Hold the front page, the Beast from the East is not quite done with us yet. On Saturday we’re due to plunge back into the minuses, then on Sunday strong winds and heavy snow showers are returning to Kent; yet another unwelcome gift from our pals in Russia, where the weather is as frosty as our relationship. Those plants I managed to rescue from the first icy blast remain stashed in the garage and greenhouse, so I don’t anticipate any further damage. However, my weekend ambitions, which involve demolishing a shed, lifting paving slabs, jet-washing the terrace and working on the garage with my dad, might be curtailed. The saddest part will be not taking delivery of my new, much-anticipated potting bench.
Having recovered what I could in the front garden on Saturday, I gave the Gin and Tonic garden some much needed attention on Sunday. From inside out it looks shabby, with far too much cheap, broken, algae-covered fencing in view for my liking. I’d like to rip it all down and replace it with smart, painted panels, but that’s out of scope for now. I may do a little section at a time. The appearance of the greenhouse also displeases me, as do the plastic water butts in my neighbour’s garden. I am in one of those mood when nothing is quite right! There’s nothing a healthy Clematis montana won’t cover in a season or two.
Facing South West, The Gin and Tonic garden was barely touched by either cold or wind. A handful of bedding geraniums took a hit, and Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ was lightly toasted at the tips, but essentially everything else is alive and well. Geranium palmatum, which is much hardier than Geranium maderense, is popping up everywhere. The central rosettes are a bright apple-green, whilst the outer leaves have developed a reddish-brown tinge which is symptomatic of stress caused by cold. The same red flush is evident in the vast mass of Trachelospermum jasminoides which scrambles over the garage roof. Reddening of evergreen plants in winter is a common phenomenon and is usually reversed when temperatures rise and light levels improve. The exact cause is not fully understood, but it’s not so much of a danger sign as it is in softer plants.
The wet weather has killed off some of the alpines I thought would flourish in the tiny gravel garden I created last summer, so I’ve replanted with a couple of Thymus pulegioides ‘Bertram Anderson’ and five clumps of lavender-blue Anemone blanda. The colour scheme in this compact courtyard is loosely gold and purple, so these choices will work perfectly well and revel in the spring sunshine. I am not sure how they’ll feel about being snowed on so soon after planting. Over Easter I am planning to extend the bed by a couple of slabs and will continue planting thymes along the front edge, so that they will overflow onto the patio to be crushed lightly underfoot.
Another job for this weekend is to move my pots into position to create a bulb theatre. Although it’s already mid March, the daffodils have only just started to get going and the first tulips are weeks away. Perhaps plants are better at predicting a cold front than we are. TFG.
I’ll confess last week’s wind and snow damage got me down, not that I had a great deal of time to dwell on it. The last few days have been spent finalising my buying for this Christmas: crazy as it sounds, now is when it needs to be done. I am glad, as it means I can now divert my attention back to my home, garden and the onset of spring. Tomorrow it could be as warm as 11ºC, which means my daffodils will soon be flowering in earnest. Among the first to bloom is tiny Narcissus cyclamineus pictured above. The bulbs were given to me as a gift at a plant sale a couple of years ago and continue to prosper. I must plant more. On the beach the council were removing the winter flood defences, which means they must consider the worst of the weather to be over.
I postponed any attempt to right the wrongs inflicted on my garden until today, when I set about removing all the frosted foliage; tentatively at first, and then with gusto. My trees – all evergreen – bear no damage whatsoever. However they have shed a dense layer of tired old leaves and twigs which are spilling over the edges of the raised beds. I removed most of these, much to the delight of Mr Blackbird, who swooped in behind me to rake through the debris for tasty bugs and seeds. It appears that snow kills neither ivy or bay seedlings, which are emerging thickly in some areas. The same could not be said of any fledgling Geranium maderense, which are mostly dead or dying.
Off came the top growth of Melianthus major, Hedychium ‘Tara’, Alpinia zerumbet and Zantedeschia aethiopica. Hopefully all will reshoot from the base in time. I pulled out an old Solanum laciniatum (kangaroo apple) altogether. It had grown too big and become a magnet for thrips, so I am not too sad to see it go. Beneath the perished stems and foliage are a few hundred tulips pushing through the earth. They will be a joy and compensation come April and May. I am an impatient gardener so I decided to supplement these later flowers with two dozen clumps of narcissi purchased from the local garden centre. The varieties are ‘Jetfire’ and ‘First Light’. Their cheerful flowers will distract from the ‘slash and burn’ effect that the elements have imposed on my subtropical planting scheme.
As with most bad situations, this one looks worse than it actually is. And there’s a bright side: for the first time in ten years I have easy access to the majority of the timber panelling running around the boundary of the garden. Given fine weather at Easter I shall be able to wash it down and repaint it, ready for the summer. The wood has lasted well, and a fresh coat of paint will protect it against future foul weather.
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and to all of you who are mums, Happy Mothers’ Day! TFG.
I’ve been out in the garden this morning assessing the havoc wreaked by The Beast from The East and Storm Emma. It is not a pretty picture, as you will see from the photographs below. Leaves and twigs have been ripped from the trees, semi-hardy plants are flattened and more tender ones have been transformed into something resembling overcooked spinach. Yet, when all is said and done, all I will probably lose is a handful of Geranium maderense and the top growth of a few plants that ought to have been protected or cut to the ground anyway.
I am leaving the big clear-up until next weekend, since I want a day to recharge my batteries after a week of long and complicated commutes into London. On Friday night I was completely stranded, along with thousands of others, only reaching home on Saturday night on a packed train from Victoria. By the time I reached Broadstairs all the snow had gone and it was dark and raining, as if it had all been a bad dream or a sick joke. I woke this morning to discover it was neither. I share with you today a selection of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images to illustrate the impact of sustained wind, snow and ice on the garden, but also as a symbol of hope for the future. On days like these, things can only get better. By summer the devastation will be forgotten.
Before (January 2018)
After (March 4th 2018)
Copious debris on the terrace was principally composed of leaves from Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, which is now completely naked except where it grows along the house walls. Whether Lady Banks’ namesake will flower well this year remains to be seen. Her tiny buds seem unblemished. Mixed in with rose foliage was a surprising amount of sand and other gritty stuff which must have blown up from the beach. There was moss everywhere, making a few steps from the front door to the gate particularly treacherous. Banana skins are nothing compared to wet moss on slate.
Echium wildpretii, before (Summer 2015)
After (March 4th 2018)
Alongside Geranium maderense, which is replaceable from plants I’ve kept indoors, other plants which won’t recover from snow damage are Echium wildpretii (although not Echium pininana, which seems unscathed) and Plectranthus argentatus. Their felted leaves have turned grey and limp and will not grow back. I will be ripping these out rather than hoping for a miracle. Although Hedychium ‘Tara’ and Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ look tragic, I have a suspicion they will come back from the base in late spring once they’ve sulked for a while.
Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’, before (January 2018)
After (March 4th 2018)
Hedychium ‘Tara’, after (March 4th 2018)
Melianthus major also looks flabby around the edges. I would normally cut last season’s growth down in spring anyway, but this year I will also removed three stems which have grown over 20ft to overhang a neighbour’s garden. They have been in the way for years but I haven’t had the heart to remove them.
Melianthus major, after (March 4th 2018)
I’m slightly on the fence about Digitalis sceptrum (formerly Isoplexis sceptrum) which appears battered and bruised but essentially alive. I hope the cold has killed the mealy bugs that have been giving the plant and me such a headache. That would be some consolation. I may have to postpone moving this small shrub further back in the border as that could be one stress too far for my already tortured treasure.
Digitalis sceptrum, before (January 2018)
Digitalis sceptrum, after (March 4th 2018)
Four long troughs of Agapanthus africanus have the same mealy bug infestation and have been prostrated by the snow and ice. However, I’ve seen this happen before and neither affliction is fatal. In a couple of weeks’ time the leaves will start to turn yellow and I’ll remove them in stages until new, vigorous growth begins.
Phillyrea latifolia (green olive) and Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia’ (narrow-leaved bay) protect the garden from the east and hence took a severe beating. For several days I watched them being thrashed and pummelled by salty, sand-laden gales, at times reaching storm force 9, and yet still they look unruffled as I view them from the window today. What’s for sure is that any old foliage has been blown well clear of their canopies. I was not sure what would become of Pseudopanax chathamica (Chatham Island Lancewood) as it’s infrequently grown in the UK, but it’s in perfectly fine fettle as far as I can see.
For the first time in years I have planted tulips in the gaps between plants in my raised beds. This will turn out to be a wise decision. In a normal year the..
Oh! How we love a ‘snow event’ here in England. The rare instances when the white stuff descends from the heavens used to be referred to as ‘flurries’, ‘snow storms’ or even ‘blizzards’ back in the day, but are now elevated to ‘white-outs’, ‘snowmageddon’ and ‘snowbombs’ alongside other ‘extreme weather events’. Like our celebrities and politicians, it seems weather is no longer noteworthy unless it’s utterly outrageous, in your face, overhyped and slightly dangerous. Our fascination with snow stems from the fact that it’s actually quite a rare phenomenon in the south of the country and that we are embarrassingly unprepared for it when it does fall. We rejoice in the nation’s failure to prepare for an event which is about as frequent as royal wedding, but still requires one to put on a hat. Plus there’s not a whole lot else to occupy us during February, a month where simple pleasures like pancakes, snowdrops and posing in last season’s knitwear is sufficient to keep our Instagram feeds ticking over. Four flakes of snow and we’re poised at the front door with a carrot, some coal and a toboggan; eight flakes and schools close, trains are cancelled and we all find reasons why it’s impossible to get to work. Try explaining your reason for not being in the office to a Czech who’s made it in to work every day for three months through 3 metres of snow in temperatures of -14ºC. It doesn’t really wash.
Having studied weather forecasts closely for the last week I was prepared for a tough journey into London this morning. I woke at 4.30am, checked my travel alerts, and decided to catch the earliest train possible. Meanwhile the garden looked like someone had emptied the contents of a bean bag over it. Instead of being covered in a smooth, enveloping blanket of whiteness, the terrace was filling up with a mixture of bone-dry, fine powder and rough, rice-crispy-sized clumps, such as you’d find in a bag of icing sugar. It was a joy to walk, making a satisfying creaking sound with every step.
By the time I reached the Medway towns the snow was falling heavily, until somewhere between Rochester and Bromley it faded away completely. In London one would have been oblivious that it was anything other than a fine winter’s day. A couple of fleeting and admittedly dramatic ‘white outs’ early in the afternoon sent most office workers scurrying for the nearest train station (via M&S or Waitrose for store-cupboard ‘essentials’, naturally) leaving only the brave, stupid or those living west or north of London to keep the capital running.
My return journey began well, leaving on time from St Pancras, but descending into chaos as we left Ashford when we were told we’d be stopping at every village, hamlet and halt to pick up those stranded en route. Long trains and short platforms don’t go, so most of those who boarded the train were unable to get off at the destination they wanted. At Broadstairs I disembarked the train onto virgin snow. It seemed I was on one of the few trains that had managed to get through, despite the covering being no more than 2″ deep.
I returned to The Watch House to find my agapanthus, Geranium maderense and Zantedeschia aethiopica already looking limp and dejected. There is nothing I can do for them now. The first and last will recover and perhaps look all the better for being cut back by the cold. The geraniums are unlikely to prosper and will turn yellow before rotting at the base. At least that’s my experience. When you grow tender plants you get accustomed to starting again. It’s a game of calculated risk, requiring a fair dose of luck. Stay warm. TFG.
I have largely avoided being drawn into snowdrop mania this year. I have no snowdrops in my garden (which is a pity and ought to be rectified) and have had precious little opportunity to get out and admire others’. Even at the RHS Spring Plant Fair last week I bypassed snowdrops in order to reach plants more suited to my garden and my budget. But, as they say, the best things in life are free. On the way to the station at Tisbury in Wiltshire yesterday we traversed a deeply sunken lane between the villages of Semley and Newtown. Here, approaching a sturdy stone bridge, we discovered enough snowdrops to satisfy the most ardent snowdrop enthusiast.
Cascading down steep banks, the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, mingled with the double kind, Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’. I have witnessed this spectacle before, but never on such a fine day, or when I’ve had an opportunity to stop and admire it. The car duly parked, I walked up the stretch of lane between the entrances to Hatch House and Pythouse, enjoying warm sunshine on my cold face. The snowdrops bounced and played in a stiff breeze, their tiny blooms just past their peak but still lovely to behold.
I was asked why snowdrops might have colonised these banks so prolifically. I can only imagine it’s because they’re undisturbed, watered by rain coming down from higher ground, yet still well-drained. Later in spring and summer the bulbs will be shaded by the canopies of surrounding oak trees, and passing wildlife will help to shake free the snowdrop seeds, enabling them to form large carpets relatively quickly. I shall return to this spot again in June, when I hope to visit Pythouse Kitchen Garden, which provides flowers and produce for a popular restaurant on the same site.
Here are there primroses had begun to flower and wild garlic leaves pushed up through leaf litter. These harbingers of spring are in for a shock next week as the Beast from the East progresses across the country. It’s arrived in Broadstairs already, ripping frozen, desiccated leaves from my poor, tender plants and racing through every nook and cranny on the east side of The Watch House. Even with the heating on full blast I need a couple of jumpers to stay warm whilst not moving about. On the west side of the house you would only feel the beast’s bite by straying outside unprotected.
I write this post surrounded by plants which would normally be safe enough in an unheated greenhouse. None will appreciate the conditions if the temperature falls to -4ºC as predicted, and snow falls. I’ve brought as many plants as I can into the relative warmth of the garden room. I’m reminded that aeoniums smell rather delicious when they are warm. Tomorrow will be for lighting a fire and reading books.
One event in my calendar heralds the approach of spring like no other: the RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair. Throughout the first, frozen days of February I have been yearning for Westminster’s Horticultural Halls to throw open their doors and let me feast my eyes on delicate blooms and breath in the sweet scent of snowdrops, narcissi, sweet box and paperbush.
Since last year the RHS London shows have stepped up a gear, and last week’s event was no exception. Both horticultural halls, the Lindley and the Lawrence, were open and packed with visitors, none of whom seemed phased by the recent introduction of a £5 entry fee, even for members. I confess that I am still slightly irritated by this charge, but if it keeps the London shows running then I will cough up without further complaint.
Working within five minutes of the Royal Horticultural Society’s headquarters in Vincent Square is a huge bonus, but it means I tend to pop to the London shows during a lunch break, or after work, rather than take a day off to enjoy them. When the shows occupy two halls, an hour or even two hours is not enough. Added to which, I am beginning to recognise fellow bloggers and some of my followers, so of course it’s nice to stop and chat to them too. If being a gentleman of leisure were a viable option, that’s the career path I would be following.
I can never recall which of the halls is which, even having written a post about their history once upon a time. The first one (the Lindley Hall, I checked) housed two beautiful installations. The first, designed by garden designer Fiona Silk, was named ‘Celebration of Snowdrops‘. It took the form of a classic Islamic Chahar Bagh (four-quartered garden), only the plants were suspended from the ceiling rather than growing up from the ground. In four blocks over 700 tiny clumps of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, were suspended from lengths of fishing wire, interspersed with carefully spaced dried oak leaves. At the centre was a selection of rare and unusual snowdrop varieties loaned to the RHS by galanthophiles and specialist nurserymen from around the UK. The RHS president, Sir Nicholas Bacon, had offered G. ‘Barbara’s Double’, ‘Orchards No.1’ and ‘Orchards No.2’; Nick Hamilton, the son of the late Geoff Hamilton, proffered G. ‘Mrs Backhouse No. 12’, G.plicatus ‘Celadon’ and G. plicatus ‘Sibbertoft Manor’.
Prices for rarer and more unusual snowdrops were, as usual, eye watering. Since I have nowhere suitable to grow them I gave the whole lot a wide bearth, stopping only to admire green-flushed G. ‘Rosemary Burnham’, pictured at the foot of this post.
Although devilishly hard to photograph because of its central location and transparency, ‘Celebration of Snowdrops’ was magical to behold, even if you’ve yet to fall under the snowdrop spell. Suspending the snowdrops brought them to eye level, where every detail of the tiny flowers could be examined.
A second installation, a table setting transported straight from Narnia, sprung from the imagination of event florist and RHS London Artist in Residence Zita Elze. The long table was groaning with ice-white linen, crystal glass, snow-covered foliage and thousands of snowdrops planted in urns, bowls and small pots. Practically speaking it might have been a trifle cramped dining here, and one might have lost an eye on the hazel branches that arched from behind each chair. If I ever had a winter wedding, preferably with a handsome prince on my arm, this is how I’d like my wedding breakfast to be arranged. If my guests got frosted ivy in their soup, so be it!
Elsewhere at the show there was plenty to see and lots to buy. Needless to say I indulged, mainly in begonias from Dibleys (B. foliosa var. miniata, whiskery B. sizemoreae and B. ‘Orange Rubra’), assorted succulents from Ottershaw Cacti (who were awarded a gold medal for their display, below) and a new yellow-flowered Correa with a name I have already forgotten and am too lazy to go outside and check. That’s it, I have broken the seal on my plant spending pot for 2018 and there’s no going back. I could barely move in the garden room even before I struggled home on the train with a dozen new treasures to find homes for. Thankfully the paperwhites are now going over and so can be moved outside to make space. It’s only February and it’s already like musical chairs in the garden.
A standout exhibit at the show was a representation of the Winter Walk at Wisely, in which I admired a thicket of Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Grandiflora’ and striking Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’ (rose gold pussy willow). The walk itself takes about 45 minutes, but 4-5 minutes would have been sufficient to take in a succession of flaming dogwoods, colourful evergreens, gleaming birches and sweetly-scented shrubs. A great reminder that no garden, however small, need look drab at this time of year.
The RHS organise several workshops and talks for those visitors with time to linger at the show. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the Chelsea School of Botanical Art was offering the opportunity to paint a snowdrop and turn it into a card for the love of your life. One could also create a romantic bouquet using the language of flowers, which attributes a meaning to different flower types and colours. It’s a bit like a love letter or a text message, replacing words with flowers. I know which I’d rather receive.
I’d love to have stayed at the show longer or returned the following day, but work commitments got in the way. Nevertheless I left the horticultural halls with a spring in my step, a hole in pocket and a clutch of lovely plants. If only every lunchtime were so rewarding.
Having completed twenty five years service at John Lewis, ‘Partners’, as we are all known, are rewarded with six months paid leave. I will qualify for my ‘long leave’ in three years’ time. Of course, a lot could happen between now and then, but I have already started to daydream about what I might do with that precious to time. It is possible to tag annual leave onto either end of the break, making up to eight months off in total. A generous sabbatical is not the kind of opportunity one wastes; friends and colleagues have spent the time in many different ways, including traveling, moving house, learning a new skill, doing charity work and indulging in a hobby. It’s the first and last activities on that list that appeal to me most.
I have had many ideas about what I might do, but one resurfaces time-after-time: a round the world trip visiting some of the finest and most interesting gardens on the planet. Such an adventure would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; an exciting trip to do whilst a few shreds of my youthful vigour remain. Recording the journey would certainly make a good blog and maybe even a book. It will also require meticulous planning, especially if I am to reach some of the more obscure gardens on my list. This trip, and a few other ideas I am working on, go under the name ‘Project Dahlia’.
Monty Don’s recent ‘Paradise Gardens‘ two-parter, the warm soothingness of which I enjoyed enormously, reminded me of his previous series, ‘Around the World in 80 Gardens‘. This ten-part series began airing exactly a decade ago and took eighteen months to film, ten more than I have at my disposal. Timeless Monty still looks exactly the same today, if a little less grey. I immediately bought the little paper-back book that was released to accompany the programme, and I must get the DVD too. The book cost 1p, plus nominal postage. Together the book and DVD will provide a solid foundation for my own research and planning. Monty did not do the whole trip in one go, breaking it down into several smaller ones, which is a consideration for me also. I would miss my own garden, friends, family and creature comforts too much to be away for six or eight months in one stretch.
Apart from being a complex project to plan, I also need to start saving my pennies. This is not a scheme I wish to embark on unless I can do it properly, thoroughly and in reasonable safety and comfort. I might seek sponsorship, or record the trip in such a way that I can recoup some of the cost afterwards. I might even call in on some of my followers across the world. Wouldn’t that be great? I am already starting to compile a list of countries I might want to visit, followed by gardens. If you could only recommend one or two gardens in your home country to visit, which would they be, and why? Wherever I go on my adventure, I’d like you to be part of it.
Goodness it’s cold. I appreciate my Canadian followers will think I am making a fuss about nothing, and those in Australia will protest that their excessive heat is far more intolerable, but I am not accustomed to prolonged cold, or heat for that matter. Mild suits me fine. Tepid and cool are acceptable alternatives. Warm is good when I can get it, but in England we don’t like to set our expectations too high.
After two months of procrastination I set up my new greenhouse heater this weekend. Just in the nick of time. It was supplied with the wrong gas regulator, either that or I purchased the wrong gas cylinder. Whoever was to blame, and it was probably me, I needed to get a different regulator, or a new gas cylinder, a chore which was delayed until after the festive season. Typical winter weather in the south has the capacity to trick foolish gardeners into taking risks. It starts mild until Christmas with a few frosty moments here and there. Then in January, with the shops full of daffodils and Easter eggs, magazines brimming with images of snowdrops and seed catalogues clogging our letterboxes, we forget to listen for the fat lady singing. Her final aria has not begun. The mornings get lighter and hellebores start to bloom; then, bam, February arrives, bringing with it snow, hail, icy gales and frost. I barely slept a wink at the weekend as a northerly wind pummelled the house, lobbing hail the size of bullets at my window and causing Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ to thrash the glass like a cat o’ nine tails. I considered moving my bedroom into the basement until it stopped, but living by sea one can never truly escape the weather.
Once I focussed on the task of commissioning the heater it was not as onerous as I had anticipated. I had images of blowing up the greenhouse and landing myself in hospital, so I followed the instruction to the letter, tested the joints for leaks with soapy water, and stood well back after lighting. Easy-peasy. Within minutes it was warmer in the greenhouse than it was indoors, and the following morning I could already see how much perkier my plants were looking. Even on the lowest setting the heater appears to be running 24/7, so it will be interesting to see how long the propane lasts. I can now plant seeds, take cuttings and bring plants out of hibernation earlier than I could have done when it was completely unheated. Of course I’d like a new greenhouse, one that looks pretty and that I can stand up in, but that’s not on the cards any time soon. In the meantime I sate my desire by windowshopping at Chelsea and Hampton Court.
The cold weather is going to continue for at least another week, and snow is forecast in Broadstairs tonight. Over the years I’ve learned that February is not a month to be trifled with. Bide your time; use it to tidy up, explore new ideas, read, dream and plan ahead, but don’t be tricked into thinking spring is here. TFG.
Having built myself a library, you would think I’d be spending all my time sitting about and reading. Unfortunately that’s so far from being the truth that I am rather embarrassed to admit it. Even when I have ‘spare’ time, there’s always another task begging for attention; usually a practical one. During my four-hour daily commute, I am either answering e-mails, writing this blog or having a sneaky doze. The only thing I’ve attempted to read on a train in nine months is a copy of The Garden from October 2017, now cowering, dog-eared in the deep recesses of my work bag. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading, it’s that I cannot rest when I know there’s a job to be done: that’s almost always, as anyone who’s ever owned an old house or a garden knows very well.
Having admitted to not reading enough, you might assume I’d have stopped acquiring new books. Au contraire. I am rapidly becoming a bibliophile on a biblical scale. ‘Put new books away’ is now a repeating reminder on my weekend to do list. I like to complete my lists, so frequently new books go up onto the shelves without me so much as scanning through them. Before I know it they are semi-forgotten, lost between other enticing spines, waiting to be rediscovered, read and properly appreciated.
Yet still the books keep rolling in; at Christmas, on my birthday and picked up cheaply from charity shops as gifts to myself in between times. I glanced innocently at Amazon on Thursday and before I knew it another four books were in my basket, on my debit card and on their way to The Watch House, safe and snug in their cardboard straight jackets. Then on Friday I realised I had forgotten one and bought that too. Oh dear.
To assuage my guilt I have committed myself to perusing at least one book per evening for the next two weeks. Full-on reading is too much to expect, no point setting myself up for failure. Once the evenings get lighter even that ambition will become hopeless, given the garden is a perpetual source of distraction. Here are ten of the books I want to get around to in the next fortnight, all of which have appeared in my library during the last six months:
1) The Book of Palms, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, Taschen
A large and weighty tome cataloguing von Martius’s 1817-1820 expedition to Brazil and Peru. Here in the tropics the professor of botany at the University of Munich and director of the Royal Botanic Garden collated the sum of all known genera of the palm family. This book is a breathtaking work of botanical illustration and there’s minimal text to distract from the wonderful plates. Easy on the eye and perfect for the plantsman’s coffee table.
2) Tree Houses, Philip Jodidio, Taschen
A gratuitous purchase, but Taschen were having a half-price sale, what more can I say? There is something fantastical yet primal about a tree house. The weird and wonderful creations featured in this book demonstrate what happens when human imagination is permitted to run riot. The fact that trees are involved is a bonus. Production values are superb, especially the illustrations by Patrick Hruby, so this is going to be hard to put down and easy to get carried away with.
3) New Nordic Gardens, Annika Zetterman, Thames and Hudson
I have been ogling this lovely book since it arrived at The Watch House in late autumn. As one might expect, the gardens featured within are achingly minimal, precisely executed and expensive looking. The extent to which Scandinavian gardens are designed for outdoor living surprised me at first, but then, they do enjoy fabulously long and light summer days. Scandinavian gardens don’t get a lot of air time in the UK, but deserve to be more widely admired. This book will certainly get them noticed.
4) The Private Gardens of England, edited by Tania Compton, Constable
A very generous birthday gift from a dear friend, ‘The Private Gardens of England‘ is undoubtedly a lavish tome, but far more than a coffee table book. Thirty-five private gardens, many of which are not open to the public, are vividly described in the words of their owners. You will recognise some, but not all, and the variety of styles is as extraordinary as the individual gardens themselves.
5) The Great Dixter Cookbook, Aaron Bertelsen, Phaidon
I’ve become rather rusty in the kitchen department, so I was delighted to receive this book at Christmas. It’s packed with wholesome, simple recipes that are more about taste than looking impressive. I’ve already tried the recipes for tarragon chicken and apple crumble, both of which are excellent and easy to follow. Thanks to them my culinary confidence is starting to return. Arron Bertelsen is the long-standing vegetable gardener and cook at Great Dixter, and offers lots of helpful tips on growing your own for the table.
6) The Country House Library – Mark Purcell, Yale University Press / National Trust
I would have liked to have read this book before I designed my own library, but alas it was not published until the end of 2017, by which time it was already finished. When my family visited National Trust properties I was always overwhelmed by their magnificent libraries. This beautiful book charts the history of the country house library and reveals that they were not just for show, but for intellectual pursuits and the betterment of friends and family.
7) The Living Jigsaw, Val Bourne, Kew
Val Bourne has gardened organically all her life. ‘The Living Jigsaw‘ is a genuine and approachable account of how to garden naturally, accompanied by Marianne Majerus’ marvellous photography, practical tips and heavy doses of reality. As someone who will use chemicals when needs must, I am interested to learn techniques that might help to wean me off the nasties and thereby lessen my impact on the environment. Reading this book will be a good start.
8) My Life With Plants, Roy Lancaster, Filbert Press
Anything written by the excellent Roy Lancaster begs to be read. If it were not so weighty, this is a book I might consider reading on the train. What the author does not know about plants is not worth knowing, and this promises to be a fascinating account of one man’s passion and devotion to plants.
9) Exotic Gardening in Cool Climates, Myles Challis, Fourth Estate
It was Myles Challis that first piqued my interest in exotic gardening with his occasional appearances on BBC Gardener’s World in the 1980s. We tend to associate the late greats Will Giles and Christopher Lloyd with the popularisation of this planting style, but Myles Challis got there first. When it was published in 1988 ‘Exotic Gardening in Cool Climates‘ was heralded as the first book in the 20th Century to be devoted to the subject. I recall thinking Myles Challis was rather dishy, posing moodily beneath a Musa on the back cover. The book looks dated now, but I am hoping it will offer up some forgotten wisdom that I can learn from.
10) Wildflower Wonders, Bob Gibbons, Bloomsbury
When I was young I used to marvel at the documentaries about barren deserts that would burst into life following a short period of rain. Through this book I will rediscover the incomparable Namaqua Desert and Carrizo Plain, as well as learning about the astonishing natural flora of 22 other countries. Gorgeous landscape and close-up photography makes this book a feast for the eyes. Once read, I know I will be yearning to travel the world in search of such natural spectacles again.
Time to start my challenge. The blinds are down, the fire is lit, there is hail drumming on the windows and a G&T begging to be poured. Where else would one be other than in a library, curled up with a beautiful book? TFG.
Do you have too many books and no time to read them? Which titles have kept you engaged over the winter? I’d love to hear your recommendations and know that I am not alone in my bibliophilia.
I planted so many pots with bulbs before Christmas that I’ve had to bring them on in serried ranks down the side of both paths that lead to my house. It’s not a glamorous solution, but in a tiny space one learns to make use of every nook and cranny. Sheltered beneath walls and fences, my pots are kept relatively warm and cosy. When they are ready to flower they will be moved into position near the front and back doors, where I can enjoy them. There are large quantities of tulips, narcissi, hyacinths, irises and ipheion, all in terracotta.
I have not been attending to my garden especially regularly since Christmas, so imagine my delight when I discovered that two pots of Iris reticulata were already in full bloom. The first, I. ‘Painted Lady’ (above), has suffered with the unusual amount of rain that’s fallen over the last few weeks. The white blooms are meant to be marked with ‘painterly splashes’ of blue. They look washed-out to me, reminiscent of an ink-stained handkerchief that’s been rinsed under a tap. Perhaps given a little more sunshine the markings would have developed to become more definite. ‘Painted Lady’ is a little anaemic for my taste, but no doubt pretty alongside a pale yellow aconite such as Eranthis hyemalis ‘Schwefelglanz’. I am not sure the flowers gladden my heart enough for me to grow them another year.
It does not help that ‘Painted Lady’ is sitting alongside I. ‘Blue Note’, which is a dashing thoroughbred of a miniature iris; dark, rich and elegant, the way I like my men. ‘Blue Note’ has been the subject of Daily Flower Candy once before, but I make no excuse for featuring it a second time. The intense, indigo and violet petals come alive in winter sunshine, sparkling like sapphires, whilst the tips of the long ‘falls’ are a velvety black with splashes of pure white and yellow. Strong colouring makes ‘Blue Note’ an idea companion for snowdrops and small narcissi such as ‘Tete-a-Tete’. The flowering period is brief, but extremely welcome when most other bulbs are only just poking their heads above the surface of the ground. I always plant the bulbs in shallow pans that can be placed on the garden table or doorstep for closer inspection. A covering of gravel or coarse grit protects the diminutive blooms from muddy rain splashes. Vibrant harbingers of spring, Iris reticulata varieties are bulbs one can never plant enough of. TFG.
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