Monday, 22 December 2008


I found a cool website showing how Stonehenge looks with the sun coming through it. And it's always fun to read about New Grange too. 

I also read Simon Barnes at the weekend talking about hearing owls from his bed and talking about the solstice as "the year's handbrake turn" which I'm afraid is my new favourite poetic description of this wonderful event...

Sending you all many paganish greetings, happiness, and wishing all your plants a wonderful growing season ahead. 

Emma xxx

Saturday, 20 December 2008


After some Friday night shednagging we are delighted to be able to offer immediate response  shedbloggery from Vincent Square. Snow made out of felt, with real christmas greenery too. And no less than two santas one of whom I think was a girl. Or maybe an elf. These days, you never can tell. 

Friday, 19 December 2008


Yes, even Strictly Homemade Gardeners' Worlds can sometimes fill column inches with boring celebrity/ornament-driven show reports!  So here are my photos from this week's show at Vincent Square for those feeling too peaky / living too far away to make it:

You may not know quite how much I enjoy it when a banned article makes it into an RHS show. I can't help it, I just love it when I see a gnome gracing a show stand. As a result, this sight made me beam with joy at this week's Winter wonderland at Vincent Square. (We were actually asked to vote for our favourite stand and I was about to write down Trevor Wood's incredibly tasteful, beautiful, evocative willow display, and then I revealed my inner cheap and nastiness and just went for the illegal gnomes/succulents instead.)

Here is Trevor "Gandalf" Wood's lovely mouse assistant. And look at those incredibly tasteful, beautiful teazels and catkins in the background though.... mmmm....

There were some other purely beautiful things on display, so don't worry if you prefer your taste "good", I'm not going to make you look at tons of pictures of gnomes. Like this gorgeous white amaryllis, "Christmas Gift":

and this fantastic green and burgundy striped 'skinny' amaryllis which looks more like a weird orchid to me, except for those long stamens, and the colours reminding me of species gladioli I saw this spring at Wisley:

I think this is the Wizard of Ye Botanic Nursery. He looks slightly harried. I think Snow White might have been hassling him a bit to be honest. 

A very pretty businesslady negotiating to corner the world market in Poinsettia futures ("Buy, buy!" she's yelling down the phone to Tokyo.)

Trehane Camellias had hung little glass ornaments in some of the camellias, so there were these jewelled colours, however the owner surpassed herself by adding this amazing emerald outfit. What a colour combination, i just loved it:

The rock upon which my blog is founded, Sir Joseph Swift: he is having a little chat to the reindeer who runs Pennard Plants about their rare veg seeds. (I bought a packet of cold-proof lettuce called "Winter Density" from them, it has a picture of a polar bear in a deckchair on the front.) 

My award for the best outfit: Mike Park, botanical and horticultural bookseller, with his terribly pretty sister.

And finally here's one more Richard and Sheena's brilliant Snow White and the seven dwarfs, with seven different kinds of cactus playing the dwarves. Strangely American.... Now can you see why I felt it was worth my vote????


The chocolatier has been on the phone as a new scientific study reveals that eating a chocolate truffle makes you want... to eat another one! 


However my favourite part of the findings is the bit where apparently, giving in to your desire for luxury chocolate can unleash your inner desires for other high-end goods like Louis Vuitton handbags. My, but chocolate is bad for you in so very many ways....


This was in the Telegraph last week, just in case you don't take that paper (ahem). A family from Yeovil in Somerset have spent five years growing two conifers together to make this giant Christmas pudding, which they've then sprayed with paint for the cream and added some plywood berries. 

Best of all, they are only called Mr and Mrs Holley!


I have already written elsewhere of my tender feelings for BA's new ad campaign. William sent me this a few days ago which just added to my sense of mirth. He made it specially, like. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


This may be a bit of a mish-mash blog, perhaps because it's one o'clock in the morning! But as we approach the shortest day (much to my relief and that of my fellow S.A.D.-ers), my sleep patterns are now just nonsense.

One of my favourite poems in the entire language is John Donne's poem about St Lucie's Day, 13 December: the shortest day of the year in the old calendar. I just started looking some little things about St Lucy on Wikipedia, which is completely fascinating: a day very much still celebrated in Scandinavian countries with lots of little girls in white and candles, hence the picture.

But in fact Donne's poem is a bit more physical, earthly, even garden-ish, than these little girls might suggest. His "sap is sunk" and "life is shrunk", he says; "I am every dead thing". The world awaits renewal, Donne tells us, in the most fabulous seventeenth century poetry known to humanity. We are on the very brink of turning back towards the sun, he says, towards lust, sun and festival, from a dead, absent darkness. 

This wilder side of this time of year I found reflected in another Wikipedia article, entitled quite wonderfully "Wild Hunt". Had you ever heard of the Devil and his Dandy Dogs? Man, I really want to see them? (Or do I?)

(Most bizarrely of all, as we were nattering about Schoenberg earlier in the week, I just found out that there's a bit of his massive oratorio Gurrelieder that's based on a wild hunt. Cor, you never heard of something before and suddenly it's all over the place.)

Anyway I am going to go and try and calm my brain for sleep now, but check out Donne's beautiful poem when you have a quiet moment and a cup of tea. Tis the year's midnight, you know, and we now have only four days to go till the Solstice, which has a kind of wonder to it.

Monday, 15 December 2008


I got really excited when i read this headline! Then I realised it just related to boring old Joe Biden, and not to our beloved Miss of Chippenham. 

On the other hand, the dog is nonetheless almost as cute as Yolanda's. Which is saying something. 

Friday, 12 December 2008


Maybe it's all this talk of Christmas Carols but I felt a musical theme coming on when I thought about SHGW this week. I have (still) been singing "I'm a Lonely Pup in a Christmas Shop", no more so than when I belatedly caught onto America's newest internet viral craze, the Puppycam!

My illustration is from the award-winning Alex Ross's "The Rest is Noise", a history of twentieth century music. It's the fabulously austere Arnold Schoenberg doing a bit of watering in his garden in California, just after Schoenberg fled Nazi Germany. Which just goes to show. Well, I don't know quite what, but certainly, something. 


That dude with the beard is Jerry Garcia! The guiding light of the Grateful Dead. I couldn't find a photo of him actually gardening, but just listen to this snippet on Jerry's near-death experience, excerpted from Dennis McNally's fine 2002 social history of the band, "A Long Strange Trip", which sets a discussion of their work and music into a vivid consideration of the wider landscape of American culture at the time:

"The summer of 1986 was meltingly hot, especially in Washington DC. It was a standard-issue DC summer day, with the temperature over one hundred and the humidity nearly that high. Garcia was only outside his air-conditioned dressing room for three hours, but he was intensely dehydrated when he left the stage. He flew home the next day, July 8, and once there complained of thirst. 

He began to slip into a coma. 'I started feeling like the vegetable kingdom was speaking to me. It was communicating in comic dialect with iambic pentameter. So there were these Italian accents and German accents and it got to be this vast gabbling. Potatoes and radishes and trees were all speaking to me,' he said, laughing. 'It was really strange. It finally just reached hysteria and that's when I passed out.'

In a deep coma of initially unknown origin, he resisted the doctors' efforts to give him a CAT scan, so they injected him with liquid Valium. Unfortunately, he was allergic to it, and his heart stopped. The doctors zapped him back to life in a Code Blue response, and placed him on a respirator for forty-eight hours before he was able to breathe on his own."

The vegetable kingdom were speaking to him! Trust him to even have a more exciting coma than anyone else. 


Musicians and creative artists from all genres have been known throughout history for a more-than-average willingness to abuse the fruits of the garden in pursuit of what they call "higher seeing", and what we all call "seeing if you can get high". 

However recent news from China suggests this tradition is even older than hitherto suspected. 


When you saw the title of my post you may have imagined I was going to be talking about Mutt Lange, producer of Def Leppard's classic "Animal", or perhaps long-time collaborator of Metallica and "the Crue", Bob Rock. 

The truth is that I actually refer to a famous speech given by Metal's man of Iron, Joseph Stalin, during 1934. Here's a quick excerpt:

"We must cherish every capable and intelligent worker, we must cherish and cultivate him. People must be cultivated as tenderly and carefully as a gardener cultivates a favourite fruit tree. We must train, help to grow, offer prospects, promote at the proper time, transfer to to other work at the proper time when a man is not equal to his job, and not wait until he has finally come to grief."

That's what Koba really meant! He intended for people "not equal" to their jobs to be transferred! Retrained! Helped! Cherished like a favourite fruit tree!

Not murdered with ice picks! Honestly, I don't know how those guys got it so wrong. 

Monday, 8 December 2008


Look I am someone who likes high art literature; but in downtime my favourite thing in the entire world is detective fiction. And detective TV programmes. So obviously I was very pleased when they decided to make a TV programme of Wallander. But honestly! It's rubbish! They get a super Shakespearean actor to play my best Scandinavian cop... It doesn't work! Wallander is Swedish! He doesn't look like Kenneth Branagh! To be honest, in my head he looks more like Ken Stott. Well, all the cops look like Ken Stott, don't they?

But also it's just a bad adaptation. I don't like it. It's beautifully shot, and of course Svenska is so gorgeous to look at. But to me the books give a strong sense of Swedish society, which the TV programme utterly fails to do. Anyway, a big thumbs down. but I'm still watching it on I-Player. I'm just not giving it my full attention....


(Billbergia vittata, Brazil)

If you are one of the regular devotees of Baklava you will know that I am one of Kew Gardens' massive team of volunteers, providing everything from weeding to (in my case) free guided tours to the general public. 

Every so often, we guides have to update what we know, so that we are right "on message"*. So today I spent the morning with a load of my colleagues in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, swotting up on bromeliads, orchids and carnivorous plants for the upcoming Tropical Extravaganza. 

(Neoregelia seideliana)

My findings: Everything just looks so lovely. And huge. And crazy. And colourful...

And lots of other bloggers have been saying how there's no colour in the garden at the moment... 
make your way to Kew Gardens ladies and gentlemen... 
you will not be disappointed...

(Another Bromeliad whose name I forgot to ask)

(Sarracenias: increasing popular with flower arrangers, and thus threatened in the wild)

(Masdevallia the weirdest looking orchid, showing off its three fused sepals)

(Arid landscape bromeliads, top walk, POW)

*Speak to the marketing department about this, not me. 

Thursday, 4 December 2008


Yum yum yum. It's been a bumper week for nice garden print arriving. 

First Hortus, the wickedest gardening magazine there is. Then Garden History, the journal of the Garden History Society, and today the Hardy Plant Society seed list. 

It's a very staying-in time of year, and it's rather staying-weather as well, so it's very nice to have something good to read. 

I always find myself almost unable to read it because the paper's so creamy, the spine is so pristine; but I really enjoyed David Wheeler's musings on crocosmias and day-lilies; and Hugh Johnson's account of judging Bulb of the Year made me smile because I was there, championing the Camassia. (I didn't win though.) I also loved the sweet piece about hybrid teas and their fans, because they remind me of my childhood. 

I am going to be rude, though, about the "Eros toi Sofia" article, telling the history of a great Ukrainian garden. The garden bit was great. But after twenty pages I was slightly bored of Felix and Sophie, and utterly horrified to read at the end:  "Parts Two, Three and Four will appear over the next three issues." YAWN! I am tempted to ask for a refund...

Garden History
It smells soooo good. 

Three really interesting things in here this quarter:

Johnny Phibbs on "the viewpoint" in eighteenth century gardens. Love him, love his viewpoints

Anne Helmreich on Edwardian gardens for health. She wrote a really intriguing book a few years ago about English national identity and gardens; this is all about fresh air and boisterous exercise to keep body and mind in good shape. Very interesting. 

Scott Zona on the horticultural history of the date palm. Brilliant. And dates are very christmassy. 

Lastly then: 

HPS Seed list
Okay, here's the thing. If you aren't a member, you need to be a member. Firstly, it has the best magazine ever. Really really good. Not like the slightly random mags you get from the Fuchsia Soc et al. 


Come on fill in your application form right now
Let me give you some highlights:
  • six different species of Angelica, including gigas, taiwaniana, and ursina. 
  • five weird and tempting sounding Bupleurums
  • twenty different Dieramas (don't bother: they will take forever, but that's not the point)
  • A gazillion hardy geraniums
is your mouth watering yet? 

Only disappointing thing? Nine euphorbias, a bit weak, I thought. Never forget the euphorbias, my friends. Maybe I will have to send some of my seed in, next year. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Okay that's it, no more jokes about BBC weather online, now I just hate them. I checked their temps before I went to bed last night and the whole of London was a zero. NORMALLY this would mean that where I live (a little warm microclimate just the other side of the river from Kew Gardens) there was no hard frost. 

However when I woke up this morning all my echiums were frosted. Sigh. I know they can get through this kind of a punch because it's happened before, but honestly, I'm just infuriated with the website. 

I think I should have an air thermometer on the window really. But then the plants nearest the house haven't been touched by frost at all - a bottlebrush, a Euphorbia mellifera, so obviously the air nearest the house isn't freezing. 

So I would like to know - how do you know if frost is going to be hard, or just a dusting? What equipment do you use and trust? Or are you just out there on cold nights, sniffing the air and saying "Aha" like a Johnny Deppish sort of gardener-pirate? All tips gratefully received. 


As all top executives know, there's always someone in human resources keeping an eye on what you're up to: ticking the appropriate boxes, recommending large bonuses  (or, in my case, scribbling "has again been told not to sit down during shop opening hours" on my third formal warning).

The Executive Gardener was a little tardy delivering this weekend's promised newspaper review, which seems a bit lax given it's only the first week this feature has run. Mind you, "tired and emotional" we can all be, so we won't let that affect our assessment.  

After a brief skip through the Telegraph, the EG showed taste in tipping the executive (presumably) bowler hat to Helen "we are not worthy" Yemm and highlighting the M Wilson snaps (anybody got a copy they can send me they haven't used for mopping up cat pee?). 

I'm glad to hear that someone has written about Thrive but a bit annoyed I didn't get around to it sooner because a friend was going about it months and months ago and I'm an idiot. 

I love Carol Klein, so I don't mind if she recommends Annabelle. I'm not sure that the general gardening punter would know Annabelle off by heart just yet - I know that Pete Free was saying it's a plant that visitors to Lytes C often ask about... Surely there have to be some gardening columns that cater for the more general reader who doesn't know everything, and for whom nice simple stuff is where they want to be? 

The EG might like to note that at present s/he does not have to say goodbye to Cheeky Cleve, as he appears every week, Pavord-independent. I was inspired to look up the thing about ladybirds on the indy website. It's so cute! How come the EG didn't mention that? Cleve is so good he is like the St Francis of the allotments. 

And finally to Sunday's papers: I feel the EG doesn't really have to do any more now, surely that's enough for one week, poor thing is exhausted, have another glass of wine and why not just skip Sunday right out? 
Honestly, we realllllllyyyyy don't mind at all! Oh no, no particular reason....