Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea flower show, show gardens are designers dreams, style and fantasy, plants and pimms!
I revisit my Chelsea experiences, horticulture at its finest!

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I have had the pleasure of visiting Chelsea a couple of times over the years, sometimes as a visitor, sometimes in a working capacity. Like all shows I’ll admit I have a distinct preference for the actual build process. This to me is a time of magic, from the arrival on site of so many people determined to create structures that give the appearance of having stood forever, the laughing and sharing of biscuits, tea and sometimes plants. The camaraderie that seems to be something special and unique to building show gardens. After all this is an incredibly stressful time for all involved. Months, sometimes years of planning have gone into a single weeks worth of showmanship!

One of my first times building at Chelsea also involved growing the plants for a garden, I’d had experiences at other show builds which fully prepared me for the hiccups and tripfalls to expect but as each garden is different so too are the demands on contractors. I had been asked to help with growing plants for 3 gardens. Firstly for Garden Organics stand in the Floral marquee, secondly for Harrod Horticulture. Their stand was on the outside of the marquee and thirdly for Alitex Glasshouses.

This was to be my special project when it came to the build and I’d prepared thoroughly wrapping each parsley plant individually in newspaper (which I knew I would reuse, stuffed between pots in the actual build, waste not want not!). Transporting the plants is one of the most stressful points as damage done cannot be undone. The memory of a distraught gentleman handing me a Mimosa flower at Hampton court a few years previously, lamenting that this had been its only flower and now everything was ruined always sits at the forefront of my mind.

Myself and a wonderful lady called Helen, who’s tireless cheerfulness was incredibly welcome, set about putting the plants into a half built garden. Sand, dust and noise of machines, drills and builders catcalling each other on a blinding sunshiny day. This is what Chelsea to me is about!

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Sadly most of my pictures of this day are lost, it was in the days of pre-digital cameras & limited to just 24 pictures anyway! Alitex were very kind to send me some of their own promotional pics from opening day, these I will always cherish but the serenity they exude doesn’t give you the blood, sweat & tears it takes to build a garden.

My favourite memory of this day was Helen’s panicked realisation that the sweet peas, grown in tubs, would have the pots visible. I had taken this into account and smugly, quietly packed a drill and jigsaw which I then proceeded to happily wield. Cutting through the hard plastic. As you can see from the pics it worked quite well! For this preparation I can only thank a wonderful man called John, whose second name I sadly can’t remember, who had taught me all I needed to know about Show gardens whilst at Photosynthesis. He was ace!

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My second favourite memory was of the drive home, at about 2 o clock in the morning. Illuminated by the headlights of a car behind I could see what appeared to be the shadow of a ginormous spider! I nervously asked Helen if she could just check how close it was to me and how big, not realising her phobia was far, FAR worse than mine. She screamed, I screamed, we both sat screaming at 60MPH on the M40!

This went on for a while.

It turned out the spider was tiny

I guess its one way of waking yourself up after a long day!

Anyway, the next time I was to visit Chelsea was as a visitor, albeit a working visitor. I’d just started a job working in a private garden and had been invited by my new employers to accompany them to Chelsea’s opening day. Honestly, I was terrified. I felt totally out of my depth which doesn’t happen to me often! I remember this as being my most stressful Chelsea as I realised my every move would be seen by my new employers and we were going to be introduced to the great and good which if done on my own terms would’ve been fine but rightly or wrongly this felt awkward.

Nevertheless, I dressed up in my best “Head Gardener” togs which involved corduroy, of course, and hopped on a train. The rest of the day became something of a blur but a stand out moment, purely for its weirdness factor, was standing on the “Best in show” garden & being introduced to Ulf Nordfjell. He likely doesn’t remember this given how momentous a day it was for him but for me it was overwhelming.

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I stood there in this amazingly glossy garden, its slick, clean lines & amazing construction. Trying to drink in all the details when I realised I felt a bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl! There were hundreds of people all around the edge of the garden, all with cameras and in my own head all going “who the hell is she?”

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So I did the only thing which made me feel comfortable! I hid behind my camera and took pictures of them, perfect!

In reality probably no one even blinked an eye at me & its only years later that I realise this. My life experience at that point in time made this so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t even on my radar. Its only nearly 10 years later I can look back on this experience and realise it for what it was. I was given an amazing opportunity which was a turning point in my life. Its odd though, often when you’re in these iconic moments you don’t realise it and focus on the parts you can understand and deal with… anyway I digress!

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The rest of the show was a blur, I wish I’d felt in a position to enjoy more of it in a relaxed manner but then this is Chelsea. Relaxed isn’t really how I’d describe it at any point! After being ferried around and introduced to more people than I could ever hope to remember I was allowed to wander by myself. It was at this point I really started to enjoy myself!

These are a few of my best bits of 2009!

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A few years passed, life happened, circumstances changed. I didn’t go to Chelsea, I had a break but continued to watch it on TV. It seemed busier, even more frantic than I remembered?

Then in 2015 I got the opportunity to go again, so of course I did. This time I think I finally got the hang of being a visitor! We arrived as the gates were opening and proceeded to methodically quarter every spare inch of the grounds. From the show gardens to the Marquee not a single millimetre was left unchecked!

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So what had changed?

It was just as crowded as I ever remembered it but this time I was able to take some lovely pictures which feel very calm…

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M & G Garden – Caroline Davy Studio

It wasnt just the fact I had a swanky new camera, although lets face it that does help! I think something about me and how I viewed Chelsea had changed. I still had a slightly awed, inspired love of the gardens but this time I was able to take a moment to draw back and observe the palettes the designers had used. Pick out the colours that spoke to me, think of how they could be transferred into a real situation.

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…and more than that, I now had the confidence I had lacked previously. I was brash & cocky, I probably still am, but now I had the confidence to gently insert myself through the crowds and find the best spot for me to view the garden. Yes, I did get tutted at but that’s ok, I smiled said excuse me but would not be deterred. I saw this as part of my job, it was research.

To that end there were some gardens I had particularly wanted to see, these weren’t the massive show gardens but instead some of the courtyard and artisan gardens. Above all else I wanted to see the Japanese Garden: Edo no Niwa by Ishihara Kazuyuki. So different from anything normally seen in Chelsea.

Apparently so did everyone else!

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One look at that heaving crowd and I very nearly turned tail to run but determined I slowly pushed gently through….

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I was pleased I weathered the storm of bodies, crouching down I managed a few good shots despite receiving a Kath Kidson bag to the back of the head!

Then on to the floral marquee for a smorgasbord of delights!

One of which was of course is Primulas but when presented with so many gorgeous floral displays I realise I have no clear favourites in the botanical world. Each and every plant has something to commend it and the skill of the growers to bring each of them to the pinnacle of perfection is astounding. So I’ll finish up with a few of the best!

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Last year I missed Chelsea entirely! Didnt even watch it on the telly *shocked intake of breath!* I know! How could I! Call myself a gardener!

In my defence I had a very good reason!

I was halfway up a mountain in Peru!

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With these amazing ladies. Between us we raised around £50,000 for Marie Curie by climbing 3 mountains in 3 days, it was an incredible experience!

This year I’ve just received word I’ll be doing my bit for charity AT Chelsea which I’m hugely excited about! I’ve chosen this year to devote my time to help raising funds for Perennial these guys are awesome, check them out!

So far I’ve sold raffle tickets for them at their ball, I’ve raised a bit of cash for them on the Apple pruning course I ran a while back and now I’ll be part of the Chelsea sell off team! This is going to be SO intense!!

The garden they’re involved in is the Mindtrap Garden designed by Ian Price it has a moving story behind it, please do click on the link to find out more.

This wonderful concept also supports Inspire who support those with mental health challenges, based in Northern Ireland they do some amazing work.

There’s going to be lots of Horti faces there too so if you’re going to buy anything on sell off day at Chelsea make sure it’s from Perennial and help a Horti out!

Look forward to seeing you all there…

perennial

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Alnwick Gardens

Alnwick Garden, one of the UKs most spectacular gardens of this century!

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I’m writing this as I sit on my dad’s sofa, he’s opening a bottle of prosecco I got him for his birthday and it’s my first attempt at blogging from my phone. This could get messy…

We’ve talked about visiting Alnwick for years together, mum & dad visited shortly after the Grand Cascade was first opened in 2001 but today was my first visit! For those in the know Alnwick is pronounced Annik…apparently…anyway!

On our approach along the A1 there was a moment of horror as we saw a sign telling us the opening wasn’t till the end of March (which sent me off into gales of laughter & my dad saying frantically “I checked the website!”) But that referred to the castle not the gardens. We also decided to turn up on a day when they were holding another event so there were hundreds of people trooping along the country lane approaching Alnwick but it did mean we got to park in the priority car park.. bonus!

From here we could see the amazing tree house which is a recent addition

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Admission is very cheap by comparison to other gardens, mentioning no names, that have far inferior facilities but that’s in my hugely over inflated opinion.

The jaw dropping entrance to the garden is dominated by the much vaunted Grand Cascade and wow! The scale is amazing, it has echoes of some of the finer Italian gardens in its sheer scale but with wonderfully modern clean lines. Designed by Wirtz international it encapsulates the Duchess’s vision for the garden & what a vision.

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It’s shape is echoed in the incredibly sculpted yew and beech hedges which climb to the summit where the ornamental walled garden is hidden away. We were booked on a tour of the poison garden, something which I’m very excited about…. I realise how odd this sounds but as a gardener there are so many wonderful plants we encounter on a daily basis that are considered toxic that to rule them out would be to almost ruin our gardens!

First though we had a while to explore! So we headed to the bamboo Grove.

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I of course being a complete child immediately ran off down this labrynth of shady tunnels giggling madly & hiding from dad, then running back up behind him like some kind of mischievous bamboo elf! Great fun!

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There are various exits located around this amazing maze and after dad was completely lost we exited and made our way over to the entrance to the poison garden. Now I’m not going to talk in depth about it this time, it deserves a blog in its own right but suffice to say our tour guide Jamie was excellent & very helpful, informative & patient with all my questions (Thank you Jamie!)

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There is a wonderful bank of snowdrops, Scots pines & silver birch as you head towards the cherry orchard on leaving the poison garden. With an amusing owl & pussycat eternally sailing the lake to your left. Then you reach some fabulous mature dawn redwoods. A reminder for dad & I of a trip to Heligan where we argued about whether the giant tree in the distance was a redwood. It was…

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Wandering through we came across a sword firmly embedded in a stone. So of course we both had a go at being Arthur…

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Neither of us will be laying our claim to the crown & the sword is still firmly embedded.

Next came the cherry orchard which sometime around late April, May will be absolutely blissful! There are swing seats between the trees which will be incredibly gorgeous to be on as the petals fill the air and the bees create a melody around you *happy sigh*

As you travel through the garden there are many amusing little statues hidden away from the lion to humpty dumpty to cinderellas pumpkin.

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As you reach the pinnacle of the hill you are once again presented with a fabulous water feature, I can imagine on a hot summers day how this would cool the air. Inviting visitors to paddle and play with the swiftly flowing water.

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This rill emenates from a beautiful pool in the centre of the walled garden where the water bubbles continuously to the suface. Framed beautifully by the ornate gates at the entrance, it invites you to explore what is a very large area. One thing that strikes you over and again with Alnwick is the attention to detail. The construction of the different elements of the garden, the permanent structures is so well thought out. The attention given to what it will look like in winter, one of the most difficult times for a gardener in some ways, is incredible!

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We lingered a long time in the ornamental garden, its sheltered climate home to some lovely Camellias which ive never seen planted this far north. The iris’s & Snowdrops flowering merrily away. The Wisterias on the centre pergola promising a spectacular display in a very short time. The scent of the Chimonanthes beguiling us further to stay.

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The rose pruning is particularly spectacular, everything from intricate towers, arches & wall trained and the labelling is to die for! Accurate and plentiful, I love a good label!

At this point Dad and I started to feel the need for a fortifying cake and coffee. So we started to make our way down the Grand Cascade, it really is spectacular. The sound of rushing water is simultaniously overwhelming and calming.

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Dad didnt really get it when I told him I was going to film and in his excitement at the feat of engineering that the pumping of hundereds of gallons of water involves kept chatting so you get the pleasure of hearing my dad! I can certainly think of worse things!

Alnwick Grand cascade with Dads commentary

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Having partaken of the wonderful spread in the Pavillion cafe and feeling a bit more bouncy once more we set out to cover the rest of the garden befor closing time. Having already played in the Bamboo maze we headed straight for the Rose garden. Now admittedly a rose garden is not at its most spectacular (to most people) in March it is worth seeing the bare bones of the structure.

The hours of pruning this must take!

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Once again its the attention to detail which strikes you as you wander through the garden, the gorgeous gateway with its incredible craftsmanship struck me particularly. Maybe because it reminded me of the jewellery i used to create in my previous incarnation as a jeweller. Metal working and gardens so often seem to go hand in hand curiously. I know many gardeners who dabble in jewellery and metalsmithing and vice versa, perhaps its the creative nature of them, the wish to bring beauty to the world?

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Whatever the reason, inspiration behind this amazing crossover of skills I for one am a great advocate and lover of metal smithing in garden settings.

One last thing before I sign off!

The hedges at Alnwick, incredible, amazing! Often overlooked in their importance in a garden setting, hedges have a multitude of functions. Creating structure throughout the year, giving form and shape, a backdrop for the plants to perform against and seperating various areas. All of my favourite gardens have one thing in common. Great hedging!

When considering the layout of a new garden this is the very first step  and here they have it just right!

I cant wait to return to Alnwick with my proper fancy camera in the summer to capture how amazing I imagine it will be!

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Cut Flowers – A guest blog by Bohemian Raspberry

The first in a series of Guest blogs. Written by some of the best bloggers IMHO out there on the internet at the moment, this time its Michelle from Bohemian Raspberry

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Michelle is a Garden & Lifestyle blogger at the Bohemian Raspberry. Focused in sharing the experiences and passion for gardening, growing your own food and cut flowers for complete beginners to experienced gardeners alike.
This bubbly Northern lass produces candid and sometimes brutally honest blogs, both written & video clips, relating to her own life and experiences, also some hilarious outtake video blogs.
If you like what you see here go give her a Follow on Twitter or on wordpress.
At this point i’ll shut up & let Michelle talk to you about one of her passions…

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The wonderful world of cut flowers has increased in popularity over the last couple of years and for good reasons too. People don’t want air miles adding to their carbon footprints by having exotics flown in from overseas. Some want to help support our wildlife and ecosystems and others want to be a bit more frugal, as having fresh blooms on the table each week soon mounts up in costs.

More and more people are tempted to grow their own beautiful blooms and I understand why, flowers are a very powerful thing. They lift peoples mood, you’ve heard the chatter at the beginning of spring where the anticipation of the first flowers are emerging and the glee and excitement it brings knowing the dark colder months are now a thing of the past. We give flowers to help heal a sick friend, we give flowers to the person who’s affections we are trying to win, birthdays, weddings, celebrations, basically flowers are LOVE and who would not want them as a part of their daily lives to wake up to on a bedside table or admire over dinner, or as welcome home on a sideboard after a long day at the office!

Well I have grown cut flowers for a few years now and I am going to share with you some advice on how to get started yourself.

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Designing a cutting patch doesn’t take rocket science, but it does require some common sense.  The first thing I suggest to people before they run for the seed catalogues is think about the types of arrangements and flowers they love. Have a flick through Pinterest or your favourite florists gallery and see which flowers twang your heart strings. Next, you want look at what flowers they are teamed with, there is no point in growing flowers that clash with each other. For instance you wouldn’t find a tropical flower like a bird of paradise with a soft English rose, it just wouldn’t work.  You also want to be thinking about the seasons too, which flowers bloom when.

Arrangements are usually made up of a showstopper, a middle note and a backdrop and in display a palette from a subdued colour mix, a balanced colour mix to chaotic and flamboyant colour mixes, the choice is entirely yours, but you do need to choose well, so it does pay to do your homework here and when you have made your selection you are good to grow!

Although it is relatively simple to grow cut flowers when it comes to designing your patch there are a couple of things you will need to think about. The first is time. How long do you have to dedicate to your patch?  As blooms are pretty straightforward to grow yes, but you will need to dedicate time to dead heading, pruning, watering, feeding and mulching your blooms, especially in the height of the summer months. Once you have established how long daily or weekly you have to dedicate to your cutting patch you can then plan how much space you can give over to growing them. Will you have a patch in the garden, a small patch on the allotment or even a full allotment of cut flowers however the choice is entirely yours and shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Once you have decided the size and time you can devote to your new cutting patch there are a few other considerations to make too. One is site location. Most blooms tend to like the sun, and if you are growing for good stem lengths you will also want t take into consideration wind, is there any protection from strong winds, as the last thing you want is to nurture a plant from a sprout for it to never make the vase due to wind damage. Another consideration is soil. Like most growing, if you want good strong healthy plants then soil is key, most blooms prefer rich free draining soil. So if you feed your patch with a good layer of manure and compost, your blooms will reward you later and if you have heavy clay soil add in some grit for drainage.

You are then ready to plant up, the most cost effective method of growing cut flowers is from seed, if you were to by plugs from a nursery, which there’s no stopping you if you don’t want to faff about with seedlings but it most definitely adds expense to the project.  It does bode well to pay attention to the type of plant you are sowing and the care it needs it’s no good sowing tender annuals in March, planting out a couple of weeks later for a late frost to zap them.  It’s also wise to make successional sowings so you have a steady supply of short lived plants through out the season by making new sowing every 2 -3 weeks.

Once your plants are growing away you want to feed them, first with a nettle tea solution this will help promote good bushy and sturdy growth and help fight off the slug and other potential pest damage that may threaten them. Then from midsummer once the buds appear you want to be feeding your plans with comfrey tea to encourage strong and abundant bloom harvests.

With regular harvesting your blooms will prolifically perform for you spitting out new shoots for fun, all you need to do is water well twice a week, now I’m talking a good drink not a sprinkle, pick or deadhead and that’s just about it.

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Here are some marvellous bloom suggestions that make excellent cut flowers to get you started.

Annuals

Cosmos bipinnatus

Nigella

Ammi Visnaga

Centaurea cyanus

Helianthus annus

Lathyrus odoratus

Antirrhinum

Perennnials

Eryngium planum

Scabiosa

Rosa

Lavandula

Bulbs & Corms

Dahlia

Tulipa

Anemone

Hyacinthus

Ranunculus

Lilium

Foliage

Euphorbia oblkongata

Skimmia japonica

Ribes sanguineum

Eucalyptus gunnii

Hedera hiber

Moluccella laevis

Biennuals

Digitalis purpurea

Dianthus barbatus

Erysimum

Dipsacus

Lunaria annua

The Spears of Spring

Posted on March 27, 2014 on the Landshare Blog and on Sissinghurst castles Blog.

The Asparagus beds should by now be producing Kilo’s of scrummy Asparagus but this our first year was special to us.

This is a really exciting time for us on the vegetable garden as this year we will be harvesting our first crop of asparagus. It’s taken 3 years of planning, planting and looking after but as I looked at the garden this morning the first spears have just started to emerge.

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We planted in the spring of 2011 and allowed our plants to grow without any interference or hindrance throughout the next 2 years. This was important as it created really strong plants that from now onwards won’t mind us taking the odd spear and we can continue to harvest from these plants every spring for at least the next 20 years. Asparagus is an investment in the future and as such when planting you should give it the best possible start. We bought ours as bare root plants and before planting we added lots of manure and our homemade compost to create raised rows into which we planted our crowns. Last year we mulched with our council green waste. This created a nice sterile layer of soil, free from weed seedlings which meant our asparagus had very little competition for light, space and water, allowing them to grow to their full potential with minimal weeding for us. Over the course of this winter we fed them with manure, being careful not to cover the crowns themselves, as this could burn them but instead placing it between the plants so the nutrients worked their way into the soil, allowing the roots to take up all the goodness as it slowly broke down.

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So the emergence of these first spears means that for the next 3- 4 weeks we will be supplying our restaurant with the freshest asparagus you can get. We are able to extend the season very slightly by having an early and a late variety.

How to harvest
A really important point about asparagus is learning how to harvest properly. A lot of work and trial and error has gone into this over the years and yes, you could just snap a spear off but your chances of doing irreparable damage to the plant is very high and when you have invested this much time into growing a strong healthy plant, why ruin it for the sake of a moments madness?

Wait until your spears are about 6” long and no thicker than a pencil, then using a sharp, clean knife cut your selected stem at ground level with a slightly angled cut. The angle on the cut allows any moisture to drain from the cut end, reducing the risks of the plant contracting any fungal diseases. Try not to cut too low as this will damage the plant rootstock and any dormant buds just below the surface. Don’t cut too high either as this can allow dieback and also means you’re wasting good asparagus.

You can invest in an asparagus knife but any good sharp knife will do the trick on a domestic scale. Below is a picture taken from a website called Sour Cherry farm, an American couple showing how to grow your own in their weekly blog.
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Asparagus can only be harvested for 2-3 weeks, any longer and you will start to sap the vigour of the plant, so be careful not to stress your plants by over extending the season.

Pests to watch out for are slugs, which can be deterred by the use of organic slug pellets, but the most significant predator of asparagus is the asparagus beetle.

Common asparagus beetle ( Crioceris asparagi )

Common asparagus beetle/lavae
A heavy infestation can severely weaken your plants over the summer months, stripping the foliage and causing weak crops the following spring. The best way of combating this pest organically is to hand pick both beetles and larvae off the plants and dispose of/destroy them. The adults emerge from the soil in May and climb the stems to lay their eggs on the fronds. The eggs are tiny black capsules from which the larvae hatch shortly after. There can be 2 generations between May and September so constant monitoring of your plants throughout the summer months is recommended.