Garden goodies from RHS Chelsea: I want one of those



Wow, the quality of the trade stands at RHS Chelsea Flower Show was high. Garden centres don’t seem to carry all the genuinely classy garden decorations I like – ornaments that look aged but not faux aged, from wall-mounted mirrors to plant supports – yet here they all were, in spades.

I’m starting to grasp why gnomes and other garishly bright ornaments are usually banned from Chelsea: there really wasn’t any tat there. Just more-ish tools, ornaments and household goods that made you want to open your wallet and say, “Take it…just take it all.” (Actually I like gnomes, and the symbolism of them at Chelsea: they’re a metaphor for greater inclusiveness in gardening, which is something you can try even without a garden design degree).

As for the trade stands, here’s what I loved:

Sarah Hayhoe’s freestanding stained glass panels ( Sarah (pictured) explained that you just stick the panels into the ground and they stay there year-around. I know what I’m asking for at my next birthday. Cost £85 for short panels and £105 for the head-height ones you see here.
Sarah Hayhoe of Garden Glass at RHS Chelsea

Chainsaw-weilding sculptor Andy Burgess (, who hacks his lovely, finessed sculptures from oak, drew a crowd at his stand, possibly in part due to his excellent self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter, where he shares before-and-after images of works in progress. The interlocking loveseat he’s seated on here cost…um…I can’t remember, but it was thousands. Gorgeous stuff. My husband and I walked out of Chelsea and found ourselves behind an older couple carrying one of Andy’s owls between them.

Secret Gardens furniture (, which always advertises its rusted plant supports in Gardens Illustrated, showed the most tempting gazebos and arches at Chelsea, all festooned with the company’s trademark iron flowers. Seems a shame to cover them with anything but the most filmy annual climbers.

Secret Gardens Furniture rusted arch at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013

I’ve never seen a group of people so excited about handsoap as the ladies’ room at RHS Chelsea this year. A perpetual fountain, topped with handsoaps donated by Heyland & Whittle of Sussex was at the centre of the room, with hand lotions on counters at the side. All the ladies had their hands cupped over their noses, sniffing the scents they’d just tried. Such a good move to offer some sponsored products to the public; next year I’d like to see free site-wide wifi everywhere at RHS Chelsea, sponsored by someone, to make it easier to share photos (I had to run back to the Press Tent again and again to upload my pics).
Hayland and Whittle

So what did I buy? None of it. I resisted it all, even the star-gazing hares I saw on one stand, and went to the Great Pavilion to buy a rose. I chose Mme Isaac Periere (“Pair-ee-aire”) from Peter Beales Roses, below. It’s a Bourbon rose, similar to but fuller than Zephyrine Drouhin, and it smells like paradise.

Mme Isaac Periere Bourbon rose

What do you find irresistible when you’re on a garden shopping spree? Do you go for ornament or just another plant?


Great gardening podcasts are easier to find



A long time ago, when the earth was green, I wrote a post listing my Top Ten gardening podcasts. For The Guardian newspaper’s gardening blog I’ve just done a reprise of my Top Five favourite gardening podcasts, and the good news is that the overall standard of gardening shows has hugely improved since my first write-up.

BBC Radio Ulster’s Gardeners Corner is still top of my list, thanks to the skills of its lead presenter, but honestly, all five in my list (including the new show by the RHS) are essential listening if you’re as fanatical about gardening as I am…and I think you probably are.

The picture above shows my garden in July — last July, actually. Hard to believe the warm days will ever return, but this rose hedge (rose de Rescht) is wonderfully hardy, and I know she’ll come back to me this summer.

Don’t forget to let me know if you have any other great shows you’d recommend. Really, I just can’t get enough.

posted under Gardening, Roses | 4 Comments »

Into the darkness with the winter garden


The crispness of winter outlines in the garden and the dramatic sideways sunlight can make December a cheerful time outside, but the weeks of afternoon darkness ahead are never a happy prospect.Click for larger image

In the same way a child clutches a blanket at bedtime, I’m holding onto one or two comfort items as we head into the winter darkness. A terra-cotta pot with snowdrops, topped with some moss scraped off the ground, will sit by my back door to light up my comings and goings. I’ve already placed a chair where it will catch noontime sun this month and next month, and from there I’ll also see the snowdrops. The daphne that’s also nearby will smell powerful and sweet – if a little bit like my Nana’s bathroom – early in the year.

Clipped evergreen for structure
This is the first year I’ve bothered to clip a red-berried cotoneaster (I think it’s a cotoneaster) in the garden here: it was in August that I took out the shears and made it into a tallish rectangular block near the back door. It has red-stemmed cornus to the right of it and an ivy-covered tree stump to its left; along with the fan trained plum behind it and a few helleborus foetidus at its feet, this solid shrub is already making a good focus for the eye in the increasingly naked garden.Click for larger image

The picture here shows the scene two weeks ago – sorry about the plastic pot, but the rest of it is nice to look at.

A big bulb show for February – iris and early tulips
I’ve done a massive re-dig and replanting on the main part of the border in order to give good planting depth to about 50 tulips and 100 iris reticulata. The whole space is only 15′ x 6′, but I’ve rethought it in a way I think will work for the winter garden and the rest of the year. A short graveled path bisects the border from front to back now, terminating in a chimney pot that sits at the base of the ivy-covered wall at the back of the border. Looking at this border with new eyes, I realized that the ivy and wall are great features: a number of different types of hedera cling to the wall, planted by the previous owner. The new path not only echoes the one at the back of the garden, near where I buried my beautiful little dog, but it also gives access for the first time right to the back of this border, for tying in, weeding, and cutting flowers.

Either side of the graveled path I’ve put lychnis coronaria, with the hundred iris reticulata, for a bluish-grayish February show. Some very early Shakespeare tulips and heavenly lily-scented mahonia japonica are also in the border now, and I’ve incorporated a load of manure and compost to help me get better performance from the roses there. I saw how well the plants grew on top of the place where I buried Lizzy, and I’m sure part of it was the great easy run the roots had because the soil was so well-dug.

Renewed commitment to digging the garden
I’ve read loads about the no-dig method for gardening, especially vegetable gardening, but I think my soil wasn’t in the right condition to go down that route. I’m loosening everything up now and I think the results will be better.

Get inspiration from Rosemary Verey
For some more good ideas read the late Rosemary Verey, “The Garden in Winter,” which has been by my bedside for the last few months. She gives practical advice about how certain winter-performing plants behave in the garden, and her ideas about structure have influenced most of what I’ve done with my garden this year.

What are you doing in your garden now? Have you given thought to how it looks during winter, or do you prefer to shut the door on it till March?


I need late autumn interest in the garden — dahlias need not apply


Click for larger image

Novemberish gales are blowing the September garden sideways and making me think prematurely about mulching, clearing and cozying in. The open wire grille I put down to keep leaves out of the pond has stopped airborne bits of recycling from pummeling the tiny puddle of water and its newts. I’d never managed to cover the pond before this year. Maybe last winter’s swift, shocking start in November is what has me bracing for the end of the gardening year, and a bit too soon. The apples and pears are bearing, most leaves are stuck fast to branches and the late asters haven’t even shown yet.

Do you do dahlias? I’ve never grown one I liked — they are martyrs to earwigs, which means I’m not tempted even by the lighter, arier single types. The more traditional dahlias, great blobs of colour, are repellent to me. The autumn roses I grow are fat and colourful, too, but all are balanced with large areas of their own green foliage. The dahlias are unrestrained, unremitting splotches of red, pink and purple blowing a technicolor raspberry from the border — you can keep them.
Click for larger image

An autumn combination I prefer is growing now in the hall border, which I see foreshortened from my office window, so far-apart plants appear side-by-side. It includes:

  • heuchera palace purple
  • aster frikartii Monch
  • liatris spicata
  • schizostylis coccinea major
  • Lobelia fan blue
  • Rose de Rescht
  • Rose Zephyrine Drouhin
  • Rudbeckia Goldsturm
  • Lonicera (honeysuckle) berries
  • alchemilla conjuncta
  • persicaria

I’ve tried so hard to get autumn colour here, especially late autumn colour, for my daughter’s birthday at the end of October. That means I really need November colour, and that’s hard.
Click for larger imageMaybe this is the real reason I’m looking ahead to November: I’m keen to know if this year’s show will be any better, now that the persicaria and chrysanthemums will add to the later asters (Alma Potschke) and Schizostylis. Claire last year suggested some of the hardy fuchsias as good performers into November, and I’m propagating some from cuttings now.

Sorry if it’s tedious for you, but I keep coming back to this question of November interest (see here and here) because I can’t get it right. My two children are November and February birthdays, and a garden show at those times of year is Advanced Gardening. I have this vision of a blanket of snowdrops beneath black-ball Rudbeckia seed heads from the previous autumn. Do you think this will work? It would be some achievement to have a good autumn-into-winter show that celebrates both kids. But much of the garden gets too little sun for the Rudbeckias, and even those that thrive would need to withstand Scottish wind, snow and thaw.

I’m not sure if this black and white plan will work (I’m trying to propagate the Rudbeckia just in case), or if my kids will even know what I was trying to do for them.

Although plantings that are “for” others aren’t really what we gardeners do, is it? The planting is for us, to echo our feelings or memories of those who mean so much, we need them in the garden with us.

Who have you planted for? What did you plant?


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.

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