A Day Out at the Chelsea Flower Show 2017
What a privilege it is to go to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on press day: no crowds, the chance to get up close to the gardens and plants, plus a bit of celebrity spotting. And the sun shone. Well, someone’s got to do it.
It is well documented that the actual number of gardens is lower this year than in the past, but the eye for detail and amount of care taken in the design and production of the gardens that are there is immense. There's always something for everyone at Chelsea but for me designer Chris Beardshaw’s ‘Morgan Stanley Garden' is superb. Breathtaking plants, immaculate design and the whole lot is donated to a charity once the razzmatazz is over. And plenty of lupins – always nice.
One of the artisan gardens was a treasure of design and planting. 'The Poetry Lover's Garden' designed by Fiona Cadwallader was everything I love about a garden. Somewhere to sit (obviously!), superb plants, clever combinations all under the dappled sun. Simply gorgeous. And it was all done without a major sponsor – something that I imagine is getting more difficult year after year.
But while all the attention seems to surround the show gardens, I love a bit of a rummage in the Great Pavilion. Under the massive structure are the world’s best nursery folk. All specialists in what they grow and all willing to share their top growing secrets. It's a great place to learn and to fall in love with new plants. The Chelsea Plant of the Year competition is held in there and this year a dwarf mulberry won. However, for me the runner up - Salvia Crystal Blue - was the best. A stunning shade of light, sky-blue blue flowers perfect in pots or mixed borders. Email me and I'll see if I can get a few sorted.
Then of course there are the celebrities. You may have heard Chris Evans doing his radio programme from the show. I saw it! I was as close to Mary Berry as Paul Hollywood ever got. I deliberately didn't stare as Joanna Lumley strolled by with Nigel Havers and an actress I was supposed to know – sorry, there was a stunning delphinium in full bloom that caught my eye. Ainsley Harriot looked smiley as was Carol Kirkwood, weather presenter (you know, the one who did Strictly). There were more, lots more, but the plants far outshone anyone there. Sadly, I was booted out before the Queen and her pals arrived. Maybe I can stay longer next year.
Phil's Chelsea Flower Show 2017 Fact File
· Chris Beardshaw’s garden 'only' got a silver-gilt medal – what do those judges know?!
· The beautiful artisan poetry garden received a silver – ditto!!
· The mulberry is sold out but I'm doing my best to get my hands on that salvia.
· Never wear new shoes to an event where you have to walk for miles.
· London Plane trees make me cough. A lot.
· One lukewarm coffee and a piece of dry flapjack costs £6.
· Is it really that interesting to photographers to record Jennifer Saunders buying a packet of carrot seed? Apparently so. The word 'scrum' sprang to mind.
· Lupins are in.
· Purple coloured blooms are everywhere.
· Chelsea is and always will be a special place for all things gardening.
Things sneak up on you whilst you're not looking.
I'm thinking about the inability to put your socks on without sitting down, the decline in efficiency of the car brakes, obviously greying hair and expanding waistlines. But plants do it as well.
I was having my morning stroll around the McCann estate when I noticed a previously unremarkable repetition. Daffodils. Don’t for one minute think I have a massive garden with rolling hills and fields. Far from it. But my patch is now home to a few different daffs. It all started a few years ago with a traditional daff – yellow trumpet, no frills, no spills just a straightforward daff. But one variety is lonely. And those white ones looked nice. Up to two. But they all seemed to flower around the same time. 'Maybe a few of the really early ones would be nice' – and in they went.
One thing led to another, and another and then another; soon, without realising it, I was custodian to twelve different types.
It didn't stop there. The worse thing any gardener can do is to visit another garden. I know I'm always going on about open gardens for charity, Yellow Book gardens and even shows, but they only tempt you into more plants. After a particularly beautiful day at a large stately home type garden I was inspired (infused?) to gather up more daffy varieties. Twelve turned into fifteen that soon, with the addition of some irresistible blooms that to me resemble Cadbury's Creme Eggs, totalled twenty. It didn't stop. It hasn't stopped. I know in my heart that it will never stop. Twenty-six is this morning’s count. All in flower, with two more still to open. Only a few of each, no massive drifts, but they all count.
But I'm not loyal to one flower. Oh no, the same is happening with dahlias. That all started with a dark-leafed variety called 'Bishop of Llandaff'. Not a plant you can ignore and definitely one you should have. That grew strongly as the collection diversified into a few of those gorgeous pompom types with blooms the size of golf balls. Reds, pinks and white. And loads of them. Of course, I had to try some of the whoppers, the really big 'uns with claims of blooms reaching 25cm diameter. I did. I now have four different types ('Sir Alf Ramsey' is one of the best).
I've just realised I also have seven different varieties of gladioli on the go; four different carrot seed varieties ready to sow and the snowdrops, now fading away to rest and recuperate for next year, total seven different types. At the moment. None of those numbers will be static.
So, let me know if I am alone in my collecting habits or if you have a predilection for peonies, an itch for an iris or a tilt towards thyme.
Notes to editors and fellow gardeners: Other chocolate other than creme eggs is available but as yet I am to find any plant that resembles a Kit-Kat, family bag of Revels (no one likes the coffee ones surely?) or Crunchie. I will keep trying though.
The garden is a dangerous place.
I know. I have been hurt. And at this time of year, when we all spring into action after a few months hibernating in front of the telly on our favourite fusty old chair, more of us will fall foul of pulls, strains, cuts and - not to be too dramatic - electrocution. I did warn you. Readers of a sensitive nature should look away now.
First of all, let’s get that old comedy standard 'rake in the face' out of the way. It does happen – I've been knocked on the side of the head by stepping on the head of rake. Easy done but thankfully no one was around to see it. Putting the rake away correctly is the answer – head up or definitely prongs away from where you walk. And don't leave them lying on the soil or lawn. Just don't.
Compost is terrifying. The bagged stuff for your seedlings and pots, if picked up incorrectly, can cause pulled muscles. I haven't done it with compost but have with a big bag of daffodil bulbs (same kind of weight). Someone passed me the bag and placed it into my outstretched arms. I turned, my arms stayed where they were as my body twisted and, I'll be honest, I couldn't breath properly for a month. A torn muscle or something. Take it easy when lifting anything heavy (our compost bags are 15 litres so are OK for most people – to be honest, Barry in our warehouse can't manage anything heavier (calm down Barry- only joking!). Bend your knees. Good advice generally really.
Then of course you get into the big stuff like lawnmowers. Never don your flip flops to mow the lawn. Or, even worse, do it barefoot. My former neighbour did. All I'll say is that his glittering tightrope walking career was over from that minute on.
I've had tanglings with hedge-trimmers over the years. Mine's an electric model and I have to admit that I'm indebted to the residual current devices everything is wired through. Yep, I've cut through the cable and then stared at the air gap wondering why it wasn't working. Four times in total (twice in the same hour once). Don't rush.
Only the other week I did a banana skin style skid on a mossy path in the garden.
I have fallen off a ladder when it slipped on wet paving after I thought that footing it wasn't so important. I've strained my voice screeching when a dead mouse fell on my head when pulling some errant wisteria shoots away from the house.
I've also spilt concentrated weed killer on the lawn turning a disconcertingly large patch straw coloured (it is growing back) and plunged a stainless steel garden fork into my own foot when winter digging. I've nearly speared my youngest son’s fingers unearthing potatoes as he scrabbled around for the tubers in true truffle pig style. A near miss. Did I mention I dropped a paving slab on my foot once causing massive bruising and a cracked slab? I have now.
But chatting to a friend who works in a local A&E department of a large hospital, my incidents are minor. He reckons he is treating more and more cases of broken bones in people who get rid of the safety nets around their garden trampolines. Why get rid of safety features? However, the most 'popular' injury is caused by people who actually stand in their wheelie bins on top of the rubbish or green waste to compress it all down and topple over. Now who on earth would do that?
What's your favourite...?
I was out en famille at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Harrogate along with some friends the other weekend. It's always a beautiful garden, was packed out with visitors and looked great in the warm spring sunshine. Then the inevitable question from one of our party cropped up: ‘So, where's your favourite garden?' My heart always sinks when I hear it. How can you ever choose?
Labelling a garden as your favourite isn't as straightforward as say choosing a biscuit. Actually, thinking about it, that can be complicated too. Sometimes I'm in a right old Jammie Dodger mood; other times, only a slice of juicy Garibaldi will do. Maybe it's like coffee or tea. Hold on - latte, cappuccino, mocafrappoespressochino, strong, fortnight (too weak), green or herbal?
But my friend wouldn't let go. 'You have to have a favourite.' Well, actually… no, I don't. It really depends on what you want from a garden. And most importantly, what's right in that particular moment. I might want a superlative veg garden to gain inspiration from if I'm in GYO mode, or a romantic rose filled affair if that's what's needed to tickle my fancy. I may want to study a family of plants so a clinical encyclopaedic garden would be my favourite there and then. It all depends.
He got the message regarding overall gardens, yet still persisted with his 'What's your favourite?' line of enquiry. 'What about plants? You must have a favourite plant?' Well, again it isn't clear cut. He wasn't happy.
'I like roses.'
'So do I,' came my honest reply. I love them. But not at the expense of everything else. They are part of a mix.
'I like daffodils.'
'Yep. Me too.' I have quite a few different varieties in the garden. But they also look terrific near my tulips, currently making strong strides to be the stars of the garden.
He sulked a bit. We strolled admiring the gorgeous alpine house ('What's your favourite garden structure?’) and the lawns ('So, is it fine fescue or dwarf perennial rye-grass then?'), commented on the thick mulch on all borders ('Surely you are a spent mushroom compost man? Or shredded bark perhaps'), eventually reaching our predictable destination, Bettys tea rooms.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and the perfect time for an ice cream. We queued and by the time we reached the front I had made up my mind.
The children ordered theirs, I went for chocolate and then Mr Question Time dithered. Raspberry, vanilla, chocolate or brown bread (I know – a tad unusual) were all on offer.
'Err...now, what do I feel like?' he said hesitantly. He looked at me. I didn't need to say anything.
For the record my favourites are (in order of appearance above):
Biscuit: custard creams usually win outright
Drink: hot Vimto scores top marks in the beverage stakes
Plant: Amelanchier takes some beating for year-round interest
Garden structure: my own greenhouse (self-indulgent, I know, but I love it in there!)
Lawn: ryegrass mix for hardwearing cricket sessions now we have light evenings
Mulch: home-made compost is still better than any other mulch
Ice cream: chocolate ice cream, preferably with chocolate chips, is a sure-fire winner
Garden: I told you, it depends!
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Posted: March 13, 2017|
Every plant has a story or meaning in my garden.
Even gardening chores often remind me of places, friends, occasions and fond memories. I bet you are the same.
There's a smashing little plant called Erigeron karvinskinaus or Mexican fleabane. It loves dry conditions and popping up all over the place. Whenever I see my own plants, small yet thriving and standing up to winter without any bother, it takes me back to many super family holidays when the children were small, admiring the same plant flowering its socks off in Padstow. The smell of a warm pasty does the same.
A great herbaceous plant called astrantia always transports me to my first Chelsea Flower Show (back in the mists of time now) where I manned the stand for a world leading nursery. The very first technical question I was asked - as I stood nervously next to the most gorgeous plants ever - was from some dignitary who wanted to know where the toilets were. 'Turn left at the astrantia stand'. Life was never the same.
Even now, sun ripened tomatoes, still warm in a late summer afternoon, remind me of my teenage years when my dad used to pick them for his lunch straight from my little greenhouse (I didn't like eating them back then – I tolerate them now but they are great fun to grow). I must ask him if he really liked them or was just keeping me happy!
Any cactus or succulent drives me back decades and straight to the door of Bury Town Hall on a misty Saturday in September and the autumn horticultural show. All these years later I think fondly of those days and still support my local show. I do wish I still had that duffel coat. Paddington Bear was always a favourite.
Whenever I prune the apple trees, I clearly remember climbing down the ladder to take the desperate phone call bringing news of a death in the family. Apples themselves, however, transport me to memories of wonderfully tasty and eye opening apple days at RHS Wisley.
Digging my veg plot? Straight back in time to my first allotment aged thirteen. I can still see an old chap, leaning on the allotment gate, scowling as I sowed carrot seed too thickly. I still do. He'd still scowl. He'd be right.
In fact, every plant, every last one, reminds me of someone, something, somewhere. And that is surely what a garden should be – personal. Gardens are much more than a collection of pots and plants. As for the hardy flowering cyclamen currently doing their stuff in a shady border right now, today… well, that's another fond memory.
So, what about your plant memories – anything you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below…
SHOP our range of plants here and see if you can find your most treasured memories in plant form.
I've been reading an article about some of the household jobs we are all supposed to complete every day, every week, every month and once a year. I get the whole 'feed the dishwasher every day' type of suggestion. I even, at a push, get the vacuum the mattress idea (to remove what exactly?). But wipe light bulbs? Come on. Light bulbs? Wipe? But it got me thinking about the same type of jobs in the garden. So, for the benefit of all gardeners needing guidance on what to do and how often in the garden you should do it, here we go:
Do it daily
- Make time to walk round your garden. Look at the plants and enjoy their development. You'll also spot any nasties getting a hold, giving you time to plan your defence.
- Always check the greenhouse and tend to plants wherever necessary. It may be nothing, it may only be a minute but it will keep things ticking over nicely.
- Gross as it may seem (and is), squash any aphids populating and sucking your rose buds dry.
Do it weekly
- Even though you think the weeding is done, it never is. Hand-weed your beds and borders. If weeds develop, flower and then set seed, you will be in for far more than a weekly chore. Annual weeds can go in the compost bin but perennial weeds are best gifted to the council in their green waste bins.
- Never fail to flop in your favourite chair and take in what is happening in your plot. It's why you work so hard.
Do it monthly
- Try to plant something. It could be some veg seeds, a bulb or two or even a shrub. If you do, chances are your rewards will return monthly – brilliant. Gone will be the days of a garden looking good for a week at most. It's the start of a 12 month of the year garden.
- Obviously, your own garden is your main concern – but get out and visit a garden open to the public (as opposed to nipping over the wall of a good-looking plot and having a furtive scout about). You will learn lots, get loads of ideas and, of course, eat home-made cake. You can easily visit a different garden every month and most donate cash to charity. Everyone’s a winner.
Do it annually
- Spend quality time with your mower: drain it, clean it, sharpen it, refill it with whatever lubricants it needs. Cherish it and it will serve you for years. It's a good way to spend a day out of the way giving something back. Good times.
- Go to your local horticultural show. Hopefully yours is in a large marquee where the smell of crushed grass combines evocatively with the pure sound of a brass band drowning out the warning from a village elder shouting, 'Watch yourself on that low-slung bunting'. Or it could be in a purpose built 80's brick block – it doesn't matter – just go and support. Drink tea from the ubiquitous green cup and saucer (Woods pottery, Beryl style – I've done by homework you know!). It really will taste better. 50p for a slice of homemade coconut cake? Don't mind if I do! Even better, grow an onion, a super long carrot or back-breaking pumpkin and take on the usual cup winners. It only comes around once a year.
I've just been reading about new research suggesting that instead of the 5-a-day guideline for fruit and veg, we should all up it to ten! Ten a day seems a lot. For a start, my fridge isn't big enough to take it all. I haven't got room for another fruit bowl. There is only one thing for it – grow more of my own.
Grow your own
There a few ways to get any garden more productive for the kitchen table. Mixing veg and flowers is the main one. Lots of different types of veg looks terrific when mooching about in beds and borders. Take the feathery fronds of your average carrot. I'd quite happily grow a block of them just for the look of the leaves. The tasty roots are actually a bonus. And now I’ll have to grow more as I need to cram in ten a day. Carrots are easy to grow. You can put a few seeds directly into the soil and away they go. Or you can buy ready growing seedlings and do the same. You don't even have to put them in soldier straight lines. Scatter the seeds thinly in a block or a drift, rake over and stand back. You might not win any silverware at the village show but you soon will be pulling crunchy roots to nibble on.
Containers and hanging baskets
Containers are another wonderful way to get more edibility into a garden, and that means anything that can hold compost. Recycle old cans, hassle your local restaurants for catering sized metal containers (any place serving up olives will have decorative containers piled up outside ready to throw away – ask and get your hands on some of the trendiest plant pots you will ever get for free). Hanging baskets are also a great opportunity to grow a few of your ten-a-day. Cherry tomatoes are a popular choice. Beautifully compact plants, stems all bunched up and trusses of the sweetest toms you will ever eat. And all hanging just outside your door. Grab a handful for your lunch on the way out or pick a few as a snack as you walk around your garden. Chin-dribbling deliciousness. When growing in containers, whatever you manage to use, always ensure you drill drainage holes in the base and always use a quality compost. Plants may only be in there for a few months but it's a good idea to give them the best start possible. And most veg needs a sunny position to really thrive. Other than that, that's the start of a few more of your ten-a-day.
See our best plants for containers here
Fruit and vegetable garden
Of course, you can turn a patch or the whole of your garden over to fruit and veg. And why not? All those years ago (can it really be 45 years?) Barbara and Tom in the Good Life gave it a go. But honestly, you don’t have to take the spade to everything. Keep it small and simple at first and grow just a few fruit and veg. Prove to yourself it's a good idea and that you can do it. I get that. Redcurrants are easy if you have a wall and a bit of time to fix pieces of trellis or wires, and any upright supporting roses or sweet peas can also be used for climbing French beans (the variety called 'Cobra' is superb).
Clever, tasty and productive
Then of course you may decide that 'No - hanging baskets are not for veg' and 'No - the front lawn is staying put.' And even 'No - veg does not belong in the gladioli bed. Veg is veg and that means a veg patch.' OK, you can still grow more. Have a go at this – sweet corn as an upright support for French beans and down below, sprawling all over the place, keeping the roots cool and the moisture in the soil is a heavy cropping courgette. Three crops out of one small space. Clever, tasty and productive.
But even if you just try to grow one more veg, it will make a difference. And honestly, once you have succeeded - and you will - you'll never turn back. Ten-a-day? Pah - make mine twenty.
TING (one hour is up)
Clocks go forward
It's that turning point of the year. The clocks spring forward and we all have an extra hour of light in the evening. Beautiful. A whole extra hour to do…what exactly? 60 whole minutes. Fingers at the ready because your one hour starts... wait for it... now!
I've got to be looking at sowing some seeds. An hour is enough to find a few seed trays, fill with multi-purpose compost, water, allow to drain, sow and put in the propagator. Leaving time to label, of course. TING. One hour is up.
Or I could rake over a piece of soil I don't usually grow anything in, scatter some hardy annuals - thinly of course - tamp down with the back of the rake and ... TING. One hour is up. (Flowers will be produced within about 9 weeks and will look sensational – an hour well spent).
Or how about… walk on the soil where I am growing some caulis, stamp it down, rake it over, find the trowel and plant the brassica seedlings up to their lower leaves into the compacted soil. TING. One hour is up. (Brassicas grow best when the soil is super solid. The firmer the soil the better the brassica crop)
Or... disentangle the pressure washer from behind that pile of boxes that will come in handy if we ever sell anything on a certain auction website, scrape off the spiders’ webs and flick away the mouse droppings, find the hose connector... TING. One hour is up. Guess the paths will be cleaned when I have more time.
Or... start to sort the pile of unopened bills.... TING. One hour is up.
Or... get to grips with the ironing... TING. One hour is definitely up.
Or... dismantle the guttering around the shed and refit to ensure...TING. One hour is up.
What do do with that extra hour?
I could always vacuum the whole house and not just the bits friends will see when they visit at the weekend. I said…vacuum the …TING. One hour is up (had to wait for that one to TING). Permanently delete all spam emails. TING. Organise someone to take away ironing. TING. Clean inside of cupboards in case friends look in (they won't – why would they? That would be weird) TING. Check tyre pressures on car. TING. Add blue stuff to the windscreen washer bottle and lecture family on why it goes down too quickly. TING. Chat to neighbour about the control of ground elder and how it can creep under the fence if left to its own device. Twice. With added info on ensuring that if it continues to happen there are laws about it. TING. Check legalities of hassling neighbours over weeds. TING. Nip to shops to buy chocs and wine to give to neighbour as an apology. TING. Drink wine and eat chocs on new garden furniture with neighbour (TING) extolling the virtues of fire pits at this time of year (TING) and vowing to see more of each other and be bezzie mates after all (TING) and how in the future we will all laugh about this (TING TING TING)
This extra hour isn't enough. There's so much to do in the garden and house that I need a major change to legislation and indeed physics (or is it general science – do year 7 homework and actually understand it. TING. One hour is up) to have 24 hours’ daylight in a day.
So, what will you do with your extra hour of daylight once spring really springs? Or do I really want to know? - Let me know in the comments...
How about growing more fruit and veg to hit that 10-a-day target? Check out the 10-a-day blog
Posted: February 20, 2017|
I'm looking into hats. Not actually looking into them – that would be too strange and weirdly whiffy- nor am I a trainee millinerphile. It's just nowadays (and I know why!) my bonce gets cold when out in the garden. I need to get a hat and it has to be the right one.
I have experimented with a couple of different types of hat. I did, for one weekend only last summer, try a baseball cap. I have to admit it did the job of shielding me from the sun, and therefore should also keep me warm, but it did look ridiculous. At what age should someone vow never to wear such caps again? Seventeen, I reckon. I have also rather admired a hat worn by a friend of mine who's a landscaper. It's a leather cowboy type of hat that come rain or shine and with quite a flair, my mate wears. On chatting to him on rainy days, I've seen the drops of water dripping from the front, and on a hot day in summer, hat still in place, he looks cool as a cucumber. I tried one at a local county show and only managed to pull off the look of a character out of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. And not the smart one.
My search widened – fedoras are way too clumsy and would get soggy in the rain; a trilby is too London-centric for me; bucket hats are strictly for Madchester devotees; and my fez kept falling off. I say 'kept' because for some long forgotten reason I had one languishing in the garage and I did try it whilst weeding around the snowdrops the other day. Not practical. Maybe a chin strap would be a useful addition. I'm not sure. The tassel did swing around a bit when I was turning the compost. I could, of course, swap hats during the course of a gardening stint to reflect upon my job in hand. A beret whilst tending the French lavender for example.
None of the above seem right. How about that good old fashioned staple diet of the hat world – a flat cap? I am, after all, from the North so allowed to wear one without explanation or justification. Along with sparking clogs and a ferret in my overcoat pocket of course. Sadly, I just haven't got the right face for one. More Steptoe and Son than Peaky Blinders.
So, it has to be a woolly beanie type of affair. But now that I've settled on one - or actually a choice from ten donated from various members of my family - I have realised it might not be the perfect attire for me. One problem is my head is big. I've bent the arms of glasses stretching them around my head. I've ripped my earlobes (ever so slightly) once when pulling off a jumper. Nice chunky knit cardigans are the answer. Woolly hats also give me headaches due to constriction. If I deliberately choose a size that's too big it slips around causing no end of harrumphing. And once dampened by the rain they do tend to stink like a wet dog. Or is that just me? Wet dog or cold head? Benny or Beckham?
I have to persist with it though. Keeping warm is far better than having to get warm. I've also got some new gardening footwear to sort – boots or wellies? But that’s for another day.