Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas wreath

Sincerest apologies for this rather Blue Peter, WI-ish subject matter. Normally, it would never have crossed my mind to devote an entire post to the making Christmas wreaths, but the recent subject coverage on Gardeners' World and in most gardening glossies, leaves little choice. Not a question of jumping on the band wagon, but rather more an alternative to the always suggested quantity of gadgets (e.g. wire/natural/oasis rings) and material (moss) that is seemingly required to make wreaths. Far from being an additional expense, these gadgets are unnecessary and the result is often rather unnatural looking.

Therefore, in the spirit of current economic austerity, especially after the conjectured loss of trade revenue with Europe, as Sarkozy and Merkel are in a huff; here is a cheap but effective way to make lovely seasonal wreaths, with nothing but old newspapers, wire and one's own garden green foliage.

Yesterday's paper is really all you need
In terms of foliage, or 'herbage' as Carol Klein so aptly calls it, you can use anything you have growing in the garden. Personally speaking, for best results use a combination of conifer type leaves and sturdy leafy greens such as bay, ivy and holly as these will last easily into January without wilting. In the spirit of Christmas, and following the advice of the Queen of Christmas Kitsch; Nigella, some degree of sparkly tat should probably be added. There is after all, nothing as camp as Christmas...

Making this wreath is really easy. And note, this comes from someone who is absolutely hopeless at art, and whose proud creations during junior arts & crafts classes, resulted solely in a series of rather unfortunate, deformed ashtrays, destined for parents who don't smoke. Trust me, its easy and rather satifying. 

"Here's one I made earlier...."

To make the wreath
    1. Spread out the pages of old newspapers on a flat surface. Depending on the size of wreath one is after, generally speaking 1.5m or so wide. Layer the papers to ensure even coverage. 
    2. Roll the newspaper steadily into a roll and squeeze to ensure it maintains its shape.  Link both ends either by overlapping or working one end into the other and fix in place with some wire. Voila, your DIY wreath ring. Shape it to ensure the desired circle or oval shape. Don't be alarmed if it does not stay in place and is looking rather pathetic at this stage.
    3. Take a long piece of wire, fix at one end and wind around the paper wreath to strengthen.
    4. Hold the paper wreath steadily in your hand, and choose your starting point. Start inserting the leafy twigs around the wreath, into the wire bind. Long twiggy cuttings are good as they provide the solid structure and help fast track the coverage. Make sure you keep turning the wreath to ensure you have completely covered the area with green material and tie in with wire.
    5. From that point, continue to add more material, turning the wreath as you go to ensure good coverage, wire in and so on and so on until you are left with a chunky green wreath.
    6. At this stage, look at the type of hook you have on the door, or where the wreath is to hang. Very much in the order of planting perennials, look at your wreath and decide which way round (front/back) it looks best, and decide where your top point is. Once decided, make the required hook from the same wire to ensure that it will hang properly on your door.
    7. Start adorning with leafy greens; bay, holly, ivy etc.. Ensure you start working either from the top or the bottom, and ensure consistency and maintaining the wreath shape.
    8. Further adornment from here is really personal choice, be it with more green material or sparkly Christmas decorations. The resulting wreath shown above is heading to the front door of my in-laws' rather smart London address, so have opted to keep it natural. Normally though, some Christmas kitsch is added.

      Monday, 28 November 2011

      Book Review: 'The Art of Creative Pruning' by Jake Hobson

      It all started with a very dishy pair of secateurs....

      Through his Japanese garden tool business, I first came across sculpto-anything-green man; Jake Hobson. Trained as a sculptor, Hobson developed his fascination for Japanese tree pruning to his distinctive naturalistic east-meets-west, free-form pruning style. Some may remember his brief appearance on Carol Klein's Life in a Cottage garden series, where he was commissioned to cloud prune the newly established box hedge. Having admired his cloud pruning expertise with much intrigue, I was delighted to find his words of wisdom fully exposed in his new book entitled, 'The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs' (Timber press, 2011).

      Hobson's book is remarkable, providing both inspiration as well as practical advice on a vast array of pruning styles & techniques from around the world, for an assortment of tree and hedge plant varieties. 'This book is not about topiary, not in the normal sense' explains Hobson, and this is certainly true. Topiary pruning (blobs, balls, wedding cakes, pyramids, spirals, cones) is certainly included, but there is much more to this book than that. With great care and detail, Hobson explains pruning techniques for; hedges (buttresses, battlements, crenelations, arches, mazes, pleached hedging, raised hedges and hedge sculpturing); and trees, including common techniques such as pollarding but also the more unfamiliar such as thinning (a la Japanese), pine pruning, branch training, Tamazukuri and Fukinaoshi. Note, those looking for advice on creating animal shapes will be sorely disappointed. Hobson draws the line at animal topiary, which he amusingly defers with; 'If that upsets you, write your own book'.

      Detailed explanations and diagrams ensure that all forementioned techniques can be applied to any garden, either in their true form or 'applied' to local surroundings. Just think of Tom Stuart Smith's 2008 Chelsea Show Garden where he used cloud pruned trees (Fukinaoshi) to achieve that Japanese feel, yet he did so using the very non-Japanese, native Hornbeam trees. The book is simply crammed with examples of extraordinary pruned topiary, hedges and trees in gardens all over the world, such as Marqueyssac in the Dordognes, Jacques Wirtz's garden in Belgium, Levens Hall in Cumbria, Pearl Fryer's garden in California, Korakuen in Okayama, and Konpuku-ji in Kyoto, but also examples from local neighbourhood gardens, tea plantations, museum gardens and even the garden at his family home in Dorset.

      Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of Japanese pruning was embarrassingly limited. Bonsai was about it really and admittedly without much enthusiasm as I'm not a fan of this form of tree torture. Hobson has certainly taught me to recognise the value of Japanese gardens and pruning techniques. Most interesting is the reasoning for pruning in Japan as opposed to the West. It is true that East & West, prune to keep plants under control, maximise space, and/or if the case of fruit trees and/or (flowering) bushes, to enhance their yield. However, as Hobson explains, in the West, pruning tends to remove plants from their natural state, whereas in Japan, the aim is to manipulate and enhance their natural state, to reflect the landscape (mountains, forests, waterfalls and rocky coastlines). European traditions therefore involves control over nature, whereas Japanese traditions aim to working with nature. In Japan, plants are therefore pruned to look 'more' like plants, or as Hobson explains 'to create caricatures' of the plants themselves.

      Our garden is sadly severely lacking in topiary pruning opportunities so one is a tad parched for this form of gardening amusement. Hobson compares his excitement for pruning to the buzz that Lou Reed feels when turning on his amplifier, so one can only conclude that we are seriously missing out. Now more enlightened, I realise there are additional opportunities in the form of (increasingly nervous) hedges and trees. Many years ago though, in my parent's garden in the Netherlands, I have indulged and certainly enjoyed wielding the pruners. Reading this book, I now understand what went wrong. Despite that sounding as if it was a horrendous disaster, I'm not too bad a maker of fancy 'blobs', but there was one project that despite much attention failed miserably. In the garden was a lovingly cultivated, enormous box cube which we kept very trim at all times. Hobson explains that for these modern shapes to work, they must not be cut straight but left to slightly swell at the bottom. When cut straight, the bottom does not get enough light, becomes thin and eventually straggly. All that time spent trying to cut the perfect shape, we were in actual fact killing our beloved plant. Hobson is certainly to blame for its demise, as he could have decided to pen his book a few years earlier.

      Despite his enthusiasm, there are many forms of pruning that will never see the light of day in our garden. Wedding cakes, battlements, mazes will remain as illustrations on the pages of this book, but the idea of a long cloud (or as Hobson refers 'organic) pruned hedge may be on the cards. Despite looking like a rather daunting task, creating one sounds rather satisfying in that time and nature provides its character. Starting one is exactly the same as planting a normal box hedge, explains Hobson. The difference is that one lets the hedge develop at its own pace, embracing the differences in growth rate and character of the individual plants. That is, some will grow more vigorously than others, some may die. Hence providing the cloud hedge with its distinctive shape, where these differences are exploited through careful pruning. The book provides details as to short cuts and creating this organic form from an existing hedge, but the idea of starting from scratch sounds rather appealing. We may need to start taking some cuttings.

      Unless one is looking to create a topiary zoo, this book belongs on every gardener's (bulging) book shelf. Not just informative and inspirational, but also a cracking and amusing read.

      Oh, and Hobson's secateurs aren't too bad either....

      Tuesday, 15 November 2011

      Restoring a wild flower meadow (#3)

      Leading on from Horticultural Renaissance of Wild Flowers and Wildflower Fruit & Nut Case; An interview with Sarah Raven, this post collates the experienced advice of Sarah Raven, Peter Clay, Crocus co-founder, Richard Hopkins plant manager at Applegarth nurseries, Peter Chapman owner Perryhill nurseries and Paul Barney owner Edulis, on how to actually go about creating, or as is in our case, restoring, a wild flower meadow. They all generously agreed to be submitted to countless questions on this enthralling subject, for which I am not only terribly grateful, but now also more enlightened. 

      'A long term business,' described Peter Clay, Crocus Co-Founder and proud owner of an extraordinary meadow, 'creating a wild flower meadow, will take much time, investment and perseverance'. For the impatient gardener, such as yours truly, words such as these spell a tormenting challenge. However, the idea of wandering through the field full of native (local) wild flowers, providing oodles of luscious nectar to thronging pollinators is just too attractive a prospect to ignore. Granted, a superbly idealistic notion, the result of intensive psychological corruption by Jane Austen. However, realism should set in fairly quickly, as the future wild flower meadow, consists of a field of 2-3 acres, situated on a steep hill, running down to a stagnant river/swamp, all smothered with wild-flower-asphyxiating; couch-grass, nettles, thistles and other such nasties.

      Through the mounds of nettles, lies our future wild flower meadow...

      Wild flower provenance
      The first step is to examine not only what is currently growing in the designated plot, but also in the surrounding area. Both Sarah Raven and Richard Hopkins, plant manager at Applegarth nurseries, strongly believe in the preservation of local wild flower genetic characteristics. Any plans for seeding or planting of wild flower varieties, should therefore coincide with the plants that naturally grow in the local habitat. Hopkins explained, 'A plant species is not homogenous and it may well cover a huge range of habitats, and will be genetically different in different locations as it has evolved over time to survive in particular places. An article in the New Scientist described, that even when observers are unable to distinguish any apparent difference in a species in two similar habitats they had still diverged genetically'. Wildflower species will therefore be very different across counties. 'This is important and needs to be understood for it to be maintained, as it is part of our natural heritage', continued Hopkins. He added, 'there is a nationally significant population of Salvia pratensis, Meadow Clary outside Chipping Norton. I have the same plant in my garden from a cultivated source and it flowers at a completely different time'.

      Though scarce, the field is certainly not void of wild flowers. A dose of covert Clouseau detective work, revealed the following; Wild Angelica, Filipendula Ulmaria, Red and White Clover, Achillea Millefolium, Spearmint, (suspected) Common Bird Trefoil, Ribwort, Marsh (or Meadow) Thistle, Smooth Hawkesbeard and Meadow Cranesbill Geranium. On that basis, one can conclude that the soil in the field is naturally moist/wet. The field runs down into a valley and is hence prone to flooding. Naturally, there are variations in soil type/aspect, such as on hill, under the trees and near the hedges, but only the whole, we are dealing with thick, wet clay. Peter Clay mentioned that the variations in the fields geology will provide many different habitats for different wild flowers, making the overall result more interesting.

      To examine the types of wild flowers growing naturally in our part of the country, Dudley (nutter dog) and I engaged in several Raven-esque 'botanising' trips in the countryside. Sadly the trips did not yield enormous results. We are mostly surrounded by long overworked, arable fields, planted right up to the hedgerows, and therefore have little to show in terms of wild flowers. Local expert Richard Hopkins, explained that in the past when crop rotation was still much used, these fields were abundant with wild flowers, including 'red seas of clover'. Though as both Hopkins and Paul Barney, owner Edulis nursery explained, I may have been looking in the wrong place. Of my botanising ventures in the countryside, Hopkins said, 'There is little point going to see wild flowers there now. You are better of going to see them along the verges, especially those on the outskirts of villages'. Interestingly, Barney explained 'Due to the recession's financial pressures, the local government and councils have been unable to strim their verges this year, which have therefore never looked better'. Still a sad state of affairs, that one is best to find wild flowers along road sides, rather than in the actual countryside. Thankfully, Hopkins, will be on hand to provide guidance not just on which wild flowers grow locally, but also importantly, on what used to grow here. 

      Soil preparation
      Armed with the knowledge as to which plants will grace one's meadow, the next step is to prepare the area for sowing and/or (plug) planting. Contrary to preparing one's soil for luscious herbaceous borders, by incorporating loads of lovely muck to enrich the soil, the very opposite is true for wild flowers. The enemy of the wild flower meadow is enriched, fertile soil as it encourages the encroachment of grass and fast growing weeds, such as nettles and thistles. The competition between the grasses and wildflowers is too much in favour of the grasses, which as Charles Flowers confirmed in 'Where have all the flowers gone?'; 'wild flowers come off second best'.

      There are three basic 'nutrient stripping', soil preparation methods;

      (i) Removal topsoil 
      Flowers explains that growth takes place in the very top section of the soil profile. Removal of this section strips grasses and nettles of nutrients, which subsequently become less dominant, allowing delicate wildflowers and natural herbs to establish. My husband would probably disagree, but the idea of intensive JCB action in the field, is rather daunting. Unless of course, as Sarah Raven suggested, one needed topsoil desperately for the rest of the garden. Clay's cunning plan, is to sell the removed topsoil and hence possibly provide some needed capital to fund the restoration. Unfortunately, cosmic topsoil earnings are not on the cards for us. Flowers warns against the topsoil removal technique if one's soil type is clay. 'Removal of precious topsoil removes all that lies between you and the clay, which is like concrete in summer and like plasticine in winter'.(1)

      (ii) Clearing with Glyphosate
      To get rid of Cooch-grass and any other persistent nasties, which will remain a problem, one could opt to clear using Glyphosate. Hence, creating a clean weed-free, seed bed to re-sow/plant with a suitable grass and wildflower mix, relative to soil type. 'I have done this in an area at Perch Hill, where it was just thick with Cock's-foot and Cooch grass, docks and buttercups. As it was pretty impoverished in terms of flora, it was actually best to start again and then sow a more interesting mix into it', explained Raven. Apart from the invasive nature of chemicals, I suspect this method does not come cheap, having in the past, bought some bottles of the stuff at garden centres. Even though both topsoil removal and weed killing does have an immediate impact, the work does not end there. As the meadow king, Clay explains, 'Don't sow/plant immediately after clearing. Instead, allow the remaining weeds to germinate which can subsequently be sprayed off, once and for all'. He urged to mow constantly in the first year, to further reduce soil fertility as much as possible, hence weaken the grass, and allow wild flowers to become established.

      (iii) Yellow Rattle Magic
      Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), or Ribwort Plantain, is a parasitic plant, deriving its nutrients from the roots of other plants, especially grasses. As it strips grasses of their nutrients, they in turn are able to produce less growth and the balance of competition is changed in favour of wild flower species. As the Rattles work their magic, the plants build up in patches, feasting like vultures on host grasses. Once their hosts have ceased to be, the Rattles eventually die out, providing new bare patches which are then open for colonisation by wild flowers. According to Raven 'Yellow Rattle will probably take two or perhaps three years to have a really definite effect, but it will have it'. She added 'At the end of the first year, one must meticulously scarify patches, harvest your own seed and re-sow'.

      Peter Clay's stunning wild flower meadow (Photograph copyright Sabina RĂ¼ber)
      Even though, immediately effective, topsoil removal and spraying are just too invasive and not practical for the scale of our field. Furthermore, be they scarce, there are wild flowers growing in the field, and the aim here is to encourage further and additional wild flower colonisation. Using Yellow Rattle therefore seems a suitable course of action. Though, there is one (small) area of the field that may see some exciting JCB action as some leveling is required. It will be interesting to see how both methods fare. Raven advised to start working with Yellow Rattle, by clearing small patches to sow seed. Though she warns 'Don't clear too large a patch. I made this mistake. As Yellow Rattle is parasitical on grass, by removing all the grass you remove its food supply. So you just want to do it in little patches, the size of the palm of your hand, to start little colonies. Then about a metre away do another one, and so on to then gradually will form a matrix'. For once, having a set of spirited moles is a bonus, as their little mounds offer perfectly prepared ground for the seed.

      Sourcing wild flower seed
      Googling wild flower seed vendors provides a multitude of possible commercial sources. Though as Hopkins and Raven both stipulated, seek local sources as much as possible. Furthermore, many areas will be running meadow conservation projects, such as Plantlife and The Grasslands Trust, that could provide seed or guide one to local sources. Naturally only with the land owners permission, Raven also advised to personally collect wild flower seed in the local area where abundantly available. For the large scale meadow, specialist companies such as Emorsgate, will be able to provide sufficient quantities of quality seed. In addition to seed, one can also opt for plug plants, which in our case will help to supplement seeding in specific areas. On the best time to seed, Raven added 'I sowed my wild flowers in the autumn, because some of the perennials, such as Bethany, which I love, needs the winter to start germination. But it will depend on what one is sowing'. Vendor instructions of purchased seed should provide the required species specific information.

      Meadow Management
      An appropriate annual management regime will need to be adopted to encourage wild flowers to continue establishing and not be overrun by grasses, nettles and thistles. Cutting the meadow is crucial. Raven explains, 'You need to cut it at least once. Because otherwise coarse growth will return, inhibiting the more interesting plants such as Orchids from getting well established. These plants would otherwise just rot down, enriching the soil again, which is the opposite of what you want to do'. According to Charles Flowers, the cutting date is vital to maintain the delicate balance of the meadow. If the meadow is cut too late, the yield of grass to wild flowers will be higher, and there is a risk of the more delicate wild flowers, being crowded out by both grass, as well as the stronger wild flowers, such as Knapweed. Flowers therefore suggests to cut the meadow late July/early August. For the well-being of native pollinators, the The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) suggests a varied cutting regime, 'For spring flowers such as cowslips, yellow rattle and self-heal, much loved by bumblebee queens, do not mow until late June, but afterwards mow regularly through the summer. To encourage the summer meadow flowers that will bring a swarm of bumblebee workers in July and August, cut regularly until April but then do not cut at all until September'(2). For practical reasons, dictated very much by the scale of the field, and the consequent machinery (set up) required to do the cut and harvest, we will probably follow Flowers' advice for the sole annual summer chop.

      Ferdinand's wisdom
      Crucially, all the cutting material must be removed to prevent enriching of the soil, and hence maintain the delicate meadow balance. Over the past years, our field has been cut and bailed once a year by a very kind local farmer. The subsequent hay, is then destined for scrumptious cattle cuisine. Interestingly, some of the local farmers, are of the impression that the inclusion of wild flowers makes the hay unusable as animal feed. However, as the lovely Ferdinand the bull would undoubtedly testify, the very opposite is true. Flowers writes that 'Dairymen will describe their animals going into a new field of perennial ryegrass and immediately hunting round the edges of the field to pick at the wild flowers in the hedges'.(3) According to Raven, 'The theory is that wildflowers have varied mineral content that animals need on top of the grasses'. Yet to be proven, it is suspected that diseases in cattle are more common now, as cows are only fed modern rye grass and hence not getting as varied a diet as they used to. Flowers is also under the impression that cows may enjoy a slightly more enhanced menu, as wild flowers will not only have a significant impact on animal health, but also 'on the flavour of the subsequent meal'.  Naturally, there are plants such as Ragwort, which are poisonous to animals, but as Raven explains 'In a well-maintained meadow one wouldn't grow ragwort, and if any did come up, you would remove it'. Note to agricultural colleges out there, add Munro Leaf's lovely book; Ferdinand to the curriculum.

      I used to be of the impression that maintaining a meadow was a matter of letting nature takes its course. This could not be further from the truth. Meadows need to be managed, and that does not just include cutting. Since the creation of his own wild flower meadow in 1999, Clay explained that he experienced continued migration, uptake, decline and disappearance of species within the meadow. 'Predictability is just not relevant to the wild flower meadow', said Clay. Over the years, one will therefore have to work continuously to remove, supplement, and/or re-seed varieties to maintain meadow equilibrium. Seed collection/dispersal and other techniques such as hay strewing will need to be applied to ensure the continuity of the meadow and above all ensure the delicate balance of flowers to grass remains optimum. We therefore have quite some work ahead of us for years to come. Despite all that, there is no doubt in my mind, just as they so often tell us in those horrific adverts, 'Because it's worth it!'

      Further information

      Useful links

      Interviews with Sarah Raven (23/09/2011), Peter Clay (29/09/2011), Richard Hopkins (13/10/2011) and Paul Barney (03/10/2011), conducted by Petra Hoyer Millar. 
      1. Charles Flower, Where have all the flowers gone? Papadakis, 2008
      2. Bumblebee Conservation Trust, 'Creating a wild flower meadow' booklet (download pdf)
      3. Charles Flower, Where have all the flowers gone? Papadakis, 2008

          Sunday, 13 November 2011

          Top plants for the autumn flower garden

          Time to concede. The central heating is now on and warm wooly jumpers have made their comeback. Quite unbelievably, winter with its festivities is almost on our doorstep. The barrage of 'merry' adverts has long started, with vast ranges of seasonal wares ubiquitously on offer. Imminently, we'll be treated to that pinnacle of seasonal delights; chronic Christmas jingles blaring from all places retail. Yet, despite the expeditious onslaught of colder temperatures, the Greenhouse borders still look lovely. The borders are now respectfully nearing their winter slumber, though only two weeks prior, flowers were still rife.

          Greenhouse Borders (22/10/2011)

          This year, the perseverance of flowering plants in the Greenhouse borders has been particularly impressive. Naturally, the weather is primarily responsible. However, one hopes the border's flowering longevity, is to some degree down to very minor gardening dexterity on the part of yours truly. Over the years, plants have been carefully selected and evaluated, in addition to the application of (so described by Colin Crosbie), 'border maintenance techniques'. It seems that the work is paying off as the borders are 'working' much later into/beyond the season. Deadheading and adequate staking has certainly helped extend the season, but more so, the Chelsea Chop. Phlox, Eupatorium, Sedum, Echinacea and Asters were still in bloom until about two weeks ago. Furthermore, continued cutting back of spent foliage of plants such as; Foeniculum Vulgare (green & bronze), Astrantia, Allium Fistulosum, Hardy Geranium and Alchemilla Mollis, ensured that the borders remained 'fresh' much longer.

          Greenhouse Borders (22/10/2011)

          Some plants fare better than others when it comes late flowering potential and over the years some favourites have surfaced. Attempts to limit this list to ten plants, failed miserably. Therefore, in no particular order (as also proved too difficult), my top fifteen;

          Favourite fifteen late flowering plants
          Critical for this listing is, extended flowering successfully late and/or 'beyond' the season. Therefore not necessarily appealing autumn colouring or beautiful seed heads. Even though for many of those listed below, these latter delights will follow later.

          (1) Ageratina altissima Chocolate
          Also known as Eupatorium Chocolate or White Snakeroot, this has to be one of my favourite plants. Tall dark purple foliage throughout spring and summer, and in autumn covered with a mass of tiny white flowers. By far the latest flowering plant in the borders. Admittedly, in the past I was never too fond of its flowers, having planted it primarily for its foliage. Though, I have come to love its profuse white flowers, as do the pollinators whom must be getting strapped for choice this late in the season. Propating is easy through cuttings, but as it grows so quickly, splitting the plant is my preferred route. Interestingly, the purple foliage colour is very much dependent on soil conditions. Drier soil, will result in its colour fading to a green/gray. Moister soil will result in the plumpest of purple colour foliage. The Ageratina Altissima can also be grown very successfully in (large) pots, though be prepared to split and re-pot every couple of years.

          (2) Verbena Bonairiensis
          Probably a favourite for many, and personally find it crucial to the border at this time of year. Terrifically hard working plant, that responds well to dead heading. The biggest and hence most productive plants in the borders, are those that were collected as tiny young plants (super self-seeder), potted up and kept in the greenhouse over winter for subsequent planting in spring. Our mid/end summer is never quite hot enough for the Verbena to grow to its true potential, though that may just be our odd weather conditions. As they are borderline hardy, having spare plants for supplement planting is always useful. Other varieties in the border include; Verbena Hastata and tall Verbena Lavender Spires, the latter of which is a serious contender for this listing.

          Ageratina altissima Chocolate (22/10/2011)

          (3) Eupatorium Maculatum
          Part of the Asteraceae family, a brilliantly statuesque plant with lovely pink/purple flowers, providing great depth to the borders. Great plant, very much the back bone of the borders. Responds very well to the Chelsea Chop and is much loved by an array of pollinators. A recent purchase; the slightly larger variety Eupatorium Atropurpureum Riesenschirm.

          (4) Phlox
          Prior to administering the Chelsea Chop, Phlox would not appear on this list. The early June cut has meant that they really only started flowering in September. Their addition here is therefore with the caveat of needing the chop. The Greenhouse borders include; Phlox Paniculata Blue Paradise, Phlox Paniculata David and two new recent acquisitions; Phlox Paniculata Dusterlohe and Phlox Paniculata Eva Cullum. Dusterlohe being my colour gamble as it is described in 'Planting the Natural Garden' as having an 'alarmingly brilliant lilac-pink color, that makes the phlox extremely ugly and incomparably beautiful at the same time'.

          (5) Vernonia crinita 'Mammuth'
          Surprisingly uncommon plant in herbaceous borders, but a wonderful new addition to ours. Still a young plant, bought last year impulsively at a Crocus Open Day, so has some way to go but delighted with its progress and addition to the border. The Vernonia's young foliage do seem tasty to suspected sluggies, so do watch over it in spring.

          (6) Eryngium
          There are over 200 species of Eryngium, of which we have three; Eryngium Bourgatii with its variegated leaves, the tall Eryngium Yuccifolium, and the annoyingly rare in nurseries; Eryngium x Tripartitum. The latter having a wonderful upright habit, and is packed with blue/violet flowering spikes. Through personal experience, Eryngiums proved tricky. Quite a few succumbed over the years, and those that survived took time to settle. Furthermore, propagation from seed has not been successful. Root cuttings seems to be an option, though as the plants took so much time to get established, one is somewhat reluctant to disturb their roots. Despite any hardship, certainly worth growing though, particularly for late flowering and for wonderful seed head display in winter. A fellow gardener in the US has written a great comprehensive article on this genus, with details about the various species. Certainly a recommended read.

          (7) Sedum
          I love Sedums, particularly when planted in rows or large batches. Sedums in particular, benefit from the Chelsea Chop, which despite rendering them somewhat smaller (plant & flower), grow wonderfully upright, with no flopping over what so ever. The resulting Sedum 'herbage' from the Chelsea Chop makes great cutting material, many of which are now happily growing in respective pots. The borders include; Sedum Matrona, Sedum Spectabile Brilliant and the aptly named Sedum Herbstfraude.

          (8) Asters
          Admittedly a late edition to the borders. As there are so many varieties of Aster, it was just rather difficult to choose. Aster Little Carlow and Aster Latiferflorus Lady in Black, were planted last year and their addition to the borders is delightful. As popular as these proved to be, another was swiftly  added; Aster Umbellatus. They flowered profusely until just two weeks, with Little Carlow being the first to opt for winter slumber. Pollinators are potty for them, so certainly a recommended addition to any border.

          Aster Latiferflorus Lady in Black (29/10/2011)

          (9) Cirsium Rivulare Atropurpureum
          Commonly known as the Brook Thistle, this statuesque plant is a must for long continued startling crimson colour. After the initial flowering period, the entire plant is sheered, after which one enjoys many additional weeks of flowering. It may just be our soil, but continued splitting of the plant has been required as it quickly grows into a huge clump. Though the flower is tall and whispy, the plant itself can become very large, with long leaves capable of smothering its neighbours. Splitting is easily done though, as have found that this plant does not require kid glove treatment. Despite appearances, Cirsium Rivulare does not produce seed.

          (10) Panicum Virgatum Rehbraun
          Great plant, the first grass to be introduced to the borders. Brilliant late summer/autumn colour, growing to approximately one meter in height. Some Twittering gardeners are critical of its hardiness, but as it is their first year in the border I am unable to confirm. Naturally, one hopes they make it through the winter to prove any disconcerted gardeners wrong.

          (11) Tricyrtis Formosana & Hirta
          Also known as Toad Lilies, or as on the Continent;  'Poor man's Orchid'. The border includes; Tricyrtis Formosana Dark Beauty and Tricyrtis Hirta. Easily propagated from cuttings in the spring. They prefer partial to full shade and moist soil. Ours are not that lucky and are planted in partial shade/full sun, but are thriving. In hot weather, we do make sure they get enough water though.

          (12) Lychnis Coronaria
          Biennial plant, that never seems to cease flowering. We have the white variety, grown successively from the plant's generously bestowed seed. A batch of seedlings is now ready to be re-potted in time for spring planting. Deadheading will probably be successful for this plant, though as there are so many flowers, have never attempted to.

          (13) Japanese anenome
          The pink variety growing profusely in our garden is unknown as the plants came with house, purchased over 60 yrs prior. The border houses their offspring, along with newly added September Charm variety. Fabulous plant, terribly unfussy but always terribly generous in its annual display of elegantly bobbing flowers. Wonderful upright habit, requiring no staking and despite their elegant appearance, they can take on any wind storm. Note, they do seem to sulk when being moved, so ensure planting in its rightful place. Similarly, when splitting plants, be patient as it will take time for them to re-establish.

          (14) Perovskia Blue Spires
          Almost Lavender-esque, yet much taller. First seen in Oudolf's private garden & nursery in Hummelo in the Netherlands many years ago, this plant with its attractive silvery green foliage, and late blue/violet flowers is crucial in the border. The mighty Oudolf, present the day we visited, highly recommended the Perovskia. 'Don't water it,' he said, 'they like it dry'. I never dared tell him of our wet weather and thick claggy soil. Despite the conditions, the plants thrive in our borders. Note, they can grow rather large, so for some end of season pruning includes a severe crew cut, almost right down to ground level. Propagating Perovskia from cutting is quite easy, though be sure to incorporate ample sand and grit for the drainage to make Oudolf happy. 

          Hydrangea Quercifolia (22/10/2011)

          (15) Hydrangea Quercifolia and Aspera
          Having lost its identification tag, I am pathetically unable to share the exact type of Hydrangea Quercifolia growing in the border. Originally purchased to sit elegantly in a pot in London, this little hydrangea moved to the country. It's thriving, so much so, that every spring it is pruned back very hard indeed. Pruning affects the size of the flowers mind; the harder you prune, the smaller the flowers. However, the smaller flowers makes the plant more upright as the weight of the flowers is drastically reduced. In addition to the mystery Quercifolia, the borders also include Hydrangea Aspera Villosa. This hydrangea seems more susceptible to frost damage, as last winter its lovely network of branches succumbed completely. Thankfully, it revived, growing lovely new green shoots in spring from its base. The flowers of the Hydrangea Aspera Villosa, look just lovely paired with Thalictrum Delavayi.

          Which are your late summer/autumn flowering favourites?

          Tuesday, 8 November 2011

          Wildflower Fruit & Nut Case; An interview with Sarah Raven (#2)

          Leading on from Horticultural Renaissance of Wild Flowers, this is the second post in the series; the interview with Sarah Raven highlighting not only her passion for wild flowers, but their importance to the natural habitat; the countryside.

          Photograph copyright Jonathan Buckley
          Introducing Sarah Raven is pointless. Any serious gardener will know her for her skill in growing tantalising fruit and vegetables, pulling off colour combinations worthy of Christopher Lloyd, command of wild flowers and respective pollinators, and turning (any) garden (and other) produce into the most delicious dishes. All of this can be read in her books, magazine articles, seen on television, perused on her website, or demonstrated in person at her farm; Perch Hill. When not at Perch Hill, Sarah, her husband Adam Nicolson, and their two daughters live at Sissinghurst Castle with its famous gardens in Kent. Sissinghurst is part of the National Trust, but as grandson of Harold Nicolson and Vita-Sackville West; creators of the famous gardens, the family are able to live there in perpetuity.

          Commended as she should be for mind boggling good, time management skills, it is Sarah's passion for all things horticultural, that is so compelling. Hardly surprising as gardening and a love of plants runs through her very DNA. Sarah is the daughter of John Raven, English Classics Scholar and renowned Botanist, and Faith Raven, designer of Docwra Manor Garden in Cambridgeshire.

          The pages of John (and Faith) Raven's enthralling book; A Botanist's Garden, reveal their love for their garden, consisting of plants that he described as those, 'we ourselves collected, occasionally in Britain but almost always from abroad, in their natural stations'. All above board explained Raven amusingly, with plant import licences and not as an 'illicit occupation', going to lengths, 'such as gum-boots or sponge bags, to snuggle the loot through the customs'. Raven's personable book is not just a botanical marvel, but throughout, exposes his stern respect for the natural habitat. He makes it abundantly clear that 'we never (printed in bold) dig up a plant unless it was locally abundant'. A mindset very much core to Sarah, in her general approach to gardening, but also endeavours to safeguard the natural countryside and the pollinators that depend on it.

          It was Sarah's father, who instilled in her, the love for wild flowers. She explained that most weekends, they would head off, in his Morris Minor, armed with 'two ham sandwiches and a large bar of fruit and nut, to find flowers'. A sizable bar of chocolate, would tempt any child, but be it bribery or otherwise, it certainly had an impact even beyond his daughter, where subsequently many others have been encouraged to follow suit. To admire wild flowers that is, not to eat large bars of fruit & nut...

          Here is what she had to say.

          Why do you have such a passion for wildflowers?

          'For me it’s something that I enjoyed doing as a child and therefore have a particular affection for wildflowers. Over the last 20 years I turned away from them, to other garden plants and activities, but it is in some way in my blood. There are a lot less than there were when I was a child, and things that used to be terribly common are now rare. Those that were absolutely everywhere, now are quite exciting to find. As a result, I became more interested in wild flowers, and therefore decided to do this huge book on them because we need to rekindle or rediscover wild flowers. Or for people who haven’t ever been in love with our wildflowers to fall in love with our wildflowers, because we have the most incredible and beautiful range of things in the most incredible and beautiful places. Few people realise they’re there, that is just a great loss. It gives me great pleasure, and I just feel more people should know about it'.

          In your book, you mention that ‘there’s nothing stuck up about the great British wildflower’. Did you mean that the appreciation thereof is perceived to be solely for those in the know about botany?

          Yes. I do think that. I think that it’s perceived as being a bit nerdy, or just the preserve of the gentry, elderly, grey-haired lady type thing. It has somehow gone out of fashion. I think even the word botanising is scary, it gives it almost too grandiose a feel. Similarly, that is why, bird watching became twitching, to include everybody, and not put anyone off. When one is stuck on a motorway in a terrible traffic jam, in a flower rich part of the world, like we were earlier in the summer with one of my children, it was great to see whether they could identify the plants as we were going past. Many they couldn’t, but hopefully next time, they might. For me it is just getting people to notice, rather than simply cruising around on our road systems, going for walks with our dogs and literally just turning a blind eye to the flowers. The whole idea of the book is to get people to think ‘oh, yes, that’s that one, I’ll go and look it up now’. Hopefully, when they see it next time they will remember it, then move on to the next one. That is how I learnt, hopefully others will do too'

          Is there a danger of the specific wild flower varieties becoming extinct?

          'Definitely. There is a fantastic organisation called, Plantlife, and they raise awareness about those that are on the verge of extinction. A shocking statistic brought that all home to me. I was doing some filming in Northamptonshire, when Andrew Byfield, Landscape Conservation Manager at Plantlife, said that in Northamptonshire one plant will become extinct every year, because it’s so intensively farmed. That is not the case for the UK, but it is to that county. There are many counties like that, so, we’re in quite a radical, threatening time'.

          What should one do?

          'I do feel that we just need to be very careful. There’s no point telling people to fall in love with the countryside. What we need to do is to get people to actually engage with it so that they care. No point standing on Speakers’ Corner. I spent so much time enjoying it as a child, and still can, and I feel really passionately that we need better understanding between people and plants in the countryside. The whole thing about never picking a wildflower is actually a great mistake. That’s how I learnt; picking something, bring it home and identify it. My father always had very strict rules; you could only pick one in 100, and if there wasn’t 100, then you jolly well didn’t pick it. But when I was able to pick one, I'd have it by my bed, and remember it, and that’s why I cared about it. Whereas, if people are just told they can't pick the flower, it doesn’t have the same effect, unfortunately.'

          You are much involved in the protection of our pollinators, where on the of scale of importance are wildflowers to them?

          'Incredibly. The more we draw on our natural habitat the more important they become. The trouble is we have destroyed so much of their natural habitat that we really need to think about restoring as many flowers as possible. Particularly wildflowers because our insects have evolved to feed from them. So, as much as the dahlia is a fantastic thing from Mexico, and I absolutely love them, and single dahlias being very good for nectar, not all our insects have the right mouthparts to feed on them. Whereas wild flowers that have evolved here, have done so specifically for particular insects. We need to remember that'.

          Photograph copyright Jonathan Buckley
          What about the danger of cross-pollination with cultivated varieties?

          'There are two that immediately spring to mind; the bluebell and the native daffodil. There is much debate about the native bluebell and the Spanish bluebell. The Spanish Bluebell, which is the garden form, and hence common to many gardens, is not actually the problem because it will only grow in sun.  The problem arises where it cross-fertilises with the native, the hybrid is born. The hybrid has the vigour of the Spanish, but the shade tolerance of the English, and that is a threat to the pure genetics of our native bluebell. The cover of my new book is actually a bluebell, because it is a supremely beautiful plant. If it wasn’t in such abundance, we’d probably treat it with much more reverence. The other example is our native wild narcissus, the Pseudonarcissus, where just by our and councils planting on roadsides, of quite coarse daffodils, there will be some muddling of the genetics of that as well. So to answer your question, we definitely need to be aware of it, but we also shouldn’t get too hyped up about it'.

          Do you use wildflowers for any other purposes than purely visual, culinary, or medical, or otherwise?

          Not as such, though I use comfrey and forage wood sorrel as they’re so abundant. There's samphire from Norfolk, which I love. So mostly foraging but as for medicinal, no not personally. Though wild flowers, do have medicinal value. Goosegrass (Galium Aparine), or as some people call it 'Sticky Willy', is the most incredible connective tissue healer. It is used to treat bad leg ulcers for example, very effectvely, by or making a poultice out of mushed up goosegrass. The Jodrell Laboratory at Kew runs an ongoing research project, where visitors fill out forms on any herbal remedies that they knew of that their grandparents or great grandparents used, and subsequently their teams investigate those that often repeat.

          Wildflowers are becoming more popular, such as at Chelsea Flower Show, Hampton Court, etc., particularly umbellifers. Do you anticipate this being translated to the general public through local garden centres?

          As 80% of gardeners get access to the plants through their garden centres, I would passionately encourage garden centres to get behind local native wildflowers. Local garden centres have a huge effect and influence on what appears in our gardens, and that’s why, if you walk down the street in an urban environment, gardens often look very similar. That is because they have all gone to the same garden centre. Fifteen years ago it was the Lavatera, and it was in every single front garden. Before that it was pampas grass, and so forth. So yes, it is really important that garden centre owners and buyers take a really good look into the whole wildflower thing. Afterall, the umbelliferea are very trendy with designers at the moment. There’s a great fashion at the moment for airy elegance, plants that don't fill out at ground level but are airy and translucent.

          Finally, could you tell me what the difference is, between pictorial and a wildflower meadow?

          They are totally different. Almost always, pictorial seed packets don’t include native wildflowers. Or at least certainly a low proportion of them. The main distinguishing feature between wildflower mixes and pictorial meadows, is that wildflower mixes tend to be perennial, for growing into grass. Not always, but they tend to be, whereas the pictorial meadows are specifically wasteland annuals, so they are cornfield weeds. Many don’t realise that cornflowers, corn poppies and corn cockles, are actually contaminants of grain, that came to this country as long ago as with the Romans. So they are actually not British natives. Extending on from that therefore, the pictorial meadows are not for grass, but simply for the flowers.

          Sarah has travelled the length and breadth of the country, to document a staggering 500 wild flowers into her new mammoth opus, 'Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven'. If you are planning to take this magnificent book with you on your botanising trips into the countryside, make sure you carry a big bag...

          Wednesday, 2 November 2011

          Horticultural renaissance of wild flowers (#1)

          Intentions to restoring native wild flowers in our field & garden originated from Sarah Raven's report on Gardener's World back in 2008. Years, and many gardening projects later, plans for the field are still on the back burner.  However, talk of Raven's new book on wild flowers rejuvenated plans. She kindly agreed to an interview, where she shared her passion, enthusiasm and vast knowledge on the subject. This is the first of three subsequent posts, with (2) Fruit & Nut Wild flower Case - An interview with Sarah Raven, and (3) Restoring a wild flower meadow. Peter Clay, Crocus co-founder (creator stunning wild flower meadow), Richard Hopkins plant manager Applegarth nurseries, Peter Chapman owner Perryhill nurseries and Paul Barney, owner Edulis (designer Garlic Farm 2011 Hampton Court Flower Show display), have also kindly shared their passionate views on this subject.  Hopefully, the findings will be of interest, as they certainly were to me. Though, if the topic of wild flowers is not for you, look away now... 

          Amongst our burgeoning bookshelves, is a much loved, tattered little green book, entitled 'The Observer's Book of Wild Flowers'. This tiny oeuvre, published in 1960s, describes its life purpose as to '.. awaken and intensify the interest sufficiently for all those seekers after the beauties of nature to take on this absorbing subject..' The study of plants, is absorbing to any gardener, yet surprisingly the appreciation of wild flowers in their natural habitat, seems to have become obsolete.

          Lovely lone wild Angelica in our field (21/09/2011)
          The pursuit of 'botanising' is seemingly reserved for the tweed adorned, gentry or simply terminology that only the eloquent Stephen Fry dare utter in an episode of QI. Yet, one can't help but wonder why, the appreciation of wild plants & flowers seems to be associated with such (academic) pomposity, whilst attending horticultural shows to admire cultivated flower varieties, is perfectly a-la-mode? Granted, the term botanising, does conjure up romantic images of Elizabeth Bennett strolling around in cumbersome, grass-stained regency dresses, but as Sarah Raven points out, 'There's nothing stuck-up about the great English wild flower. Don't think that to botanise you suddenly have to become all trainspottery, moral and proper. These English beauties are available to everyone. They are our common inheritance'.

          Britain's mild climate and varied geology has led to an envious range of natural wild flowers, listing at least 1500 native species. Many are familiar; Foxgloves, Wild Garlic, Fritillaries, Bluebells, Comfrey, Forget-me-nots, Snowdrops, but there are so many other glorious flowers, such as Pulsatillas, Great burnet, Silverweed, Purple Cranesbill, Tufted Vetch, Wild Carrot, Butterfly Orchid, Wild Liquorice, all just waiting to be discovered and identified.  'I think that we need to rekindle, or for people who haven’t ever been in love with our wildflowers then, to fall in love with our wildflowers, because we have the most incredible and beautiful range of them in the most incredible and beautiful places,' says a passionate Raven, 'Few people realise they’re there, and it's certainly one of the things that's enriched my life almost more than anything.

          Learning to identify the varieties and building one’s mental repertoire of wild flowers, is enormously gratifying. Even if just to recognise them for their wonderful names; 'Bastard Toadflax', 'Chickweed', Bird's Foot Trefoil', 'Bird-in-a-bush', 'Cock's Foot', 'Bloody Cranes-bill', 'Cudweed', 'Common Fiddleneck'. It would be interesting to know the origins of their eloquent names, but I suspect that may be a challenging task, even for the cleverest of University Challenge panels.

          Unfortunately, wild flowers are fast becoming increasingly scarce. The gradual demise of our wild flower meadows, is a complicated and protracted process, expertly (but painfully) documented in Charles Flower's, Where have all the flowers gone? Though as generally known, factors such as; urban sprawl, decline of green space, urban tarmacing, ploughing, fertisiling, spraying, of ancient meadows and grasslands has unwittingly led to the destruction of countryside variation and habitat. According to Plantlife, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of wild plants and their habitats, worst affected counties lose on average one native flower every year.(1) In the past century, at least 21 native species have completely disappeared, which is probably underestimated.(2) The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) say that at least, 98% of Britain’s flower-rich grasslands, such as hay meadows and chalk downlands, have been lost in the last 60 years.(3) Consequently, the delicate ecosystem that once was, is no more, much evident in the reduced stocks of native flora and fauna. Bees, bumblebees, butterflies and many other invertebrates are declining fast. There is simply not enough stock, nor diversity of wild flowers left, to sustain our native wildlife. Gardeners do their bit, but there is no true replacement for wild flowers. As Raven explains, 'It is true that nectar is a generic product. Nectar from a dahlia is actually the same compound as the nectar from a wildflower, but the trouble is that our insects have evolved to feed from our wildflowers. So, as much as the dahlia is a fantastic thing from Mexico, and I absolutely love them, not all our insects have the right mouthparts to feed on them.'

          Peter Clay's stunning wild flower meadow (Photograph courtesy Peter Clay)
          Encouragingly, within the gardening trade wild flowers seem to be undergoing a renaissance. Wild flowers, particularly the umbelliferae family, are increasingly popular in the show gardens at Chelsea, Hampton Court etc. Cow Parsley, Wild Angelica, Ammi Visnaga, Ammi Majus, Fennel, Sweet Cicely, increasingly take pride of place in the finest of show gardens. Other varieties too, such as Filipendula Ulmaria, Lythrum Sallicaria, Borage, Betony, Wild Majoram, Foxglove, are also becoming more popular in designer planting schemes to achieve that soft, natural look. It is not just the show gardens that have taken to wild flowers, inside the Pavilions too, wild flowers are increasingly appearing in the displays. The much praised and documented, gold medal Garlic Farm display at Hampton Court Flower Show, designed by Paul Barney, owner Edulis, is a good example. Though not all native (Cenolophium Denudatum), many others such as the Ammi's featured to create Barney's soft three-dimensional masterpiece. According to Peter Clay, Crocus, co-founder (and owner of stunning wild flower meadow), our current desire to incorporate wild flowers in herbaceous borders all started with the naturalistic planting movement and its revered prophet; Piet Oudolf. Natural gardens, such as those designed by Tom Stuart Smith and Dan Pearson, look like the countryside did in the days before pesticides and weedkillers. This, and current recession, has led to as Clay describes, a 'make do and mend' attitude and consequent increased nostalgia for all things countryside. 'Gardeners have always been conscious of man's influence on the countryside. Consequently they are looking for simpler plant forms, grasses, and particularly those plants that are good for bees', he explained. All this nostalgia may explain my somewhat tawdry interest in the recent Great British Bake Off series, and the fact that I now even own the associated recipe book. Despite the now legendary squirrel....

          The desire to mend the countryside, is good news for our native wild flowers. Annoyingly, we always seem to need to be alerted by designers, tv, magazines etc,. to notice and/or appreciate the endangered. In this case, even when available to all in the countryside and road side verges. Nonetheless, one can't help but be delighted to see the public rediscovering wild flowers, with garden centres experiencing increased demand for wild flower varieties. Peter Clay explained that Crocus have been providing native wild flower seeds, as well as plug plants, since 2002. Popular demand has seen the range extended, and sales thereof steadily grown. A trend, which Clay expects will continue in the coming years. Local nurseries are seeing a similar trend, Richard Hopkins (no relation to Anthony), plant manager at Applegarth nurseries in Chipping Norton, said that there is greater interest in wild flowers amongst their clients, due to the appeal of wild flower meadows, both on small and large scale. 'We are conscious of the importance of native plants and their wildlife value and so we stock named varieties whenever possible as part of our range. They perform well and sit well in the area that we supply', said an enthusiastic Hopkins. Hopkins added though, that despite heightened interest customers are often turned off buying potted wild flowers, as they simply 'don't look good' compared to their cultivated cousins. When it comes to wild flowers, one must disregard the plant buying advice from the Monty's, Carols and Alans. As Raven explains,'We are very impatient now and want plants to perform within a year. In their first year, for many of the perennial wildflowers, the base of the plant will actually be no bigger than a ten pence piece, because they are growing their roots. It is in their second year that they really put on a show, so they are just on a slightly slower timescale, than the herbaceous perennials we are used to.' Slower they may be, but as the enthused Hopkins added 'the difference between wildflowers and modern cultivars is that the former have evolved to flower and set seed successfully in their habitat so that performance, constitution and hardiness are assured. Modern cultivars have been selected primarily to flower precociously and be compact so as to make an attractive pot plant. Hence, due to commercial pressure their garden performance, constitution and hardiness may be secondary'.  Peter Chapman, owner of Perryhill Nurseries, explained that they too stock wild flower perennials, even though they don't distinguish them from other varieties. 'In general our customers are quite often looking for a natural effect but are not necessarily looking to use British natives.' He added that even though customers may choose them, they often do so without realising that they are natives. Perhaps, introducing some union jack clad 'British native' labels, mimicking the 'British food' labeling of the supermarket trade, could be an option to further encourage the public in their plant purchases?

          Peter Clay's stunning wild flower meadow (Photograph courtesy Peter Clay)
          Despite increased popularity, our native wild flowers continue to be in a precarious situation, affecting not just the countryside, but the pollinators that depend on them. We are fortunate to have organisations such as Plantlife, BBCT, and others, working to restore this balance. Through their work, they demonstrate that action can be taken, with subsequent recovery of native wild flowers and insects. Supporting organisations such as these is crucial. Now, I don't know if anything that we do in our garden will make a difference, but we will certainly try. Apart from respecting and appreciating them more in the countryside, wild flowers will become more integral in our garden. The herbaceous borders will certainly grace beautiful umbellifrae next year. Dozens of which are already brewing in expectant seed trays. The orchard ground is laden with Fritillaries and native snow drops, and the field will undergo intensive wild flower rehabilitation. On the latter mammoth project, to quote Kirsty Wark, 'More on that story later'.

          The future looks wild...!

          Additional information
          1. Sarah Raven, Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven, Bloomsbury, 2011
          2. Charles Flower, Where have all the flowers gone? Papadakis, 2008
          3. Roger Phillips, Wild Flowers of Britain, Pan Books, 1979
          4. RSPB, Wildlife of Britain; The Definitive Guide, DK, 2008
          5. Francis Rose (Revised by Clare O'Reilly), The Wild Flower Key, Frederick Warne, 2006
          6. Collins, Wild Flower Guide, HarperCollins, 2009
          7. W.J. Stoktoe, The Observer's Book of Wild Flowers, Frederick Warne, 1960
          8. John Raven, A Botanist's Garden, Collins, 1971  
          9. Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica,  Chatto & Windus, 1996
          10. Plantlife campaigns
          11. Coming soon - BBC Television Series, Bees Butterflies and Blooms, Sarah Raven

          Interviews with Sarah Raven (23/09/2011), Peter Clay (29/09/2011), Richard Hopkins (13/10/2011), Paul Barney (03/10/2011), and Peter Chapman (02/10/2011) conducted by Petra Hoyer Millar. 
          1. Plantlife, Species Decline
          2. Plantlife, Species Decline
          3. Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Wildflowers for Bumblebees

            Thursday, 13 October 2011

            Mini book review; 'Keep Calm and Pot On'

            Written by Liz Dobbs,  'Keep Calm and Pot On: Good Advice for Gardeners' is an endearing, linen-clad, pocket book, intended to provide good advice for gardeners. The iconic 'Keep Calm and Carry on' derived design certainly makes this an attractive option for many a Christmas stocking. Incidentally, the original poster, one of a series of three, created in 1939 to raise public moral on the eve of World War II, never actually saw the light of day.  Despite at least two-and-a-half million copies printed, hardly any were ever distributed. Discovery of an original copy in 2000, and subsequent exploitation, has elevated the design to cult status, on par with the beret bearing 'El Che'. Though he hasn't made it onto the cover of gardening books...

            The book consists of short paragraphs of gardening advice and practical tips, supplemented with witty gardening anecodotes by accomplished gardeners such as; Vita Sackville-West, Hugh Johnson, Gertude Jekyll, Monty Don and Christopher Lloyd, reminding one as to the reasons we slave away in our gardens. Other prominents, such as George Bernard Shaw, Alexander Pope, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Jefferson also grace the pages, of whom an interest in gardening was a pleasant surprise. My favourite quote has to be Harold Epstein's, which rings painfully true, 'It took years to learn what would not grow here. I like to say that I have the greatest catalogue of plants in my compost heap'. Or the more poignant, from the gardening maestro himself, Monty Don, 'Earth heals me better than any medicine'. Especially stirring after his serious ill-health in 2008, though I may be reading too much into this.

            The book's demure size, limits the possibility for any real literary substance. Consequently, for the experienced gardener, the admittedly restricted gardening advice and tips, have limited appeal. The omission of an index, makes the rather delightful publisher's prescribed idea, of 'taking this book outside with you into the garden', to seek advice when needed, somewhat problematic. That all being said, the book does include some helpful hints, though I suspect not enough, to merit its purchase solely for that purpose.

            However, the abundant quotes do make amusing reading, and hence to that end, recommendations to purchase are certainly on the cards. At £4.99, one can be sure that come Christmas, many a garden(ing) enthusiast, would be delighted to receive a copy.

            What of the long term appeal of this lovely little green book? One suspects it likely, for 'Keep Calm and Pot On' to be enlisted to the enviable status of loo literature, along with its fellow stalwarts; the almanacs, cartoon, holiday, and the '1001 things to do/see/eat/visit before you die' books.

            Finally, I leave you with another emotive, and very true, quote from the book, by Anne Nelson, 'Give me Valium, or give me a garden'.

            Reference; Liz Dobbs,  'Keep Calm and Pot On', Quadrille Publishing Ltd, November 2011.

            Wednesday, 21 September 2011

            Wordless Wednesday; Late September Garden

            Greenhouse Borders (21/09/2011)

            Greenhouse Borders (21/09/2011)

            Greenhouse Borders (21/09/2011)

            Kitchen Garden (21/09/2011)

            Kitchen Garden (21/09/2011)

            Sunday, 11 September 2011

            Gardeners' Holy Grail; Nursery Open Day

            With the dogus in tow, one very determined gardener hustled down the motorway to attend the last open day of the year, at the renowned Crocus nursery. As Crocus is not open to the public, with sole access to their wares available online, the open days are normally a prominent fixture in my calendar.

            Crocus' finest for purchase
            Our garden is simply chock-full of delightful Crocus horticultural offspring, and offspring thereof. Consequently, being able to visit the mothership itself, is a real treat. There is nothing quite like wading through aisle after aisle, brimming with fantastic plants. Subsequently, the purchase of excessive quantities of plants, including plants one never heard of, nor ever expected to purchase, is very much on the cards here. Unstinting wallet in hand, emptied car, here we go...

            Stunning array of plants available for purchase

            It is difficult to recall where shopping is as easy and relaxed, as it is here. On arrival, one is presented with a number printed on a set of stickers. As you make your way around the nursery, find a plant of choice, you simply mark the desired specimen with your number and the rest, as they say is history.

            Crocus employees picking selected wares for collection
            A team of friendly, orange clad Crocus employees, swiftly collect all numbered plants and bring them to the payment area. Once there, the plants are carefully placed in corresponding numbered trays, ready for payment & collection. Genius. No need to push around trolleys, or carry anything during your visit. I wish airports could work as efficiently as this. Mind, with this system, purchases are very easily made, as there is no physical contact with one's mountain of plants, steadily swelling at the exit.

            Extensive selection of plants & varieties
            The attraction to come to one of these open days is not just in the friendlier pricing, but very much the layout and organisation of the plants in the nursery grounds. One is met with stunning, praire-like, sways of flowering plants, in the respective blocks of colour, all beautifully arranged. Indeed, one can always go to a garden to see this, but like yours truly, there is usually a strong itch to purchase the new (or revived) favourite. That is joy of this exercise; you can actually buy the display! Very much in the style of the last day of the Chelsea Flower Show, but without the throbbing crowds or the tedium of having to carry anything.

            The forever impressive Sedums

            Like many I am sure, it is inspirational to see collections of plants and respective varieties clumped together in such numbers. The effect is stunning. For most of us, difficult to emulate through lack of space, but some elements can be incorporated, be it on a smaller scale. The rows of flowering sedums seen at last years visit have subsequently led to a very popular Sedum hedge in our kitchen garden.

            Chosen plants on their way to their new owners (the fallen over plants were swiftly put upright)

            At home, our bookshelves are bulging with books on plants, but there really is no better introduction to plants than to see them in the flesh, so to speak. There are always new plants and varieties to admire at the open days. Now that need not mean, that yours truly heads to Crocus simply for a mindless plant binge. On the contrary, a list of plants is a prerequisite, but one keeps an open mind. For instance, for some time, I have been toying with idea of grasses in the border, but never quite found one that I liked or one that would 'fit' the Greenhouse Borders. Until yesterday, that is.

            Proud new addition to the garden; Panicum Virgatum Rehbraun

            Meet my new addition; Panicum Virgatum Rehbraun, commonly known as Panic Grass. Simply stunning plant, with deep purple and green spikes, which will provide structural interest and great autumn colour in the border. According to the gospel 'Dream Plants for the Natural Garden', by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen, the Panicum Virgatum is a robust plant, good in any garden soil given full sun, late season grower, and the leaves of which start to turn red/purple in summer. Quite a tall plant, growing to 1.25-1.5m, so will probably find itself somewhere in the back end of the border. I'm delighted to have it. Dudley (dog) certainly approved as he was all too happily nibbling at them, over the back seat of the car, on our way home.

            Now, it would be untrue to say that the Panicum (x3) were the only purchase. I am proud to say that some restraint was successfully exercised, so fewer plants came home than usual, but still a fairly good haul; Veronicastrum Virgicum Album (x1), Lysimachia ephemerum (x2), Echinacea Purpurea Magnus (x1), Aster Umbellatus (x1) and Eryngium yuccifolium (x1).

            Now all I need to do is plant them...

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