Six on Saturday: Trentham Gardens in Late September

Dark leaves, with bronze autumn colour and a white flower spike

1. Actea simplex showing burnished autumn colour

I didn’t really want to go to a garden, but I forced myself. Hours sitting in a traffic jam (more accurately, a series of traffic jams) had taken their toll and, although Trentham Gardens was not far out of my way, I wasn’t feeling it.

As I was wavering, I remembered once calling a friend, MVM, to get out of going to see some gardens as I was not feeling well. He said “You’ll be sorry! You’ll like it! There’ll be flowers!”. I went, and it was that day I got to know my sweetheart. The influence of the two of them, spreading as it does over time and space, was powerful enough for me steer my car away from the default path, up the M6, to invest in all the things we invest in when we visit a garden.  Continue reading

Finding [urban] Nature | RHS Tatton Park’s F[u]N Garden

If you’re the kind of person who smiles to see plants growing in cracks in (someone else’s) walls and pavements, puzzles over vines emerging from nowhere and loves the summer weeks when Buddleias with masses of arching, lilac-like flowers cling on to ‘seemingly every derelict building‘, this one’s for you.

Community garden on a brownfield site with deckchairs and bunting

I spoke to Roy Lancaster (a lovely fellow) at the Chelsea Flower Show years ago. Identifying me as a fellow Lancastrian by my accent, he told me how a local quarry’s unusual and diverse range of plants were brought to light when a schoolchild took a bunch of flowers to school for a nature project.

An abandoned area of disturbed land where people rarely tread is as good a home, if you happen to be a rare orchid, as anywhere else. Nature doesn’t have any concept of location, location, location – or at least not in the human way, where a house is worth ten times more in one place than in another.

Plants poking through layer of broken bricks and concrete

Plants flower where the seeds happen to fall, if they can. We’ve all seen a tangling of nature and building debris like this: we just don’t expect to see it faithfully recreated and offered up for our consideration at a flower show. Eds Higgins’ Finding [urban] Nature garden (hereafter, the F[u]N garden, following the designer’s styling) imagined a brownfield community garden as part of the RHS Young Designer Competition. Continue reading

Gate leading into wildflower field with foxgloves

Hay Time In The Dales: People’s Choice Award Winner At RHS Chatsworth

Chris Myers and I were chuffed to bits by the turn of events at The RHS Chatsworth Flower Show last week. We both had good reason. After a slow start (the judges’ Silver Medal theoretically rated it worst in show), the garden he’d designed was validated by the popular vote, being named the one the public loved most. Me? I’d been rooting for it!

Foxgloves and wildflowers growing beside a cottage

Naturalistic plantings were a theme of this year’s show, but his garden was a hymn in praise of wildflowers (or more of a folksong). I enjoyed lingering awhile, listening to the sighs of pleasure as people glimpsed Hay Time In The Dales for the first time and felt its emotional pull. I knew this garden would haunt me, and it already is.

I thought of it when our evening walk took us past a flower-rich hay meadow between Edgworth and the Wayoh Reservoir. Around its peak now, the wildflowers include buttercups, yellow rattle, meadow vetchling, red clover, wild blue lupins, and a blend of grasses. A public information sign beside the meadow explains this patch of land represents what is now one of the rarest habitats in the UK.

It all seems so normal, and that’s part of the problem.    Continue reading

Hidden in Plain Sight: Primrose Hearts

Common primrose | Primula vulgaris

When I saw these common primroses hidden under a shrub in the gardens at Bridgemere Garden Centre yesterday, I marvelled that each petal is a heart. They looked so dainty and exquisite that I wondered if I was looking at one of the latest new cultivars.

I’d been admiring the Victorian-style, gold and silver lace primulas and some ruffled, rose-like doubles on the garden centre benches just a few minutes earlier – and, I confess, wrinkling my nose at a couple of the less dainty cultivars that are being offered this season.

Checking online, I see that every common primula (Primula vulgaris) has heart-shaped petals. How could I have forgotten in just a few months?  Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resilient

I’m often surprised to see plants growing in strange places with little obvious means of support, such as this colourful succulent on top of a wire cage filled with rocks. Luckily for us, nature is resilient. These hollyhocks seemed quite content with poor soil at the base of a stone cottage in the Cotswolds, adapting to their surroundings by leaning outwards to catch more light.

I posted earlier this week about resilient plants that grow almost wild in a cemetery (if you’re a rose lover, and missed the post, you can find it here).

It’s impossible for me to write on this prompt without mentioning my belief that climate change is a real threat to us all. Let’s not push nature too hard or blithely take for granted her ability to bounce back. Resilience doesn’t mean invulnerable.

Digitalis Purpurea: The Essence of Summer

Foxglove and bee

The summer solstice seems an appropriate time to feature one of Britain’s most evocative wild flowers: Digitalis purpurea. Close ups of their spots, hairs and pouting flower lips, combined with dire warnings of their toxicity, help explain why so much lore has been wound around them.

Colourful folk names variously link them to fairies, dragons and witches, while scholars dispute the derivation of their commonest name, foxglove.

Continue reading

Wild And Cultivated Primulas

Primroses growing wild

It’s a relatively small step from these pale yellow primroses (primula vulgaris) I found growing wild to the pink double below. Both plants are romantic in their way.

Double pink primula

The fresh pink and cream colouring of this cultivated double gradually gives way to a faded parma violet as the flower ages. I can see how, for some, this might seem a flaw, but for me it adds an old world charm.  Continue reading