Tuesday, 22 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: All the fun of the fair


Oh we are loveably good at plant fairs in England. And probably in Scotland, Wales and Ireland too, but I don't know because I've never had to go that far in search of a good one. (Feel free to send me notes from any cross-border stunners; I can always be persuaded.)

My mum and I went to one in Selbourne a few weeks ago, and I've just got round to sorting through the pictures. I love the intensity with which people at plant fairs shop. They are like consultants visiting patients on the ward round, taking notes and indulging in low whispered conversations.

I'm also fascinated with the way that a plant fair tells you so much about gardening fashion. The small nurseries already know what we are all looking for having observed in detail exactly what sells, as well as what they have to cart home unclaimed.


I spent a good deal of time eavesdropping, because it's useful to find out what the plant fair crowd are going wild for, and also just because it's fun. Dieramas, for example, were a massive hit at Selbourne. Conversations about how to get them to flower echoed around the fields, as they are tricky customers at the best of times. Evidently the secret is partly just waiting - like peonies, they are fusspots who will hold out for several years after disturbance before they finally deign to grace the garden with blooms. 


Another plant that's everywhere this year is Astrantia, of all shapes and colours. This one is "Buckland" but I also loved George's Form, very very pink, and Roma which is a Piet Oudolf find. Apparently Margery Fish was onto Astrantias back in the 1950s: I, sadly, have been somewhat slower to catch on.

And in terms of late herbaceous interest, I could see that selling like local hot watercross buns were:


Gauras aplenty. What a useful plant: good with dry conditions, deliciously pretty and apparently not even that tasty to slugs.


Thalictrum "Ellin" - a really gorgeous tall one, and "Hewitt's Double" as the name indicates, double pink flowers, giving slightly more oomph for your money.


Eryngiums of many shapes and sizes, but particularly bourgatii (very
bright blue) and another good one called E x zabelii "Jos Eijking".


Penstemon "Sour Grapes" I fell hard for this bluey-mauvey lovely.


Salvia turkmenistanica var "Mojito" (trademarked name, no less! Ooo, get him.) The plant has been described elsewhere as smelling like a housemaid's armpit: I was too blinded by total smittenness to notice.


My best all-round stand actually belonged to the volunteer group of gardeners from Gilbert White's house at Selbourne itself. "Wakes' Weeders" sell only plants that would have been available in the late 18th century, with a wonderful range of digitalis and 18th-century veg, all in tip-top nick too. They run the plant sales at Selbourne all year round, so you could visit any time this summer and peruse their range.


Just one more thing. Never forget you actually have to get the whole lot home. And plant it. These ladies had five wheelbarrow loads, and a little bird told me they'd been at another plant fair the day before. Ladies of the multiple plant fair, we mortals who felt guilty about buying more than one thing can only salute you.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Points memes prizes


Anyone who's read the Selfish Gene may already be familiar with the word "meme" - Richard Dawkins invented it to describe a piece of cultural behaviour which evolves by principles of selection, just like a biological entity would do. 

Garden bloggers benefit from a range of virally-awarded prizes, which often get called "memes" (I'd love to know who first applied the term to blogging). The good news for me is that Veg Plotting just awarded me one called Arte y Pico. (I explained this pyramid-like scheme to my boyfriend, who just said, "Does this mean you are going to get £32,000 within 14 days?". I think probably not, honey.)

If you know anything about viral blog prizes, you know I first have to mention the blog who invented the prize to begin with. Arte y Pico is a knitting blog in Spanish, so I can't tell you that much about it. But I love the viral journey the prize must have travelled to come all the way to me - awarded from darkest Chippenham

Now in order to carry on the Dawkinsian movement across the web, I have to tell you the following five rules:

1. Choose 5 blogs you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of the language.

2. Each award should have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each award winner should show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award.

4. The award winner and the one who has given the award should show the Arte y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award. Translated, it means "the peak of art".

Finally, here are my picks of five blogs to watch. I chose:

Typing on the Void:
Pete Free's blog is a totally delightful diary of a hard-working National Trust nursery supervisor who also manages to spend their free time chasing up as many four-star gardens as possible with cream teas in between. Pete constantly makes me want to go and visit more gardens. So the blog's a shoo-in.

Happy Mouffetard
has a very long-running blog which juxtaposes gorgeous macro shots of beautiful flowers with recipes and an irresistible sense of humour about fern fronds. Delightful.

Can't believe nobody's awarded We're Going to Need a Bigger Pot
a huge medal for her hilarious quest to reconstruct a Mesozoic garden
in suburban West London. This is the kind of thing great Radio 4
programmes are made from!

Likewise with Plants are the Strangest People. I love euphorbias, that's enough for Mr Subjunctive and I to bond over, but his tales of working in an anonymous Iowa nursery are always enlightening and often hilarious. 

Finally, the horticultural blog that cheers me up almost every day, despite having slightly more love for Chris Beardshaw than I can ever condone. It may not have much "art" in the old-fashioned Rembrandt sense, but according to a more modern Tracey Emin-style standard, it
has plenty. Check out Arabella Sock and her marvellous Gif-tastic entertainments - just remember not to take it all too seriously...

A Nice Green Leaf: Carporticultural (Porsche part II)


Because he is an absolute evil genius, and because he has got the entire internet inside his head like it's the Matrix, Alex from Shedworking has just been able to send me the best link ever.

The Toyota Prius got roundly slagged off by almost everybody in our mini symposium the other day, but this blog shows that they are streets ahead (ahem) of the opposition in constructing not just a garden, but an entire house around having a place to recharge an electric car. 

According to Dwell, Toyota has been making these gorgeous, clean-lined steel-frame homes
for more than quarter of a century - and look how beautiful and sleek they are, slotting into an existing gap in the time it takes most Brits to do their converyancing. Now the car company has gone one better and is designing a re-charging stand into the parking place.

I have to say this is much more my cup of tea - I love it! And I'm hoping the glazed space beyond the car provides a nice spot for an elegant shade-loving courtyard. Mmm, all the heucheras I can fit in there...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Fake plastic tree-type garden chair

Baasplasticchairinwoodlo_1_2By Emma Townshend

White plastic garden chairs should be banned. It's not complicated.

But check this out: young designer Maarten Baas has taken the gloriously humble piece of summer furniture we all love to hate, and turned it into a limited edition piece of "design art" retailing at a cool £1300.

The "Plastic Chair in Wood" comes in an edition of just 50, so don't be slow!

Monday, 14 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Bloggers Rule. OK?


Garden Monkey sent me a link this morning to a piece about whether serious critical writing is going to get killed off by blogs. Brian Sewell reckons there's an argument against the democratisation of criticism: that amateurs will never do as good a job as the "skilled". But there are so many great things about blogs (spontaneity, intimacy, and the potential for developing long-standing private jokes about time-lapse photography are three that immediately spring to my mind). 

Whatever the good points of blogging, though, the holy grail of bloggers is generally (as Jay Rayner points out) to become  "real" professionals.

Typepad are celebrating three such successes this morning on the front page, and in the much tinier world of garden blogs we are currently toasting Deb from Beholder's Eye who has won a Malvern Autumn Show garden commission, and Emma Cooper, aka Fluffius Muppetus who had her first piece in The Guardian this weekend - about eating weeds.  

Worth pointing out that I only know about these two utterly delightful bits of news from Garden Monkey. GM is on average more likely to be getting abused for being a wickedly malicious stirrer, but in my experience can be most often accused of being generous, thoughtful and proud of friends' achievements in a grown-up and verging on proudly parental fashion.

(Not that the Monkey will necessarily thank me for tarnishing their reputation with this allegation of genuine niceness.)

Anyway, I have some thank-yous to do regarding the Big Green Leaf: to everybody who posted pictures, to everyone who looked at the pics, and especially to those who took the time to comment. Installing Google Analytics can be good for the ego, but nice comments are better. I would particularly single out Victoria and VP who I noticed  posting all over the place. 

But in terms of my overall highlights: I've told everyone I know about Mrs Be's vegetable spectacular; I love Nancy Bond's utterly appropriate Robert Frost poem; I admired the pristine hostas of Lisa Greenbow; Q's Sunday Bug Safari; Joy Best's best efforts to make a garden despite raccoons and naughty boat-toting relatives; Zoe's mind-altering kaleidoscope of greens with special huge rave choon; and Karen the Artist's Garden's wonderful and funny gold, silver and bronze awards.

My best plant discovery was Hoe and Shovel's variegated shell ginger, and a Jatropha "Buddha Belly" - yum. But these are just little glimpses of the pleasure I got trawling round the whole
lot. Thank you all so much for taking part. And while we're raising our glasses, let's toast the benign authority of the blogosphere. Long may we all - ever so democratically - reign.

Friday, 11 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Joyful Hampton Court


I've been thinking a lot over the last week about praising and bitching. I bitched about the Porsche garden, I'm perfectly prepared to admit it. There's something enjoyable about occasionally digging into something you don't like. And the internet just encourages bitching - it's always easier to provoke comments from readers when they don't agree with you than when they do. 

But on the other hand, the reason why we all garden is delight, surely? That smile that comes over your face when you see something that utterly charms you. I saw a lot of smiles this year at the Hampton Court Flower Show, despite the rain and the number of people and the much-discussed merits of the year in general. And the people enjoying themselves most of all were the huge groups of schoolchildren invited because of the Dorset Cereals Edible Playground and Year of Reading gardens. 

After the austere formality of Chelsea, having bundles of children milling about laughing and mucking about was really good fun. A performance artist dressed as "Where's Wally?" went tearing past at one point pursued by a small herd of yelling seven-year olds who clearly
felt a carnival atmosphere. Running after the pack with considerably more effort was their teacher. "Did you know that's where bread came from?" asked a teacher in the Dorset cereals garden. "No, miss," said her pupil, looking intrigued at the growing wheat. "I could live in
that shed!" shouted one over-excited boy.

So here are some of the things (apart from the hordes of kids saying funny things) that made me laugh out loud and smile at this year's Hampton Court. Unfortunately I haven't got a photo of this: at about five o'clock, it started to absolutely bucket down with rain and I spent 45
minutes sheltering in the rose marquee in the company of several nice people including Independent Urban Gardener and Chelsea gold medal-winner Cleve West. Among the smell of rose blossom we watched the rain achieve exhilarating speeds, sluicing down over the door of
the marquee in sheets. So here's some things that made me smile this week:


Hemerocallis "Joan Senior" with Heucherella "Stoplight"


"Rave On" Heuchera from Solva - heucheraholics.co.uk


Calls into question the inevitability of Shakespearean romance: could it all have ended differently?


The Homebase Garden, Silver-Gilt


Warwickshire College's roof garden, Silver Flora


Culm View nurseries


Salvia "Hot Lips"


The Museum of Garden History's wonderful seventies shed: complete with spacehopper. Took me right back to the summer of 1976.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: London's Greatest Trees


This is Chris Collins, Blue Peter gardener, and general bundle of energy. He isn't London's best tree, but he knows a bit about the subject. (Incidentally he's in the photo with his wife and, on the right, the actress Doon MacKichan. After our spotting of Rob Brydon at HCPFS, and Doon here, I feel a Steve Coogan sighting at Hidcote can now only be a matter of time.)

I met Chris and Doon at a fundraiser for Trees for Cities, which is a cool charity because it has a cool purpose: a million trees for London before the Olympics. But not just for London. They also plant trees in Reading, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. And plant them properly too, so that they survive car parkers, dogs and droughts.

The next big fund-raising push for Trees for Cities is the Tree-athlon - it's time to register now. But let me explain - it's not actually a triathlon. It's a 5k with tree-planting, which is more my cup of tea. I still feel nervous about having registered though.

In the meantime, though, there's a way of supporting Trees even for couch potatoes like myself. It's called "Great Trees of London" and the idea is to nominate your best inner London tree (in an accessible place). Tell the story: is it the largest, the oldest, a weird shape, or related to some funny local event? Twenty trees will be chosen and marked with plaques - highlighting the importance of big trees even in Central London boroughs. Get on their website and do a
nomination - you could win a tree dedication for someone you know.

2008_0218ahjpeg_2I'll be nominating this one, which is a stone pine at Kew that I just love. You can tell I love it because I've taken a photo that's pretty much
focused on the tree, despite there being a large Henry Moore right next to it.


Trees for Cities are cool, and they come up with great fund-raising ideas. But they also have wonderful staff, as I know having done planting with them. So I will leave you with a picture of me with the irrepressibly joyful Jo Hurst, their London project manager, who is the person who orders the trees and then digs holes for them in the biting cold. You cannot help but smile in her company, and she epitomises the general saying "You're only as good as your staff"; which in Trees for Cities' case, means very good indeed.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Waiter, there's a Porsche in my flower show


Hampton Court Flower Show opens to the public this morning, like the big South-West London garden fĂȘte it really is. Hampton Court is often seen as the people's gardening event so it's no surprise to find the RHS picking the show as a prime moment to nobble the great British public about climate change, growing your own, and other practices you could cobble together under the umbrella term "sustainability". 

It's also no surprise to find that the RHS, like the rest of us, has a fairly inconsistent attitude towards all this stuff. One minute they're telling us we should grow our own veg, the next we're gazing at the Porsche garden.

And what is it with Porsche trying to come over like they make eco-cars? Let me excerpt some of the catalogue description of this particular plot:

"This garden highlights the continuing disappearance of urban
front gardens, so many of which are being paved over to provide
off-road parking.... This raises the likelihood of subsidence and
heightens the risk of localised flooding due to excessive water

Er, you what? You're suggesting that excavating my garden to make a space big enough for a 350 BHP sports car and a lift, is going to leave enough rain-absorbing soil in situ to prevent flooding? That removing tons of soil from the area in front of my house going to help battle subsidence? I just don't know where to start, I'm spluttering with objections. 

To me the presence of Porsche at Hampton Court demonstrates all the trouble we get ourselves into when we want to save the world without making it hurt too much. I don't think Porsche should be showing a garden there at all, if the point of the show is to emphasise the
sustainable. In fact even setting that aside, I don't get what Porsche are doing there. I don't even get it from the point of view of their own marketing - surely a Porsche is a Chelsea Flower Show car, not a Hampton Court one?

Dsc_2417jpegOf course, all show gardening has a high element of wastage and energy use spunked into the ether for the sake of it. The reality of a flower show is that the stringent judging requirements for immaculate presentation create huge tension between wanting to be "green" and having to chuck perfectly good plants away because they are a tiny bit broken.

Under these circumstances, only one garden on site really has the right to call itself green and that's Guerilla Gardener Richard Reynolds' (above right) at B34. Reynolds and friends turned up with a tree and a skip, and salvaged everything else in their garden Wombles-style, from other exhibitors who were chucking it out.


So here we are, with the Porsche garden, and the dopy signage and garden titles (see left), but did we really come away thinking sustainability can be sexy?

And my god, what is this preoccupation with making everything sexy anyway? In the new  "Growing Tastes" area of the show gardeners, chefs and growers even did their best to persuade us that "there's something quite sexy and romantic about growing your own vegetables." (A chef said that.)

Hmm, I'm not exactly sure about sexy, but it was extremely impressive. Immaculate raised beds and tiny cucumbers just starting and all that exciting smell of vegetables growing. And ready to grow. Especially the giant garlic from Isle of Wight garlic. Listen, even Guy Barter was impressed.

I myself got funny looks as I was down on my hands and knees sniffing the baskets. I'm not convinced this was because it was actually sexy, though. But how else are you going to find out which one you like the best?

Thursday, 3 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Last orders for Shed of the Year


Whilst having my first cup of tea of the day I can never resist a peek at Shedworking, whose author Alex I profiled on Sunday. I think it's because a secret part of me wishes that I had one of the amazing little buildings he features on his blog, down at the bottom of my own garden; and that my office could go back to being a comfy sitting room. 

Many people have a shed, but these days they get used for all kinds of things, as the 2008 Shed of the Year contest confirms. With only 48 hours to go in the voting, check out these insane pub sheds for those cunning enough to evade licensing laws by keeping it all at home, and admire the amazing amount of general creativity on display.

Sheds holding entire collections of "vintage video recorders"; sheds influenced by Aldous Huxley; sheds condemned as too old; even Father Christmas's hideaway from Mrs Christmas; and this one was built by the Amish, so don't go trying to phone them for repeat orders. 

It's hard to get away once you're there, so many and so bizarrely fascinating are the manifold uses of a shed. So enjoy a peruse, and get voting!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: A properly great day


Can you guess whose greenhouse this is?

He's the coolest Englishman who ever lived, including William Shakespeare, who does come a close second. And to anyone who says different, I say: pajamas.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Chas Darwin reading a joint paper to the Linnaean Society concerning his new theory of evolution. This is his greenhouse, full of the insectivorous plants he studied.
Darwin is best known for his work on Galapagos finches, giant tortoises, coral reefs and barnacles. But his studies of plants are less well-known. Perhaps it's something to do with the titles: "Various Contrivances By Which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilized by Insects" doesn't exactly sell itself. And didn't at the time either.

Now New York Botanic Garden have put on an exhibition to get Darwin's botanical work better known. The catalogue is great entertainment for a Darwin-lover like me, including the beautiful teaching charts used by Henslow, his botany teacher at Cambridge; and records of his home "Weed Garden", which involved clearing off turf and recording the species which recolonized.
(Come on! A Weed Garden! It's so cool! Can I get away with that as an excuse to the allotment committee?)

Dsc_1983jpegBut if I don't get to NYC to see the show, I reckon the best way to get in touch with Darwin and his plants is to go to Down House
and see the garden and the greenhouse. The gardeners there have
recently started growing heritage vegetables which just adds to the
atmosphere - as if Darwin just popped out for a walk. (And you can get
really good audioguides narrated by David Attenborough. And even see
Darwin's office with a firefront dog basket.)

We should be celebrating this anniversary, and next year's of the publication of the Origin, with enormous excitement. This is a humungus scientific breakthrough that totally belongs to us in the UK, and which completely changed our view of the world. Break open something fizzy today, even if it's just a Fanta, and please be upstanding for Mr Charles Darwin.