Highlights of the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2018

Model in white dress and flowery hat

Model with flowery hat at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

As we wound around Derbyshire’s beautiful but narrow Peak District roads towards our sneak preview of the Chatsworth Flower Show yesterday, knowing how limestone has shaped the environment, making the ground glitter in places, I thought of one of my favourite poems: W.H. Auden’s ‘In Praise Of Limestone’.

I love the poem’s conversational style, but its abrupt changes of tone and subject matter might not suit everyone. Just as we can only read a poem from within the landscape of our own mind, we can only ever experience a flower show from our own perspective. My idea of tasty flowers and planting schemes might not be yours.

Labrador dog in a show garden at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

‘The Great Outdoors’ by Phil Hurst won Chatsworth Gold…

This year’s Best in Show award, for example, went to an attractive display with a lot of interesting elements, including the characterful wooden arbour, bench and water feature. Continue reading

Mock Underwater Garden

When I saw the prompt for this week’s photo challenge, my first thought was ‘Easy!’. My life and experiences seem unlikely to me – as everyone’s would, if we only spared time to think about it. Photographically, I would have said I notice the unlikely. So why is it that looking through my pictures, I can’t find anything unlikely? Not really. [The truth is, everything is just as likely as it is unlikely, given the nature of the world and recent conjectures about it. Don’t blame me for the wooziness of that statement, blame the late, lamented Stephen Hawking.]

Container garden with mermaid under a shell arch

I seem to hear someone object “What’s unlikely about this? The mermaid isn’t real. Were she real, I’d hand it to you.”

OK, I know this isn’t really an underwater garden, just an impression of one in the corner of a real garden. A collection of containers, garden art, natural objects, plants, structures and vines have all been co-opted to create a garden vignette.  Continue reading

Witch Hazel In Winter Gardens

Bare branches with red spidery flowers

Here’s a closer look at witch hazel (Hamamelis). Ancient lore accords these flowering shrubs medicinal, cultural and even religious value, but here I’m focusing on their decorative quality. In the UK, witch hazels drop their leaves in autumn, then produce colourful flowers that are particularly welcome in the winter garden.

Bare branches with orange flowers

The flowers appear to float, held up in the air on slender stems that would otherwise go unnoticed in deciduous plantings. The rusty orange one particularly attracted me. Rich purple calyces provide a beautiful contrast, and the colour palette just seems to get better as the older petals wither.  Continue reading

Suzie Cranston’s Birdhouse Garden

When Suzie Cranston’s world was rocked by the death of her son, Peck, a sign saying ‘Peace begins in the garden’ inspired her to create a garden that would celebrate his life.

Beautiful at any time of the year, my sweetheart and I often pause to admire it on walks through our quirky little neighbourhood, Fondren, in Jackson, Mississippi. More than twenty years after starting the garden, Suzie is eager for others to enjoy it as much as she does. She welcomes visitors with a broad smile, pointing out things they may have missed: flowers, garden art, a new birdhouse and, in particular, things that Peck would have loved, such as the tortoises which appear everywhere.  Continue reading

How To Make A City Garden In A Small Space

Garden with curved paths and benches

Want to make a, easily maintainable city garden? Just follow this plan, as illustrated above.

  • Select your space. The heart of a medieval city is ideal (the more souls that can overlook the garden, the better), but almost any space will suffice.
  • Create one or more organic shaped beds in the centre and another around the perimeter, leaving room for a sinuous, scrollable path (experts advise laying out the path first).
  • Edge the beds in a stone coloured material, selecting a darker tile to define the perimeter border.
  • Scatter shrubs, small, decorative conifers, grasses and herbaceous plants that can tolerate some neglect in the central beds. Keep it on the minimal side – you don’t want to crowd things.
  • Artfully place decent-sized rocks in small groups or piles.
  • Mulch with crushed slate.
  • Add curved, benches that will invite passers-by to linger. Chocolate coloured metal ones will match those tiles around the outer borders.
  • Fix trellises to the walls and encourage vines to soften them, creating the effect of a glade within a city (if you lack walls, add a fence or baffle first).
  • If the same vines can be pruned low to provide ground cover for the perimeter beds, so much the better. If not, plant something green to do the job.
  • Pave, staying true to the neutral, natural theme.
  • In winter, tie the grasses up into neat bundles by wrapping a few of the long outer strands around the clump.
  • Sit back and enjoy.

Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Temporary Plants

A leafy plant with purple and silver striped leaves

When I first started gardening, it was in a garden that was so big, it seemed to eat up plants. The broad expanses of clay soil, hospitable enough with plenty of leaf mould and grit dug in, were insatiable. Had this been a boarding house for plants, a jaunty ‘Vacancies’ sign would have been permanently on display.

I could order a whole box of bare roots, at considerable cost, but they seemed to melt away in the garden’s expanse. Three would go here, and three more there; a choice plant by the gate so you were bound to appreciate it; a few more in the main borders and underneath the canopies of trees, but the box was soon, sadly, emptied and the garden seemed virtually as open as it had been before.

Luckily I like propagating – splitting plants, growing from seed – so that was OK. But I developed the habit of not liking annuals. Annuals were a waste. Mere temporary fixes. Their gap of land would still be a gap in a year’s time – in five years or twenty – if ‘real’ plants were not put there instead.  Continue reading

Pedestrian Walkway At The Missouri Botanical Garden

Covered path at the Missouri Botanical Garden

I rarely take people pictures. It makes me feel sneaky (when I try to take pictures unobserved) or shy (when I’m spotted). I’d be hard pressed to estimate how long I’ve spent in gardens waiting for people to clear away from my shot and how often I’ve captured a random back or stray bottom by mistake when looking too excitedly at a flower to thoroughly check the periphery.  Continue reading

Creative Combination Planting At Chihuly’s Garden And Glass, Seattle

Chihuly Garden And Glass In Seattle

We travelled to Seattle last May to see this unusual garden at its peak, when the perennials were in bloom. The underplanting feels as if an artist has laid out the plants by magic, with the sweep of a brush.

Combination planting

Underplanting is the idea of planting a garden in layers, with shrubs growing beneath trees, and shorter perennials and bulbs underneath them. The designer  thinks about the height and spread of each plant, their colours and textures, then combines them in the most pleasing way. I’ve seen many attempts but rarely seen the effect better realised.  Continue reading

Bodnant Gardens, Wales, In Spring Haute Couture

Pink blossom

This year it’s too easy for gardens to be on trend, the Pantone colour of the year being Greenery. Well… yes, I’ll go with that, but if Pantone’s colour trend experts think greenery is the colour for 2017, perhaps they should get out more. Hardly a passing trend, greenery should be named the colour of the millennium (in the hope it might, by some miracle, be the millennium to come, not the one we’ve recently left behind).

Field of daffodils

Bodnant Gardens, where these pictures were taken, had acknowledged the colour of the year with a knowing wink, but decided greenery was just the start. It was a great start – no one could deny that – but the surrounding countryside had got greenery off to a T too. So much so that after finally leaving the North Wales Expressway (an optimistic name on a very sunny Sunday) I found myself winding towards the National Trust garden along Llanrwst Road thinking “This land is such a bright green, it’s almost too much. How will the camera lens cope with this? Are my sunglasses not on?” (they were).  Continue reading