Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Foxgloves tower at the Chelsea Flower Show 2011

At the risk of further swelling the inevitably vast coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show 2011; a few personal highlights, observations and photographs of the day.

Year on year, garden designers at the Chelsea Flower Show are expected to put on a novel show, and this year certainly did not disappoint. The talking point this year has to be Diarmuid Gavin's hanging, Irish Sky Garden, with its pink planted pod suspended high above the ground, overlooking his inspired horticultural creation. Glad to report that finally, the man whom is often wrongly overlooked in terms of metallic praise, finally managed to bag a well deserved Gold for his ingenious creation. Though admittedly, being but a mere onlooker, unable to venture further than the boundaries of his green garden, and hence simply admiring the lucky few allowed to oscillate in the hanging Eden pod, the effect was personally somewhat lost. That even, despite my being much taller than most of the onlooking punters....

Irish Sky Garden, Designer Diarmuid Gavin

In terms of sheer bonkers originality, none can top Diarmuid. Nonetheless, most of the show gardens showed off interesting novel design ideas, such as planted walls, and the odd luxury swimming pool common to most Monaco backyards. The latter, certainly of appeal to the increasingly hot, sun drenched Chelsea punters, eagerly pushing forward through the crowds, to catch a glimpse of the horticultural extravaganza.

Monaco Garden, Designer Sarah Eberle

As expected, the planting schemes in the show, urban and artisan gardens, superbly demonstrated diversity, colour and plant texture optimisation. My favourites were those that looked like seamless tapestries of repeat, soft muted planting with fluffy textures, softening the over all effect, without the need for any bold feature planting.

The Lands' End Across the Pond - Urban Garden - Designer Adam Frost

The Lands' End Across the Pond - Urban Garden - Designer Adam Frost

The Daily Telegraph Garden - Designer Cleve West - Best in Show

Laurent-Perrier Garden - Designer Luciano Giubbelilei

The show gardens dominate the media headlines, though personally, the Great Pavilion represents true Chelsea. The sheer skill of the nurseries to exhibit their wares to such a high standard, with such attention to detail and more often irrespective of the respective natural flowering seasons, forever astounds me. My favourite exhibitors, tend to be those that specialise in one (or few) plant type(s);  Bowden Hostas, Peter Beales Roses, David Austin Roses, Raymond Evison Clematis, The Botanic Nursery (Digitalis), Downderry Lavender Nursery, amongst many others.

Raymond Evison Clematis display in Great Pavilion

Interestingly, despite all the exuberant designer opulence and fancy new varieties, in my opinion, it was the common Foxglove that really stole the show. Amongst the vivacious colours of the displays and the crowding hordes of (rather nail-bitingly slow moving) punters, the Foxgloves respectfully command attention. All are stunning, but it was the spectacular, Digitalis x Mertonensis, that stood out foremost. The observant punter would have spotted it, strutting proudly amongst the fine planting schemes in many of the top winning show and urban gardens.

Digitalis x Mertonensis
Just as yours truly, many were dissappointed to have had to leave the Great Pavilion without this particularly treasured, though annoyingly, very sold out, seed packet. Digitalis 'Apricot' will have to do as a replacement, though that may be just for the short term....

Impatient crowds sensing the ever decreasing seed stocks of the magic Digitalis at the Botanic Nursery & Gardens display

One cannot visit Chelsea without the obligatory gawking at the odd gardening celeb. Joe Swift was in disguise - wearing a suit, the elegant Rachel (thank-goodness-my-husband-did-not-spot-her) de Thame was doing the rounds in the show gardens, and the forever charming James Alexander Sinclair was working away in the Great Pavilion, adorning his large infamous hat. To delight in James' words of wisdom on the whole Chelsea affair, press your red button on the telly now...

Crowds were gathering around Diarmuid Gavin's garden, though sadly not to admire his handy work, but to catch a small glimpse of Saint Alan Titchmarch in the neighbouring tv tower, strutting his stuff in front of the cameras. According to one of the fruit growers exhibiting in the Great Pavilion, just one squeak from the man about a certain plant, makes the cash registers rattle with rage. On that note, Diarmuid must have been somewhat enraged as Alan, steals all the man's hard earned thunder, simply by sitting down in a green box. Such cheek...

His royal greenness, Alan Titchmarsh, chatting to Joe Swift

And finally, after all that intensive horticultural education, some serious retail therapy is in order. Without fail, every year, the best shopping destination is Centre Sales Marketing (CSM), where I always seem to buy more pairs of gloves, than one could possibly ever use.

CSM's colourful gloves shop

Now, it would be a lie, if I said that it all ended there. For the fifth year in a row now, my husband and I, needed to sneak over to the Ever Edge stand, to pick up their Special Chelsea Flower Show Discount order form. Unfortunately, after 5 years of discussing the possibilities of purchasing quite some yards of their finest, they now annoyingly recognise us. The problem being that the yardage we require would probably involve house remortgaging, as they certainly aren't giving the stuff away. We have therefore been pondering on this purchase for a considerable amount of time. This year, I pulled the short straw, so after some deep glasses of courage inducing Pimm's, I managed to bravely, and thankfully (due to an inquisitive potential customer) obscurely, collect our annual contraband.

Who knows, maybe this is the year....?

Friday, 20 May 2011

It's starting to look like a kitchen garden

What a difference a little rain makes. Alas, little being the operative word. Despite reports of storms, rainy weather forecasts, we have just had one, admittedly good, shower two weeks ago. Since then, we have only been cruelly beguiled by thick luscious clouds, but none since have dropped any of their precious cargo. Fortunately for our, still dry, garden though, temperatures have dropped, which gives us all, plants included, a little breathing space. Though, I suspect this weekend, the hose pipe may need to do its magic again...

Elephant Garlic starting to bud
The initial weeks of soaring heat, the single downpour, and consequent more moderate temperatures has done wonders for the garden, but particularly for the Kitchen Garden. The Elephant garlic is coming up trumps, with the first buds appearing. They have absolutely lovely flowers that look just like regular Alliums, though come into flower from July onwards. Labeling them is recommended as they do look similar to scrummy young leeks, which are rather popular in our household....

Kitchen Garden 15th of May 2011

The Aquadulce Broad Beans are doing wonderfully and certainly living up to their super hardy reputation. Several frosty mornings have passed, but despite that, and the dry heat, the plants look very healthy indeed. The climbing and dwarf beans on the other hand have suffered and continue to be a tad sulky. Morning frost being the prime issue, though one suspects that the dry hot conditions have not been popular either. The Borlotti's, seem to be on the mend, but the Blue Lake French climbing beans, have some way to go yet. Kenyan Safari dwarf beans need to be reseeded, completely wiped out by morning frost. All proof that yours truly was deluded by the warm weather, wrongly thinking that the danger of frosts was over and planting out too early. Though I think we are now pretty safe in May. It may be an old wives tale, but I have often heard that after the winter, once all the months with an 'r' in their name (January - April) have passed, the danger of frost has passed. So far so good...

Broad beans Aquadulce

The artichokes; Imperial star and Romanesco, are starting to flesh out. On arrival they were somewhat smaller than imagined, though very healthy young plants nonetheless. They are fast growers though, so it is expected that they will imminently, treat the garden to their wonderful foliage display. If all goes according to plan, next year its artichoke on the menu...


Not sure if you can see them properly from the photographs, but I can't help but be pleased with the new labels. For someone with such poor name recollection, labeling is rather useful. Though for the vegetable garden, where things move around and varieties are often changed, I had yet to find labels that were temporary but attractive. Tediously hammering through the very attractive, though very expensive, (professional) copper tags, is just too much hassle for a vegetable garden. We use those for the more permanent plants, such as fruit bushes and trees. Thus, these long black plastic labels do just the trick. Credit for this find to Sarah Raven but you can also find them, in varying sizes and shapes, at the Essentials Company. Writing the first ones is nerve-wracking as the bold permanent white marker pen allows no room for error, though you quickly get the hang of it. Labels will be kept for future use, if/when that particular variety graces the kitchen garden again.

Beetroots and Sugar Snaps

Following the advice of the Mighty Monty on Gardeners' World, beetroots were sown and planted in batches, or modules as he calls them, of three to four. Saves much time along the way, and they do look healthy. So far therefore, this experiment seems to be working. If not, Monty is in serious trouble...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Beware the Blanford Fly; not the beer but the bug

Never once did it occur to me that, the gentle rolling green Oxfordshire countryside, could hide such a malicious horror. The exact location of the appalling crime is a mystery, but somewhere, either in the field, or in the garden, I was repeatedly stung, by a small homicidal black fly, a.k.a., the Blanford Fly.  The pleasure of actually catching sight of the little critter has yet eluded me, but the substantially swollen evidence left in its wake, is unmistakable.

Meet the Blanford Fly

The Blanford fly (Similium Posticatum) is a very small black fly, just 2-3mm long and tends to fly in close proximimity to the ground. Hence, explaining its stealth existence. Prevalence around the village of Blandford Forum in Dorset, resulted in its undeservedly smart name. To date, occurrence in the UK is only patchily distributed in the area running from East Anglia through Oxfordshire to Dorset. Though, there is evidence of further spreading, where bites have been reported as far as Bournemouth. Moreover, it seems that the cunning Blanford fly is no longer simply a countryside occurrence, as the flies are now also successfully reproducing in city areas. Their urban sprawl is reportedly due to the ever growing popularity of garden water features. Probably much to the credit of the Ground Force Decking Team and their queen of water features; Charlie Dimmock.

Just as it did to yours truly, the bite of the Blanford fly can cause severe reactions in people. The bites often occur on the legs and are very painful indeed. The symptoms will depend on one's sensitivity to insect bites, but generally include swelling (oedema), blistering, high temperature (38C+) and joint pain. Since learning of its existence, I was compelled to find out more and consequently prevent future bites for both my family, as well as fellow gardeners. Until we actually identified the culprit, we always presumed that the horsefly was the guilty party and were therefore never looking out for this much smaller villain. Mind you, it pays to keep an eye out for the dreaded horseflies too...

We are now well into the so called 'danger period' of the Blanford fly. Almost exclusively in May and June, the flies are actively searching far and wide to relieve a poor punter of his/her precious blood.  The recent hot weather does seem to have made them active earlier though. The bite goes mostly undetected though often leaving a spot of blood and immediate sore, itchy sensation. If you react to the bite as I do, one will consequently spend the rest of the week nursing terrible itching and a painfully large debilitating swelling. The males are harmless. It is Mrs Blanford fly, the true culprit, who is at this time, on the war path, seeking a meal of blood to assist in the production of her eggs.  I will spare you the exact details of their reproductive cycle, but in short; (1) Eggs laid in June/July in the ground, normally along riverbanks (2) Eggs hatch the following February/March (3) New adult flies appear in May with nothing but sex and blood on the brain.

Don't be put off gardening, or heading for a stroll in the lovely East Anglian, Dorset or Oxfordshire countryside, just take extra care in the coming two months. To reduce the chance of being bitten, one is probably best to wear trousers and keep ankles and feet covered. The recent hot spell encouraged yours truly to adorn her skimpy sandals, which proved irresistible, so wellies are probably the better choice. Blanford fly bites are more frequent in the middle of the day, as opposed to the early morning and evening activity of compatriot offenders; the mosquito, horsefly and midge. Avoid open areas in the garden, field, parkland, riverbanks in the middle of the day, particularly in hot weather. In addition, spray, spray and spray insect repellent all over. Steer clear of low garden furniture, and be on guard when working close to the ground. Always ensure one is covered up and exude nothing but copious wafts of eau de super repellent.

If unfortunately you have been bitten, clean the wound thoroughly and however irresistible, do not scratch. I am not of the medical profession, so one is best to seek proper medical advice. Though, having been bitten often and clearly very susceptible to insect bites, I know the routine. For personal treatment of my Blanford injury, a cure of anthistamine tablets, and application of both antihistamine cream as well as cream containing Crotamiton to stop the dreaded itching. Aspirin, paracetamol or neurofen for the pain. For the swelling, continued localised cold showers and/or cold compresses. And as per always, if symptoms persist a visit to the GP is advised.

For most the Blanford fly is a nothing but a pest, though with just a hint of ginger, the tables can turn. Some bright spark brought out an ale, named after the enfant terrible. According to the makers of Blandford Fly; Hall & Woodhouse, one of the active ingredients of ginger called zingibain could help reduce the fever and swelling inflicted by a Blanford fly. I have never tried this beer with its miracle Blanford fly bite curing properties, but there may be some truth in their marketing spiel. Zingibain is a proteolytic enzyme and anti-inflamatory, commonly used to relieve arthritis pain. Though to relieve the symptoms of a Blanford fly bite, I suppose one would need to down quite a few to obtain the right dosage. A prospect surely of much appeal to many, and especially to Hall & Woodhouse…..

Related information

Friday, 6 May 2011

Full steam ahead for Greenhouse Borders

Rather unsurprisingly, the current weather conditions have led to incredibly fast growth in the garden. Apart from those plants that have ceased to be, all are up and achieving new heights everyday. On the down side, so are the weeds...

Greenhouse Borders May 4th 2011
By no means an accurate scientific comparison, but photographs taken last year, seem to indicate that the borders are at least 3 weeks ahead of their usual growth rate. For yours truly, as the ever impatient gardener, it is just delightful to see the herbaceous Greenhouse borders coming along so swiftly. Though, one wonders what is in store for the rest of the season.

Greenhouse Borders May 4th 2011

As always, progress does come with the odd drama. The cold winter and dry spring have taken their toll. Our ancient Rosemary's, have all perished and so have many of the lavenders, particularly the more mature ones. The (Angustifolia Elizabeth) Lavender hedge in the Rose Walk, has suffered terribly and many will need to be replaced. In addition, numerous established plants have unfortunately lost their mature (wood) growth, where new growth has started again at ground level. This is certainly the case for our Phlomis Italica and Hydrangea Aspera Villosa. Naturally, delighted they have recovered, although dissappointed to have lost their mature height, so crucial for the structure of the borders. 

The Alliums are lovely, though admittedly not doing as well as last year. There seem to be fewer, and generally speaking the flowers and stems seem weaker. Quite a few have come up blind, that is, with no flowering stem. According to one of the Allium experts at the Chelsea Flower Show last year, leaving the Alliums to set seed, can result in their not flowering the next year. For most gardeners that would present a problem, as Allium seed heads, add much charm to herbaceous borders.

Greenhouse Borders May 4th 2011

Thankfully, it is not all doom and gloom though. Some plants have just lavished the conditions and consequently done terribly well. All Thalictrums, Eupatoriums, Phlox, Bistortas, for example are thriving and just beaming, many already crowning with a mass of flowers.

Greenhouse Borders May 4th 2011
Risking unpopularity, what we really need and crave, is rain and much of it!  Forecast seem to indicate that the clouds will be dropping off their precious cargo this evening and the coming weekend, but so far, all promises have been thwarted.

Pessimistically speaking, if disillusion is to be upon us again and solace is required, at least Monty is back on tonight. It may just be personal silliness, but I did find it terribly amusing in the last Gardener's World episode, that even, the mighty - always seemingly in control; Monty Don, is also able to forget where he put the spade, he used just a couple of minutes prior. Good to know that it isn't just me....
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