SWG008 Early May: white bluebells and water features


white bluebells with parrot tulipThe abundance of May slightly takes me by surprise every year. So much of the greenery that strikes my eye, from the herbaceous peonies to the delphiniums, was invisible in January, but now it is all part of the greenscape that makes the May garden seethe with life.

This week in the podcast I’m appreciating how well white flowering spring bulbs look up against all those greens, including the unusual white bluebells that grow in this garden, as well as leucojum (the summer snowflake). In this episode I’m also looking at a few new sponsors for my charity plant sale on 24 May – including David Austin Roses (donating a raffle prize of a cut roses bouquet), Macplants, and Binny Plants – and I’m giving a brief rundown on the water feature I’m planning in the corner of this small garden.

Do you have a water feature in your garden? I thought and dreamed about one for years, but I could never find components that wouldn’t look twee or cost a fortune. I have finally found a stone-effect trough that is convincing to my eye, along with a classy wall-mounted fountain spout from Haddonstone. I’ll keep you posted as and when I get it installed, if I figure out how to make all the pieces work together.

What are you doing in your garden this week?

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Join us on 24 May in East Lothian to support rare disease research



Plant lovers and gardening addicts of Edinburgh and East Lothian, it’s time to do what you do best – pick up a fabulous plant for your garden. Come to my garden on 24 May in East Lothian, postcode EH34 5DA if you’re navigating by GPS, and support Rare Plants for Rare Disease Research.

This sale of familiar plants, alongside rare and unusual plants donated from some of Britain’s foremost nurseries, is a great way to spend a Saturday morning at the end of Chelsea week. All proceeds go to the Advocacy for Neuroacanthocytosis Patients, a charity started by my friends when their daughter was diagnosed with such a rare disease, they resolved to fund the search for a cure themselves.

We’re in Pencaitland, just a half hour’s drive from Edinburgh, and would love to see you if you can spare the time. More details in the flyer above — please share this with anyone you’re connected to, who might enjoy a lovely morning looking at lovely plants, and some fabulous home-made cakes from my wonderful neighbours.

Donations of plants have already been received with warmest thanks to Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex, Crug Farm Nursery of Wales, Sarah Raven, Kevock Garden Plants, Binny Plants, Winton House, Macplants and Frank Kirwan of Humbie Dean and organiser of East Lothian Garden Trail. We’re also holding a raffle for a luxurious cut roses bouquet from the stunning David Austin Roses.


It’s my garden and I’ll purge if I want to


Click for larger imageBe honest: are you taking care of plants in your garden that you don’t actually like? Maybe it’s something your aunt gave to you, or your mother-in-law really likes it, or it was there when you moved in? If you are as obsessed with plants as I am, and study all corners of your garden to figure out where you can shoehorn in more, you need to decide whether these are good enough reasons to look after something that smells bad, bullies its neighbours, or simply leaves you cold.

Here’s a quick list of plants that have felt the hard edge of my spade this year:

French lavender: the showy purple wings aren’t enough to make me hold onto a plant which doesn’t have that pure lavender scent. By contrast, the English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ has a heart-stoppingly beautiful fragrance, even before the flowers come out.

Hardy geraniums: I love the geranium “Johnson’s blue”, but earlier this year I pulled out a huge clump of a different hardy geranium I’d been given which had the most awful resinous scent. What a great feeling — and I immediately recognised how I could better use the space it had been sprawling across.

Rosa Tess of the Urbervilles: the first time I saw the David Austin roses in their free catalogue I couldn’t believe that something could be so beautiful. So many of his varieties have layer upon layer of petals, and Tess is one of the most ravishing to look at. But it has that myrrh scent which to me recalls medicinal ointment. No thanks.

Neglected fern: I actually really like this little fern but it had been lost beneath an overgrown Garrya elliptica, which I’ve steadily been pruning back to the wall over the last few years. Both plants were in situ when I moved in, and I think that stopped me interfering with them too much. But the Garrya had to be pulled right back this year, as I look for more sunny places to grow vegetables (near the Garrya I’ll be growing the dwarf French bean, Masterpiece). I yanked out the fern with a bit of root ball and potted it up, and I’m happy and a bit surprised to see it hasn’t died. I’ll find it a nice home elsewhere in the garden.

Eucalyptus gunnii: my sister sent me a tree in a box when we first moved into this house, but even with yearly coppicing this plant just didn’t fit into our garden. I have composted it (with my sister’s blessing).

If your garden is a blank canvas, you may be thinking harder about how to fill it up than what to purge, but promise yourself now that you will only grow what you like. It’s a great time of year to visit gardens, garden centres or public parks to see what appeals to you. Choose wisely, and plant your kind of plants. You won’t regret it.

Is there anything you feel you can’t get rid of in your garden? I’d like to hear about it.


A good gardening podcast is hard to find


Click for larger imageIf you hunger for good gardening podcasts as much as I do, you know they’re hard to find. Here’s my list of favourites, from the unmissable at number one to the merely OK at number eight. I’ve given the web address of the feed; I hope this will let you track down the show and subscribe to it with whatever podcast tool you use. I use Google Listen on an Android phone, and I’ve created a folder in Google Reader called “Listen Subscriptions” that lets me add any new podcast if I know its Web address.

I know that all sounds a bit technical. If you have any questions, let me know, and I’ll try to help you. (By the way, I’m now doing my own rather stumbly Stopwatch Gardener podcast, which you can subscribe to here for iTunes or another podcast player.

  1. Gardeners’ Corner with Cherrie McIlwaine
    Feed URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/northernireland/garden/rss.xml
    My all-time favourite. Host Cherrie is a true radio talent, painting evocative pictures of the gardens she visits, making everything sound magical and intriguing. It’s the one podcast I really miss if it’s not available immediately after its usual Saturday recording date. The show, broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland, has also hit on the perfect mix of phone-ins, visits to stunning gardens, chats with experts, road shows, and on-site help with listeners’ gardens. About 22 minutes per episode.
  2. The Greendays Gardening Panel with Steve Scher
    Feed url: http://www.kuow.org/rss.php?program=garden
    KUOW radio in Seattle has put together an excellent Tuesday gardening panel which takes questions by telephone and from its Facebook page, hosted by Steve Scher with advice from Willie Galloway (perky veg expert), Greg Rabourn (conservationist and tree guy) and Marty Wingate (the one who uses Latin plant names). I love their no-nonsense approach and the satisfying 50-minute format, and their knowledge about what works in the Pacific Northwest and their willingness to share it is evident. I wish they’d use more Latin names; I once spent a half an hour googling for the ground cover plant “kinnickkinnick” (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).
  3. Gardening with Tim and Joe – Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden
    Feed URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/leeds/gwtj/rss.xml
    This folksy advice show from BBC Radio Leeds is notable for its insights on growing fruit and vegetables, as well as routine care of garden plants like roses, chrysanthemums and more. I like the “back to basics” feature, and gardener Joe Maiden’s decades of experience shine through, although I wish he wouldn’t call every plant of the week “absolutely fantastic”. Short and sweet, just 12 minutes per episode.
  4. A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach
    Feed URL: http://am1020whdd.com/rss/individual.php?id=119&title=A%20WAY%20TO%20GARDEN%20WITH%20MARGARET%20ROACH
    This US gardening luminary writes the “A Way to Garden” blog and has just published a new book, “And I shall have some peace there,” about the New York garden she commuted to for two decades and now lives in permanently. Host Jill could do with sounding more in charge, but I like Margaret’s insights on seed sowing, managing a mature garden, and why going organic is worth it. About 20 minutes per episode.
  5. Gardeners’ Question Time with Eric Robson or Peter Gibbs
    Feed URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/gqt/rss.xml
    This weekly BBC radio broadcast is a must-listen for the range of unrehearsed questions the experts can answer, and although I like Peter Gibbs, I wince at episodes hosted by Eric Robson, who manages to be jolly and disdainful in the same breath. The conflicting and/or bad advice given by the expert panel can become wearing (why did they just advise listeners not to bother doing a big tidy up of last season’s fallen rose leaves? David Austin experts told me the February clean-up is a golden rule for preventing ills like blackspot, and I believe them.) I do appreciate many of the insights from panellists like Bob Flowerdew and pest expert Pippa Greenwood, despite her recent broad slur against gardening blogs. About 50 minutes per episode.
  6. HearSay with Cathy Lewis and Jim Orband
    Feed URL: http://www.whro.org/home/html/podcasts/hearsay/podcast.xml
    This podcast from Virginia would be much higher up the list if it were more frequent, but Jim Orband only joins Cathy once a month, and their chat doesn’t have its own feed, so you need to keep an eye on the episodes and download the ones with Jim. He takes phone-in questions from listeners, and his willingness to share knowledge (and gardeners’ hunger to learn) is wonderful to behold — listen and marvel as he gives out his e-mail address for people to send in extra questions. I do like the banter between Cathy and Jim; she’s a truly likable host.
  7. North Country Public Radio – Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy talks to Todd Moe
    Feed URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TopStoriesFromNCPR
    Amy’s interviews with Todd are too new to me to rank higher on the list, and like the Cathy Lewis podcast, this is another one that doesn’t break out its gardening into a separate feed. But I’m now watching out every Monday for Amy’s segment, which gives practical, seasonal advice I appreciate. About 10 minutes per show.
  8. Dean of Green
    Feed URL: http://www.wglt.org/podcasts/Dean_of_Green.xml
    Sultry-voiced Laura Kennedy speaks to Don Schmidt of the Illinois State University School of Biological Sciences. Laura’s incessant station identification (WGLT) is irritating, but Don Schmidt is incredibly knowledgeable and his enthusiasm is infectious. I’ve picked up a few useful tips on everything from moving peonies to the biological inner workings of plants. Super short, only about seven minutes per episode. Don takes questions from anyone, anywhere, just submit yours online at — yes, you guessed it — WGLT.org.

Attention broadcasters and bloggers – we want more, quality gardening podcasts. Why has the Scotland’s Gardens podcast has gone off air? And someone tell me why the otherwise useful and veg-centric UK online gardening community GardenersClick.com has made its GC podcast unsubscribable-to. (You can only listen to it within the walled garden of GardenersClick. Must do better, GardenersClick.) There must be hundreds of thousands of gardeners out there who, like me, would love to listen more and learn more, and would certainly be disposed to remember the names of sponsors who back such podcasts.

Do you know any other good gardening podcasts I could listen to? Do tell.

posted under Gardening | 21 Comments »

A perfect space: sanctuary in the garden


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Do you have a place in your garden, or your allotment, that feels most like your sanctuary? One of the smallest corners in my small garden is shaping up to be sanctuary for me. Yes, I can hear the teenagers at the market cross just beyond my wall doing their Saturday night shrieking from time to time. But on my side of the wall — an ancient structure maybe 10 feet high, so reassuringly solid — a tiny seating area and a few plants tolerant of the basement garden-like conditions help make this a place of private perfection, or as near as makes no difference.

When I began the garden seven years ago, I remember I tried to fashion this as my Boston corner. I put in Virginia creeper for the flaming autumn colour of the New England sugar maples, and potted rhododendrons to remind me of those whose leaves were my temperature gauge each winter when I was growing up: as you probably know, rhodo leaves conveniently curl into cigars when temperatures hit freezing.

I bet it’s that nod to childhood, plus the protected-but-not-claustrophobic feeling of the high wall on one side, that gives this space a certain atmosphere that makes me want to come here when I have a moment. It’s also right outside my office window, and as my inexpert design tweaks over the last few years have nudged this area closer to what I want, it’s become the ideal place to rest my eyes as I try to think of the right verb for something I’m writing.

Shall I tell you what’s planted here now? Well, to start, the area is no more than 9′ x 7′ and faces south, but it only gets direct sun from around 12 to 2:30pm in summer.

  • Red rose for contrast: The south facing wall is made mostly of the two French doors leading out from my office; the deeply fragrant climbing red rose from David Austin, Falstaff, is to the left of these doors on a scrolled metal trellis.
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  • Vine for autumn colour: The west facing wall is the tall stone one and hosts the Virginia creeper, which is making its way around the south wall to the top of the trellis.
  • Rose for shade tolerance: The north facing wall is only chest high — it has cream colored harling (aka pebble dash), and it’s the retaining wall for the raised border that runs along one side of the house. That’s where I’ve trained the magnificent Old Glory rose, Gloire de Dijon, against a pretty pair of scrolled metal structures: not trellises, but narrow, window-shaped things designed to be wall planters. I know this rose’s magnificence only by reputation; it hasn’t flowered for me yet, but this year it’s looking promising. Why is it so much more rewarding to nurse something ailing and see it come back strongly? This rose is shade-tolerant but has struggled since I planted it; I cut back its weak growth in May and the regrowth has been vigorous.
  • Rhododendron for nostalgia: The east facing wall is three full-length windows which look into the house. By these windows the entrance to a gravel path, 4 feet wide, leads out of this cosy corner to run between the raised border on one side and the house on in the other. Tucked at the side of this entrance to the gravel path is a potted “Purple Splendor” rhododendron, which shares its tub with a pieris.

Late last night, despite the darkness, I couldn’t resist a sit and a think there for a half an hour, with a cup of coffee and a lantern. Because it was only yesterday evening, having moved the potted rhodo and thinned out some of the pieris’s growth to make it fit that entrance, that I felt I’d struck on the right combination of elements for this space. My mum and I had tea in this corner when she was visiting; I wish she could sit there with me now.

Have you heard Carol Klein (a UK television gardener and owner of Glebe Cottage Plants, if you don’t know her) speak of the flowers that remind her of her own late mother, an avid gardener in her own right who sadly suffered from depression? Carol speaks of how the simple harebell means more to her than almost any other plant, because of the connection it gives her to her mother. My mother lives 3,000 miles away; my father passed away 10 years ago. Is it memories of my home with them, and of the childhood that with every passing year becomes more rose-tinted, that has made this corner my sanctuary?

Do you have a place or ritual that’s most special in your garden?

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