiled away at least an hour yesterday afternoon with The Morville Hours, a great and beautiful book which crosses all kinds of genre boundaries, mixing ecclesiology with garden history, autobiography with the history of the English landscape.

I bought it on recommendation after I dropped in to see one of London's finest gardening booksellers, Jane McMorland Hunter, who is in charge of choosing the gardening stock for Crockatt & Powell's new shop on the Fulham Road.

If you live nearby, or even if you don't, go and have a look at their brilliant selection: not just of gardening books, but also art, cookery and obscure Czech novels. It's a shop that's run by the kind of booksellers you could spend hours talking to, chewing over old favourites and new
delights. It attracts devoted customers: Alberto Manguel does his book-shopping there, and he lives in France!

However Jane is not just a bookseller, she's also the author of the extremely likeable Tiny Garden (pictured). Crockatt & Powell has its own tiny (but very, very elegant) garden
behind the shop, for those wishing to buy a copy and then read it in a suitably tiny setting.

And if you could, like me, spend all day talking about gardening books, the anonymous and very cheeky Garden Monkey has started a blog devoted just to that subject. Perhaps you detest Bob Flowerdew or adore Beth Chatto: here's the place to express your views. With all this reading to get done, I'll be amazed if I ever get round to the weeding.

Monday, 16 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Happy Bloomin' Bloom Day

By Emma Townshend

In April I blogged about Bloom Day, a feat of extreme international coordination as garden bloggers the globe over get together on a single day of the month to show off what's looking good in their domestic patches.

Obviously, here in the Northern Hemisphere we are feeling particularly
happy with ourselves at the moment, as gardens are looking great. So
this month I've made the effort to take part - remarkably time consuming and
slightly disappointing (for me) to look at. You can read further about
the steep learning curve elsewhere: in the meantime, I'll advise you to seek out some of the other garden bloggers who really know how to make June go with a bang.

PS: Today is actually Bloomsday too - the day Ulysses is set. Come on! The perfect time to decide to read the big bugger.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Not in my case, definitely in yours


Yesterday Indyblogs' Rhodri Marsden wrote about an article from The Atlantic which asked, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". Almost everybody must have some sympathy with Nicholas Carr's clever piece, which details our present-day difficulties really immersing ourselves in anything as a result of minds made fidgety by the internet.

But it's not just webheads who feel their brains are becoming more fragmented. An older generation - who only look at their emails once a week - will trot out similar complaints.

At Kew, where I am a volunteer tour guide, we rarely get more laughs than when we explain that the Gingko biloba tree (with the distinctive leaf pictured here) produces a drug which is
being investigated for its memory-improving qualities. Almost without exception most people will joke "Where can I buy it?" (the answer being "the health food shop by Kew Gardens station.")

Garden blogging is, in this context, the most contradictory of activities. Gardening is about immersing yourself (there's a new American word for that, btw, folks: "immersive"). It's about losing yourself in time and space, folding your own thoughts and preoccupations away and realigning yourself with the living, breathing, growing world. Rester Zen, as the French would have it. An hour's digging or weeding, as well as tiring me out and distracting me from the bubbling internal chatter we all have, also has me feeling that I have left the world a slightly
better place at the end of it.

In contrast, blogging is about creating, in HTML code, the very architecture for the jump-cut style of thinking that Nicholas Carr discusses. As bloggers we aim to maximise links, creating those little alleyways for exploration that are the delight of the lunchtime web-surfer. In fact we are making a text specifically designed to divert readers from their original path - as Carr so nicely puts it when discussing the internet model for web advertising, "it's in their economic interest to drive us to distraction."

Yet the contradiction still feels resolvable, to me anyway. The struggle between the busy noise of everyday life and our need for contemplative time has always existed, and we just have to make sure that we keep the balance. Most of us have experienced the internet's addictive, gorging quality: we need to make sure our lives have other experiences in them which balance out that frenetic buzz.

Here's Carr again: "In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas."

So you know what my personal prescription would be? Get outside and do an hour's weeding.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: This fortnight's second sad goodbye


I'm not really going to liken Jane Perrone to Mother Teresa, but during all the kerfuffle about Monty Don going on his way, this focal voice for allotmenteers has quietly announced she's giving up her plot. It has occurred to me that it almost seems to have suited her not to
get too much attention: typical of the modest, helpful and kind attitude she has always shown on her blog.

Jane says - to a chorus of "I couldn't agree more" among her fans - that she can't deal with a job, a baby and an allotment. Though it's a sad decision, you can see she's taken it mindful of the long waiting lists for plots in the capital, as well as thinking of her own sanity.We all really hope she's going to keep blogging, at least.

It put me in mind of King Henry's Walk in Islington, where the lucky key-holders have been granted some of the very few brand-new plots created in the past 10 years. King Henry's
Walk is a tiny community garden with its own extremely local catchment area; as a result, the plot size is limited to about 2x3m. Yet each gardener has enough space to grow something, and gains from the community spirit and shared work which all keen allotment-holders talk about.

If 10 poles really is too big for most working people with social lives, could councils be persuaded to create more schemes on the scale of King Henry's Walk?

Anyway, back to Jane and her blog Horticultural. In the time-honoured style of Big Brother, here are some of her best bits:

Sunday, 8 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: 10 Absolutely Essential Items for the Summer Garden, part 2

Following on from yesterday's post, here is the second installment in my run down of the essential items for the summer garden...

6. Croquet Set
Look, I didn't spend hours mowing that lawn so we could just sit around enjoying the peace and quiet. I want outdoor competition, picky arguments and mysteriously "sprained" fingers that require time-consuming visits to A&E.

The very best croquet sets can set you back up to £4,000. But then I have to get some sort of weekend hobby to get out all that aggression I'll be building up during the week on the trading floor.

7: Nerium oleander

It's gorgeous, it's blowsy, it has fantastic foliage and shape. It comes in a range of colours from acidic yellow through deep red to pure white. The flowers are often deeply fragrant; and since it stopped being properly cold in Britain, plants survive through the winter happily in well-drained soil.

No one plant will do so much to bring a holiday air to your garden - and if you can't offer the right growing conditions, they also do brilliantly in pots.

One word of warning: oleander is very, very poisonous. This doesn't seem to stop all of Mediterranean Europe planting it by their pools, though. Perhaps, like a swimming pool, it just requires careful supervision to enjoy it.

8. Nature

I'm not selfish. I don't mind sharing my garden with wildlife. As long as the birds look sharp and take up residence in something that matches my general vibe. I'm suggesting they consider these, from Modern Birdhouses.

9. Head-to-toe Helly Hansen

Come on guys, let's be realistic. As it is going to rain, when the deluge comes let's at least be properly prepared.

10. Pool
Yeah, but not just any pool. I'd quite like the pool out of The Philadelphia Story, please. Or one by Richard Neutra - this image is from a slide-show provided by the estate agent - the auction house Christies.

Christies sold the Neutra-designed Kaufman House last month for a cool $16.8m,including a totally delicious pool.

Finally, three not to get:

2. White plastic chairs
3. Hedgehog boot scraper

Saturday, 7 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Ten Absolutely Essential Items for the Summer Garden, part 1


There's nothing like a bit of sunshine to get me thinking about what my garden is missing. I go to Homebase, I have a wander around. And yet nothing seems to quite fit the bill.

I have realised this week that this is because the things I am imagining in my head are out of my price range until I get that senior hedge fund management job I've been meaning to apply for. In the interim, here are the top ten things I'll be acquiring for my outdoor space when I have about six million more pounds than at present.

1. Outdoor Shower
Stella Mac got into terrible neighbour trouble for hers, but according
to Naomi Cleaver that's mainly because everyone was annoyed that they weren't going to get to see her naked. Frankly, I don't mind running under the sprinkler or even a camp shower, but for the real glamour outdoor feeling, a teak outdoor shower it's got to be.
(Java Shower, pictured right, from Habitat.)

2. Wetbar

Tiki_bar_plans_001You wouldn't believe how useful a garden wetbar
is. When you are throwing cocktail parties for all your rockstar
friends, it's just so handy to have somewhere you can keep the tequila
cold. Frankly, I'd be happy with just a ledge to lean on after
drunkenness kicks in, but the running water is the icing on the cake.

Dsc_1487jpegI was imagining something slightly classier than this, but on the other hand, it's only $379!

More fun, and possibly more robust, is to build your own Tiki Bar;
but my ideal would always be the little French bar, open to the air,
which adjoins Le Corbusier's summer cabin on the Cote D'Azur (see
right). And look! It's got an octopus painted on it!

3.Missoni Bikini

There's absolutely nothing to beat the feeling of sitting outside
sunbathing in an item of clothing that cost your entire expendable
monthly income and which comes with a label saying "avoid contact with
water". Actually, now I come to think of it, let's get the kaftan as

4. Bougainvillea
will achieve the feeling that you are in the Caribbean quicker than a
huge stand of bougainvillea growing up and arching over your garden.
Sadly, there is pretty much no more expensive plant. For Londoners, New Covent Garden Market after about 8.30am is a good bet for picking up plants on the cheap; for pretty much everybody else, it's a pipe dream.
(Image from Flickr by Joe Hastings.)

5. Somewhere to snooze

Gmrue011largeGmbub011mediumSome folks swear by a hammock.
Others are happy with a park bench and a can of Super Tennants. I'm
gonna hold out for a gigantic wickerwork bed, in the garden.

Go-Modern are the British importers of this furniture, which is made in Spain out of an artificial rattan that never rots.

Although I have to say I prefer it in the natural-coloured artifical with fuchsia covers.

To be continued...

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Big Brother is watching you... growing stuff


I know there are facilities on the so-called internet for finding out about these things, but I tend to get my rolling news from Ceefax while I sit on the sofa watching Kirstie and Phil arguing in Location, Location, Location.

Ceefax's latest revelation had a horticultural twist: I don't know whether there's someone working at Endemol who finds gardening particularly exciting, but I was a bit bemused last night to find out that the TV company's must-watch selling point for Big Brother 9 (beginning tonight on Channel 4) is that contestants are going to be made to grow their own vegetables.

Hmm. Bringing new meaning to the phrase "Dig for Victory", I can't help feeling this may only be marginally more interesting viewing than encouraging contestants to redecorate the Big Brother House and then watching the paint dry.

In incredible breaking news, further revelations included that the vegetables to be grown include potatoes! And carrots!

If they can make the nation interested in a twenty-minute conversation about whether to grow Pink Fir Apple, or stick to good old Charlotte, I'll be impressed. Or perhaps a big foot-stamping sulking-in-the-diary-room argument will break out over whether to fleece the growing veg against carrot fly.  While I might find the subject gripping, I remain unconvinced about whether it's what mainstream Britain wants to watch after it gets back from the pub a bit drunk. Producer Phil Edgar-Jones said yesterday "Ratings are not my main concern." Well, yes, we can see that, Phil.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: With a little help from their friends


Would you ever dare to open your garden to the public? In my case it would require crates of prescription medication from the Xanax/Diazepam school. But every year, some brave people take the leap: sometimes, by clubbing together and getting friends to do it at the same time, in the hope of diluting the stress.

The best I could do was persuade a friend to come and look at gardens with me: the lovely Miss Joanna and I checked out four gardens in Kew on the Green which are opened by four chummy neighbours under the Yellow Book scheme. I love it when a group of gardens open all together, as there's more of chance everyone will find something to like. But the Kew Green gardens also give a chance to compare four different approaches to roughly the same plot - a long, narrow south-facing garden which leads towards the river.

All the gardens had shared elements: aquilegias and alliums were in full supply. And probably my favourite former allium, too, Nectaroscordum siculum.


And there were some gorgeous views exploiting the length of the space, allowing you to glimpse the whole distance. Check out these artfully arranged urns: the terracotta shapes make the whole view look so collected and intentional. They have a sense of self-possession, and the suggestion that they are somehow restraining the vivid green growth all around.

Dsc_1407jpeg_4 However, the best test of a Yellow Book garden is how many people are scrabbling around in their handbags trying to find bits of paper to write plant names down on. And as far as the handbag test goes, Kew Green passed with flying colours.

Other monster garden openings to try:

Sunday 8th June

Edington Gardens, nr Westbury, Wilts. Five country gardens, ranging from cottage to former monastery.

Newton Village, Portcawl, Glamorgan & Gwent - Five maritime gardens overlooking the Welsh seaside, with views over the Bristol Channel; 1- 6pm. Two gardens in driveable Llanbethian are also open.

Clifton Gardens, Bristol, 2-5:  Four exemplary gardens in Bristol's pleasant suburb, near to the Suspension Bridge.

Brize Norton village, Oxfordshire - over 30 gardens open to the public from 1-6, with Flower Festival in the church and home-made teas.

Wednesday 11th June

Whixley Gardens, on the A59 between York and Harrogate. Five gardens including a tiny courtyard: 11.30-5. 

A Nice Green Leaf: Pink in a rainy country


Lot of moaning going on at the moment about the rain. But come on, we're gardeners: can't we look on the bright side a bit? For a start, everything is looking fantastically green.

As far as domestic greenophilia goes, the photo shows one of my favourite bits of the garden at the moment. Two of this blog's most droned-on-about plants are in full evidence: a euphorbia, and Chlorophytum comosum, the big old seventies Spider Plant, revving up for a nice summer outdoors. The display is fronted by a fluorescent pink Lewisia which I absolutely adore, for its bolshily-tipped-up habit and desperate floral showing-off.

I can't help thinking the Lewisia is the key to it all, in terms of my own enjoyment. The zinginess of that artificially lurid Barbie colour is enough to make all the rest of the lush growth look incredibly vibrant and healthy.

The arrangement is overlooked by a caper spurge, the tall plant at the back. This is the essence of euphorbia boiled down to a single minimalist stem; I don't know whether you can actually buy them - technically they are a weed, seeming to grow from nothing in my garden. But I never ever pull them out, kneeling down and weeding on my knees so I can check the germinating seedlings for the tell-tale red stem. I think the structure is so elegant, especially those white stripes down the centre of the long, opposing leaves.

Anyway there we go: apart from the slugs and snails (where - whatever current advice is - I am continuing to maintain a Dalai Lama-ish reluctance to do actual squishing) I love the rain. I'm absolutely loving the rain. Rain is great:  just make sure you have some bright pink to cheer yourself up.