Saturday, 30 August 2008


DCI Barnaby: Well, thank you all for coming. We know that you are all keen to get a bit more information on the Don Hall case, and we hope that you also may be able to be of help in getting a message out to the general public. 

Firstly, there have been a lot of media reports about the knicker elastic found in a flowerbed during our fingertip search. We'd just like to say at this stage that a sock voluntarily came down to the station yesterday to give a statement, and as a result we've been able to completely clear her from the enquiry. So this does seem to have been a bit of a red herring

Secondly, there has been a lot of comment about the blood at the murder scene. Yes, we did find some blood at the murder scene, although as early reports suggested, Brother Buckland was strangled. In fact it now seems likely that there was an element of sado-masochistic torture before the victim died and that we are looking for a really cold-blooded killer. 

Thirdly, we have one particular detail of the case where we think the public can help. As some of you may know several days before the murder the Vicar received an anonymous letter quoting Habbakuk, and when it came to an examination of Brother Buckland's body it seems that he was wearing underpants, which, not to put too fine a point on it, were not his own. Further research by the forensic lab suggests that these pants were used to strangle him before he was redressed. [gasps of shock] Some research by our own Sergeant Mouffetard tracked down the makers on the internet and I attach an image of them here

As you can all see there is obviously some sort of connection between the two clues, but we have yet to work it out. But if anybody knows who the real owner of those underpants are, I think we'd be a lot closer to solving this terrible tragic crime. Any questions before we have to go? Yes, one from the rather dark bruised-looking fingernail at the back.

Bruised Fingernail: Inspector Barnaby, this knicker elastic lead was so patently a red herring that I can't help feeling it may have been a fit-up. Have you got any comment?

DCI Barnaby: Yes well Mr Nail, we are looking at that possibility. I assure you that perversion of the course of justice is a crime we take very seriously indeed, and if someone is responsible we will do our utmost to bring them to book. Another question? Yes, the gentleman in the South American sun hat with the tassels.

Man in Hat: Inspector Barnaby, I can't help noticing your wife is considerably better at finding her way into criminal lairs than you are. Have you ever considered stepping aside and letting her take over?

DCI Barnaby: (Chuckles) Yes I have. But then who would make dinner? Next question. 

Anonymous: I feel strongly that all the attention in this case is going on Brother Buckland, but what about Tibbles? Just because a living being is of a different genus, it doesn't mean their death shouldn't be treated just as seriously! I think you are sweeping Tibbles under the carpet! 

DCI Barnaby: Oh dear that seems to be all we've got time for. We'll convene again on Wednesday. 

Friday, 29 August 2008


Sometimes you have to take a break from fighting crime. Inspector Barnaby a.k.a Jim Berjerac told me that. Sorry I didn't do SHGW last week but I honestly had been led to believe we were expecting the Darce onscreen and that therefore there was no need for me. Anyway I notice that this week on Gardeners World Proper we are getting an hour of Sarah Raven, so I felt compelled to provide some light entertainment for those who find Dr Raven's all-encompassing skills just, well, slightly frightening

Here at Baklava we take a rather more Girls Aloud approach to horticulture. This is not to say that when we find something as cool as a slowworm at the allotment we start shrieking. Well, okay, we start shrieking. But really, really quietly. We don't want to scare it!

And then we run and get the phone to take pics. Anyway, well done the Beloved for spotting it, in twilight conditions, whilst being made to toil on the soil in a way he probably wasn't expecting when he graduated from St Martins. I love slowworms and hadn't seen one in Ealing for ten years so it was a big Augusty thrill. Did you know the latin name is Anguis fragilis? Sounds like me after a stressful week. 

However this week would not qualify - I have had a really nice time, especially doing lots of neatening up at my allotment, trimming paths and squaring up beds, which I find deeply satisfying in some anal way I can't quite explain. Basically Alys is my idol and as far as the allotment goes, I just ask myself, WWAD

I have also been this week to Jekka's Herb Farm with Veg Plotting (more later) and have started making a cake for Victoria's Open Garden; and I went to the best village show ever (only in real life, obviously) and was waylaid from the tombola by none other than Lila das Gupta (it was a very top class type of show). But first, my supernatural meeting on Monday with William Lobb. Pretty surprising given that he's been dead since 1864


We didn't actually go to Wisley to look for William Lobb. I quite fancied going because I hadn't looked at the Piet Oudolf or Tom Stuart-Smith stuff round the glasshouse when I was there the other day for FuchsiaFest. I also quite wanted to have a look at the orchards now the apples are nearly done.

But when we arrived, guess where we had to park? Car park 3 row N! Have you ever, ever had to park that far away? You'd think it might be depressing, but actually it was brilliant. There was a whole special camaraderie amongst us "far-awayers" as we became known. We sang songs and had lots of in-jokes to pass away the long days of trekking it took us to get to the entrance. That's the spirit!

When after 38 days on the route we finally made it in the gate, we first of all had a walk up the pinetum, where we slightly unexpectedly met William Lobb. Now normally I would run away from a man in heritage costume but he was hilarious. William Lobb was a nineteenth century Cornish plant hunter who worked for Veitchs, and he brought back the first seed of the Giant Redwood. As well as the Monkey Puzzle. 

Anyway Lobb was really interesting about the Wellingtonia (now Sequoia) that he discovered, and all about the history of how he did it. The whole experience changed my snotty attitude towards people dressed up as historical types and I would definitely wander up and chat to a plant hunter now if I ever meet one again. Interpretation of gardens is something I find very interesting, especially since working at Kew, and I thought this really, really worked. 

Then we looked round the buddleia trial. This is the kind of thing my loved one finds it important to do properly. In fact, I'd be pretty surprised if the actual judging committee is stricter about how to do than he is. At least they are actually allowed to talk to each other. Anyway we duly filed our results without consultation and were then allowed to pose for photos with our choices.

Mine is pink, predictably.

Just NB the note of refined professionalism he is giving off, as opposed to the air of the slightly trivial emanating from me. We did eventually make it to the apples; I ate quite a lot of windfalls off the ground and went home feeling a bit cidery. Medlars looked amazing, as did PO and TSS's bits. 


I finally got to meet Veg Plotting today in very happy circumstances at Jekka's Herb Farm. There were plenty of cats in evidence: in fact we were told to check our cars before leaving for Borage, a large and adventurous grey, as he "has already gone to Chelsea and Hampton Court."

Jekka's talk about how to look after your herbs in winter was great, and it's repeated at 11am and 2pm tomorrow and Sunday, if you can get there. It wasn't very long, maybe 25 minutes, but you just got such a nice sense of her, how the nursery works, and her sense of plants. It was really really intimate and you could see everything - despite the fact that she was saying "this is the most people we've ever had!" in slightly amazed tones. VP and I particularly fascinated by her amazing range of tools - I can't believe her espousal of Bekko secateurs will not eventually lead to the Felco backlash, and the tiny Snips she uses ("John Lewis Haberdashery Department") made me water at the mouth. 

She did a nice thing about how it is time to get on with propagating strawberry runners - she said some called them Irishman's Cuttings ("because they already have roots on") but anyway I felt inspired to get on with that job on the four little wild strawberry plants I bought. 

The other thing I was stocking up on was weird mints, as all mine have somehow gone, and she gave the interesting piece of advice that you shouldn't mix mints in a tub ("Unlike BBC Gardeners' World,") she said, wrily. Apparently if you do the tastes will eventually intermingle. I feel I want someone to explain this odd process to me, but in the meantime, the new pineapple, Atlas Mountain and chocolate mints are going in separate containers, Jekka. 

We finished up snacking on garlic chive petals, and I, like many other suckers, immediately bought plants. I've put chive flowers in salads before but this is another one to add to the mental menu. Jekka announced she's writing a herb cookbook for 2010 so we fans have that to look forward to now. A great morning out, made especially good by the hour-long gossip in the car parking field by the comfrey. 

Lovely VP demonstrates her vintage potato fork as I check out people's carboots and interview them about their plant trolleys and thermos flasks (such a journalist. Or is that such a nosey?)


So far in my life, I would say that Kew Horticultural Society is the only gardening show I've ever been to to have its own clairvoyant. In this, as in so many other ways, it really is a cut above. 

For a start the clientele are well classy. I met my friends Arnold and Iolanthe (Arnold had just taken a prize certificate in the Jelly class) and then I was waylaid by the fragrant Lila das Gupta while I nosed through the second-hand books. 

Secondly, the produce is just unbelievable, attaining almost Stepford levels of perfection. In fact, walking from my house and crossing from the north bank of the river on foot I realised there is possibly some sort of vortex of superiority you walk through at round about Kew Bridge Station which transports you to a higher state of being from what you were when you left mere W5 some 17oo metres previously.

Even the stuff being sold on the veg stand has a ridiculously posh pedigree - all grown on the allotments given to Diploma students on the Kew course.

Lila explained to me that overall winners of the Kew show are awarded the "Banksian Medal" - you are then entitled to continue competing in individual categories, but may never again be awarded overall prize. (See, even their political systems are fairer over there!)


Look at them dahlias. In fact the only imperfection I saw the entire way round was that absolutely no one's roses had escaped water damage. 

A highly competitive lady mentally calculating how she could ever grow veg that good.

What that lady wants.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


From the Midsomer Inquirer, Evening Edition, 28th August

The sense of fear and unease which has hung over Midsomer for the last week came to a terrible close this evening when the body of a man in his forties was discovered at the old manor house, until recently the home of Colonel Don. Tongues are wagging in Midsomer Montague tonight as police closed off the Don Hall area to search for a possible murderer, after suggestions were made informally that the dead body is none other than Brother Buckland, Colonel Don's heir. 

Workers installing an organic swimming pool at the million-pound manor dialled emergency services just after 4.30pm today when they became alarmed at the lateness of tea. After venturing upstairs, Carmela Richards, 48, a neighbour, said, "They came running downstairs shrieking about blood. I went to their aid, ran up and entered the bathroom. I saw him just lying there, and at first I thought that Brother Buckland had probably just been trying out a bit of this fashionable new 'gloveless pruning'. Sadly, that wasn't the case. He'd been murdered in cold blood, strangled around the neck until the life was sucked from his body."

It appears that yet again the curse of the Dons has struck. Don Hall has long been said to suffer under a curse placed on the family by a beetle-loving entomologist in the nineteenth century, who fell out with the victim's ancestor William Buckland after he ate a particularly valuable specimen from the top beetle prof's collection. Brother Toby Buckland, a divine belonging to the United Ethical Church of Devon, had only been in residence at the Hall since last night, after being unexpectedly favoured last month in the Colonel's Will and Testament, and it seems as if the curse has acted on the Hall's new occupant quicker than ever before.

Police are said to be "flummoxed" by the crime scene: "It's almost the perfect crime," said a police insider this evening, "This person definitely knew exactly what they were doing." The only evidence as to the murderer was a slightly used-looking piece of knicker elastic with some paper strands attached, found in a nearby flowerbed, although the search for clues goes on tonight as darkness falls.

If that weren't enough bad news for one day, "Tibbles", a mixed-race cat who had been a favourite of the late Colonel Don, has been found drowned in a lavish garden pond adjoining the house. Medics tried to revive the cat but unfortunately the emergency services were called to the scene just too late. A spokeswoman for the Anonymous Cat Defence League said "It's completely indefensible. It's one thing to murder a person, but to drown a cat, who's never done any harm to anybody? I don't know what the world is coming to when this kind of thing goes on right under your noses." A press conference on both cases will be called first thing tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Well my dears, it has been a few days since I last spoke to you and yet so very much has happened here in quiet Midsomer Berryfield. 

As you know, I heard an odd argument taking place at the vegetable patch a few days ago, and I had the strangest sensation that I recognised the two voices involved. However I don't like anyone to think of me as a nosy old woman, and so I tried very hard indeed to think no more about it. 

On Saturday morning, though, I happened to be passing the vicarage on my way to the church. I could see Rachella, the lovely young girl who married our vicar, standing amongst her beautiful cottage garden in one of those brightly-coloured raincoats she does seem to like. And yet she seemed to be very upset. 

"Hello, my dear," I called to her. 
"Oh, why, hello, Miss Maple," she said, sniffing. "How silly of me to be so upset." 
"But what's this? Are you crying, Rachella?" I asked. "Have your roses got mildew again?"
"No, Miss Maple, it's worse than that," she sobbed into her hankie. 
Worse than mildew? For Rachella, I knew it must be something very serious indeed. 

"Come, come, dear," I said, reassuringly, "Let's make a nice cup of tea and you can tell me all about it."

We went into the house and she began to tell me a very strange story indeed. She said that she had been over to the Manor that afternoon to bring some flowers as a house-warming welcome for the new occupier. 

"You'll remember, of course, Miss Maple," she said to me, "that everyone in these parts had assumed that Colonel Don's estate would go, after his sad demise, to Joseph Swift, the plucky young working-class chap from London who has so charmed his way into the Colonel's heart over the last few years. Well, all of our hearts, really." She smiled wistfully.

It was not to be, though. Rachella explained that when the final will and testament was read out (in Mr Brinkley's office in Midsomer Mackerell) there were audible gasps of shock. A huge surprise: the whole estate was to be left to Brother Toby Buckland, some very vague religious relative of the Colonel's.

I thought about what Rachella was saying. Here in Midsomer Berryfield, we all knew very little about Brother Buckland. In fact, we still know very little. But he is due in the village any moment, and we will soon make the acquaintance of our new neighbour, and in many cases, our new landlord. 

"But Rachella," I asked, "Why are you so particularly upset today? We've known all about Brother Buckland's coming for days."

"It's not Brother Buckland," she sobbed. "It's that I went into the library, to wait for Beaches, the housekeeper, you know. I happened to be looking at the family photographs. How lovely I always find them, everyone smiling, and Colonel Don in his corduroys, digging over the vegetable patch."  

"It was then that I noticed," she said, with a note of dread in her voice. "Somebody was missing. Some one has been through all the family photos and removed one face. I looked everywhere! But there was literally no sign of young Master Matthew!" 

Our eyes met. What could this mean? I didn't doubt Rachella for a moment: Master Matthew was always a striking young man and it's not difficult to pick him out in a photo. Somebody had, quite purposely, removed every photo of him from the family collection. How very, very strange. In fact, it reminds me of nothing so much as when Agnes Dentelle moved into the village, and there was that terrible business about her pet rabbit. 

I know this is just a sleepy little village, and yet I do so very much hope that something very bad isn't about to happen in Midsomer Berryfield...



Feeling slightly more cheerful today, after writing a really fun piece about Raymond Evison, interviewing Alain de Botton for the Times, and then digging my allotment for an hour. 

My latest thoughts on cats:

Last week, I was back to thinking cats are rubbish. This is because one of them actually managed to get inside my bag of coarse grit and do a poo. How is this even gymnastically possible? And why? Except that I guess coarse grit is a bit like kitty litter. 
Then last night I heard an insistent miaowing: I opened the window to see what on earth was going on and the pussycat just jumped right past me, into my house and took a tour. She was particularly interested in the spot under the stairs where I suspect mice come from, and turned her cute little nose up at some cold chicken in favour of sticking her head right down the side of the floorboards in that spot. I took a photo - what a sweet little cat. If I had to have a cat, I 'd have one like that. 

Anyway back to the allotment. Was particularly pleased to see that the allotment secretary has not been to her plot in what looks like weeks and it's covered in docks, so I can hardly be going to get into too much trouble, can I? Especially as I HAVE GROWN A CABBAGE.....

I don't know how you personally feel about savoy cabbage but I couldn't really be any more pleased with myself. All it has to do now is heart up... YUM YUM YUM YUM YUM. I have never grown a brassica before.... EXTREEEEEMMMLY PROUD OF MYSELF!

Sunday, 24 August 2008


I just went to buy the papers, feeling relatively hopeful because for once I'd seen the picture of me in advance and I knew it was nice (often my biggest worry, in a sad sort of way). Also, my piece this Sunday was about going to Hyde Hall to give a friend some help with a garden, so I was looking forward to seeing how the whole piece looked after editing.

So imagine my sense of sinking horror on opening the paper and finding that the photo of me in the Dry Garden at Hyde Hall had been subtitled "Emma Townshend on how she turned a load of old builders' rubble into a unique dry garden". 


I don't usually feel much sympathy with Giles Coren, but I did have a little moment. 

It makes me sound like some slightly mental Baron von Munchausen compulsive liar who invented everything; and the only thing to say otherwise is a tiny little label on the photo itself saying "Matthew Wilson's dry garden at Hyde Hall". 

I just feel so excruciatingly embarrassed. The only good thing is that on the website someone / Lady Luck has intervened, and it's got a much more appropriate "School of Hard Rocks" standfirst, which seems much better at expressing my sense of making a bit of a pilgrimage to a garden I find really inspirational. 

I just wrote an email to my editor to complain, but if anyone else wants to as well, help yourself. I just think it's outrageous to change the way a piece reads that much, so that it sounds as if I'm claiming credit. 

Going away now to comfort eat about five plates of baklava. 

Friday, 22 August 2008


As many of you may know I am accustomed to take a walk into the village most mornings, to pick up my newspaper. At my age you do need a little exercise to keep the mind sharp - and even then, it may not be quite what it once was. Anyway, as I was turning the corner into Montleberry Lane I heard raised voices coming from quite nearby - in fact, it sounded like it was coming from the late Colonel Don's vegetable patch.

"How very intriguing," I thought to myself, because of course, only recently there was that terrible hoo-ha in Midsomer Berryfield over the inheritance of Colonel Don's estate. In fact, the whole episode reminded me rather of when the housemaid at dear Mrs Codrington's disappeared with the silver cream jug. But of course, she hadn't taken it all! Anyway, where was I?

Ah yes, the vegetable patch. As I drew closer, I began to be able to pick out what the two voices were saying.
'It's just not on!" shouted one voice, a man's. Something in his voice reminded me a little of Eric Danby. Of course, he always liked to tell everybody he'd worked his way up from nothing. But it wasn't true - his mother was the daughter of an Earl.There are so many secrets, you see, in a village. Anyway, the first reminded me a little of Eric.

The second voice immediately replied, quite haughtily: "I'll do what I like! I'm in charge now -and there's nothing you can do about it!" I then heard that speaker stalking off.

Well, the conversation did seem to have turned nasty, but I felt it was really my duty to the peaceful life of the village to keep still for the moment, in case anything else ensued. Sure enough, I heard the first man say one more thing.

"We'll see about that," he snarled.

I do hope that something nasty isn't about to happen in Midsomer Berryfield.

Thursday, 21 August 2008


After many months of discussion our new prelate has been chosen, and I hope all the congregation will gather together to wish Brother Buckland luck in his new task. Brother Buckland has said he will bless anyone who comes to commune with him on Friday evening: he is shown here working in our vegetable garden here at St Berryfields, showing some small children (offscreen) all the accessible beauty of God's wonderful creation while humming "All Things Bright and Ethical" (a hymn of his own composition). 

We do so very much hope that he will be able to heal all the differences which affected our community during the election process, especially by encouraging people to talk and to pursue the good life, right down to their underwear

We do hope that this moment can signal an end to hostilities, and yet I have received an anonymous cryptic letter  as follows:

"God's will has not been done, and we will never rest until we avenge the wrong done to us, for as it is said in Habbakuk 2:11 - For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beetle out of the timber shall answer it."

Oh dear. I do hope this isn't the beginning of trouble in Midsomer Berryfield...


I have been taking people round Kew as a volunteer guide since December 2006, and I have never seen the Princess of Wales' Conservatory chameleon. I wasn't particularly upset about this, because I do know where to find the axolotl (which can usually cheer people up in a white, underwater, albino sort of way). I think there's more than one chameleon, too - Kew gets to keep any illegally imported reptiles confiscated at the airport, and there are a few in the house. And I'd still never seen it.

Most weeks I do one tour, so that takes me about two minutes to get there and about an hour to go round. Depending how chatty people are, I might stay with a group for longer - the other day I took a group to the Treetop Walkway and they were such good fun that we stayed for ages. But it's really only giving an hour a week of my time. However this week there were a few emergencies, and I live close by so I've done three tours. 

So anyway I was going round yesterday with a group of carers being given a day off by Kensington and Chelsea Council - all caring for a member of their family - and nobody spoke English as a first language, so I had to speak realllllllyyyy slllooowwllly and clllearrrrllly before I saw they understood me. 

But they were so full of amazing facts! 

  • You can lick the juice out banana flowers (we did it)! 
  • Agave is called mother-in-law's tongue in Syria! 
  • Taro leaves give you a rash if you brush past them with bare legs (I knew it was bad to eat raw)! 
  • You can eat the whole pod off a coffee plant and it tastes really nice and gives you a pick-me-up! 
  • You can insult someone in the Seychelles by saying they smell like Amorphophallus!

But the final treat on this really hilarious tour was getting down the end of the glasshouse and suddenly seeing a group of kids crowding round - this is always a good sign, it means something really interesting. And it was the chameleon. Hurrays all round. And particularly hurray for cameraphones. 

I loved going round with a group who collectively came from France, Poland, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Seychelles, Antigua, and loads of other places I've forgotten: I can't believe how much I learnt from them. So here to finish with is a picture of the wild flower meadow in the bedding area outside Main Gate, yum yum. Come to Kew and get one of us guides to take you round! We will try to show you lots of stuff. We promise it will be fab. Unfortunately, the chameleon is the one appearance we can't guarantee. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Me to my mum on the phone: "I'm just at Wisley, I'm meeting another blogger called Zoë, we're going to look at the fuchsias, there's a big fuchsia show here."

My mum: "Ha ha, sounds like all your childhood dreams have finally come true. Have you been waiting for this entire thirty years?"

I think she is referring to the slightly autistic fuchsia-collecting phase I went through when I was eight.

Ooh there was some good stuff going on in that marquee. There was some excellent plant sale action going on (there were people already leaving with plants while I was still milling around waiting to go in, and a queue for cars to get in the gate at Wisley stretching up the A3. Nightmarish). 

Like, check out Barnsdale's stand (Geoff H's son). Yum yum.

I particularly went slightly loony for Eucomis "Sparkling Burgundy" - I'd never seen the flower before, it is geeeyyoorgeous. 

The Solva sweetie shop was in evidence, for interested addicts:

With one particular purchase I think we should all be making:

Down the fuchsia end of the marquee, we were amazed by the splendour of the crazy floral fuchsia art, including this ginormous tree:

Others were similarly excited by the unique combination of homemade stuff and incredibly impressive plants:

I slightly got swept up into the moment, and found myself not only signing up for annual membership of the British Fuchsia Society, but also buying a society car sticker. Still, at least now I'll be able to tell which of the 235 navy blue Golfs in my street is actually mine.

And then Zoë and I found the lady getting people to try her fuchsia jam! It was really tasty.

Fuchsia lady's recipe (determinedly Imperial):

1 1/2 lb ripe fuchsia berries (collect them in the freezer till you've got enough - a large Clover container is the right amount)
3 tbsp water or apple jiuce
3/4 lb sugar
juice of half a lemon

Boil slowly together till the juice is extracted, strain. Add sugar to the lemon and add to 1 pint of fuchsia liquid. Place over a low heat until the sugar dissolves then boil rapidly until it sets once tested. 

Pour into hot jars and cover at once. 

So finally, friends, please never forget:


I just realised that I missed the fact that I had got to 100 posts! I send you all a fairy cake to celebrate. In more statistical record-breaking (possibly influenced by the Olympics although I would never admit it) I worked out today whilst doing a complete photo hard drive backup that I have visited 40 gardens so far this year. 

I am allowing myself to count repeat visits to the same garden, as I definitely see different things each time. I've also counted a couple of parks where I took a guidebook and went specifically to see a landscape. 

(I haven't counted anything worky at Kew because I am there at least once a week doing volunteer guided tour stuff.) 


Hmm, pretty lazy huh? But factor in the weekly three mile hike round the RBG. 

Pashley Manor Tulip Festival
Great Dixter, East Sussex
Greenwich Park
Ham House

Oxford Botanic Garden for Euphorbias
Coombe House, Devon
Killerton, Devon
Chiswick House, W4
Beth Chatto Gardens Essex
Hampton Court
Hyde Park
OBG again
Kew Green Gardens open for NGS

Brize Norton Open Gardens for NGS
Canary Wharf Millenium Park
Thames Barrier Park
Oxford Botanic Garden
Wisley again
City Gardens tour including New Street Square,
Postmans’ Park
Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s roof garden for no 1 Poultry for a sunset drink
Selbourne, Hants
Blackpitts, Worcs

Hampton Court (again)
Oxford Botanic Garden (again, 4th time)
Broughton Grange, Oxon
Hampton Court (for a third time)
National Botanic Garden of Wales
Architectural Plants, Horsham
Denmans, Sussex
Magdalen College, Oxford
Rousham, Oxon
Stowe, Bucks

Hyde Hall, Essex
Kew (for fun, not work, so that counts)

It's fairly interesting to me how many of these are repeat visits. I would have thought looking back that I'd been to quite a few new ones, but an awful lot seem to be old favourites. 

My Top Ten (seeing as we're doing medal-podium-type thinking)
in no order, except that GD probably does come top:

Great Dixter
Hyde Hall
Oxford Botanic Garden
Architectural Plants (little valley garden)
Thames Barrier Park
No1 Poultry (quality of the experience probably swaying me here) 
Beth Chatto 
Lovely, lovely Kew 

Upcoming highlights: 
Victoria's Garden, the 31st. Yum Yum. Maybe Chatsworth, middle of next week. Savill Garden Plant Fair on the 30th, possibly. Jekka's herb farm, the 29th, again possibly. 7th September, Meon Orchard, Hampshire. 24th September Bury Court Plant Day. 

Dream Date: 
Northern Yorkshire - I have never been to Fountains Abbey, Duncombe, Castle Howard, or Scampston, in fact, you name it, I've never been there. That's the next really big thing I want to go and do. 

The picture is the big herbaceous border in one of my most visited gardens this year, Oxford Botanic. 

Monday, 18 August 2008


As rain continues to fall over most of the world, I got to thinking about whether God is trying to tell us something. I considered going to the South of France, and then thought, why not work with the precipitation, and take a cruise over the mighty ocean deep? 

I was a bit worried, though, about how much I was going to miss all you guys, and also who would take care of my plants. Then I thought, I wonder if I could take them all with me? (Just in case possibly the entire living biomass of the earth got washed away, while I was on my trip.) However, I don't actually possess a boat; so I've been looking on the internet and I came up with this. I think it would fit everyone, Sock and Bedsock, two by two. 

It's just a prototype, and it would be quite a lot of effort to build, but after seeing how everyone has pulled together for VP's open garden I feel confident that we can do it. It might even be fun, but also, I know I probably sound really neurotic, but I am seriously worried now about what all this rain means. What if God actually is trying to send us a message? I mean, I know he said he'd never do it again...(see under Rainbow Covenant) but, I mean, nobody's perfect. 

So I'm open to suggestions. I did see this on my holidays in Scandinavia last year and if the pirate contingent really feel strongly I'm happy to go for a similar design. (Not to be confused with Pirate Bay, of course, the world's biggest facilitators of illegal downloading, also located in Stockholm.)

PS Due to the ship's oaken construction, I'm still trying to decide whether it's appropriate to accept Stag, Deathwatch, and other wood-boring beetles on board. Interested to know what you think. 

Friday, 15 August 2008


Well what a week it's been, but finally Friday is here and the fun can commence: hurray! 

A long time ago, Veg Plotting proposed to us all that Gardeners' World would be a lot more fun if it merged with Top Gear allowing lawnmower racing, so I was particularly pleased to spot this sign in Sussex a few hours ago. 

I'm hoping they've gone for my suggestion, which was a vicious, no-holds-barred mow-off between Buckland and Wilson. However I don't really mind if it's lightweights de Thame and Guinness. I just don't think they should let Arabella Sock get involved, she plays far too much Road Rash

In other news this week, Billy Goodnick has been advising us on what bits of cocktail hour we can grow ourselves now that the credit crunch is really hitting. I can't really advise combining cocktails and lawnmower racing, though it is possible (see under substance abuse in this Wikipedia entry on George Jones). 

There'll be more on ride-on lawnmowing later on in today's programme. But for now the most important thing is that I tell you to enjoy the open garden of Veg Plotting, which begins today. I know how much work la Capitaine has put in, and I smartly salute her for it. Please do head over to the fundraising page, too, armed with your credit or debit card - you can make any donation over £2 like this, and it only takes about 3 minutes. 

Ta my lovelies! 


In the last few weeks I've been discovering the delights of Google Reader, which allows you to have most people's blogs feed into a single page, using the wondrous powers of RSS. I no longer have to trawl round to see if my faves have done new posts, as all the new stuff is collected in one place (sorry if you discovered this like ten years ago, to me it was a total find). There are a few blogs like Garden Monkey's which I haven't yet worked out how to include, but in general it's really good, and actually it's encouraging me to read more widely I think. 

One webpage I've added to the feed is the Telegraph's gardening, which I would like to think I checked regularly; but it's great to have all the new pieces highlighted. This morning they seem to have posted the content of the entire weekend's gardening supplement 24 hours before it's available in the shops, so for once the web wins over the real newspaper. 

However, there's not a single word by Sarah Raven! Is this a record? 

Instead the supplement seems to have gone slightly bonkers (is editor Kylie away?). There is some hilarious allotment advice from Cleve (crouch down and hide in the bushes when people who talk too much come past),  some slightly perplexing pot advice from Bunny G (use ones that don't have bottoms) and some Son of Rambo self-harming pruning advice from Mateus W (don't bother with gloves so... you can feel closer to nature). 

Were they all on a dare? 


Carol over on May Dreams did a post last week called "Pruners I Dated before I Found the One I Love". Before I started reading it, I was convinced from the tempting title that it was going to be a story of love about her ex-boyfriends and how they were really bad at gardening and over-pruning everything until her wonderful husband came along who does everything horticultural absolutely perfectly.

This self-evidently says much more about me than it does about her.*

Anyway it got me started thinking about gardening attributes I'd be looking for in the perfect partner. I interviewed Jane McMorland Hunter earlier this year, and she does tag-team gardening with a disabled neighbour: her friend carefully nurses millions of annual seedlings through the top-of-the-radiator stage, when Jane takes over and does the back-breaking work of planting them all out, in both of their gardens. 

It made me think I wouldn't mind having a propagatively-minded lover who would scan all the seed catalogues in winter while I watched Corrie, who would then slip me hardened-off stuff from his cold frame in spring all ready to plant out. And I think I could grow to like having someone around who was a bit more brutal than me, prepared to take responsibility for massacring some of the inappropriately-sited innocents that populate my garden.

On the other hand, I don't think I could prune alongside someone who was loads tidier than me. I am a pretty messy gardener in general but I don't want someone to do my weeding for me. Or be judgemental about the level of tidiness. I don't want pitying looks or pained advice. 

But I do like the idea of gardening together.  Yet talking to a Chelsea gold garden-designing couple at a dinner earlier this summer, they confessed that the only way they kept the gardening peace in their home was for one to "own" the front garden, the other to control the back. I couldn't stand that - it seems so sad; though I have to say it seemed to work perfectly well for them. There does often seem to be a sort of division of labour with couples gardening together: many say that their husband does lawn and trees, while they do the flowers, though Noel Kingsbury's wife begged to differ at a recent VISTA chat on the subject. 

But then if you are married to Noel K perhaps you can happily leave the whole thing to him and busy yourself in the kitchen making delicious cake instead. What is the secret? Let me in on your wise secrets for domestic horticultural bliss. 

*Actually the piece was essentially Carol's declaration of lifetime devotion and fidelity to her Felcos.


Happy Mouffetard did a post on July 30th about her family and their gardening habits which was gloriously illustrated with three generations-worth of vintage photos, showing how she came to be the dahlia-loving gal she is today. Then, I found Julia's posts about her grandpa, and what he'd think of her brilliant efforts to make a Mesozoic Garden (chronicled at We're Going to Need a Bigger Pot). It made me want to go and have a hunt for photos of my family in the garden. 

So to start with, here's me and my mum in my grandad's garden in Stanmore. As you can see my grandad had a strong sense of enjoying himself in a garden, and this was the first of a series of swimming pool/summer house combos. 

He was a great gardener, too, though, and my grandma and grandad eventually moved to Oxfordshire where he had his own allotment-sized veg garden, at home. I sadly don't have any photos of him in the garden, but one of my earliest memories is going through the drawer at their house looking at all the seed packets and catalogues, and then being allowed to pick something to grow. I picked ornamental gourds (yes, ridiculous garish taste even back then). My grandad and me sowed them, and then he grew them for me in his greenhouse. 

Me exhibiting early the gene, inherited from both maternal grandfather and my own father, which codes for ride-on lawnmowing

"I think we'll put the white garden over there."

Things I wish I had photos of, but don't:

  • those gourds!
  • the first plants I ever grew on my own, some russell lupins. We had very, very chalky soil, I don't know whether this is how they managed to avoid being ravaged by slugs. I remember them being stunning and I wish I had a photo.
  • All the miniature gardens my sister and me made for various August bank holiday shows in my grandma and grandad's village.
  • Being on the Roseland in Cornwall in spring and seeing treeferns and rhododendrons and primroses all growing in the same place, and thinking it was the coolest thing. 

Trying to inflict it on the younger generation. Me and the boy Joe T in Tresco Abbey Gardens c.1996, learning to love palm trees. He is creeping up on me to stroke the silky bit on the edge of my skirt, which I seem to recall was a great favourite in them days. My mum took the photo and we were all absolutely soaking wet, but I had just fallen in love with echiums and didn't notice. 

And lastly here's my personal favourite:

My mum is holding my sister, I'm on the grass with our friend Johanna. But that blurry figure in the background is actually my dad, exhibiting a hilarious lifelong passion for mowing the lawn on a tractor. Which may go to prove that gardening really is the new rock'n'roll.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


Canna lilies going at it. The size of the rhizomes means I got flowers this year earlier than ever before, last week of July. 

And they come out of this perfectly formed bud, which I'm sure has a technical botanical name that somebody must know...

And they have seed pods which look exactly (I'm sorry) like testicles, though of which particular creature I'm not sure. 

In the back garden, begonias I grew from tubers are flowering for the first time (yup, it took me a while to work out which way up to plant them but after that they did fine).

A fuchsia I thought I'd managed to finish off last winter came back to life, much to my delight.

Euphorbia amjilassa, bought from Great Dixter on a sunny early spring afternoon, starting to really flourish and beginning to flower. The mystery of where exactly it sits in my Local Collection, though, remains. Don Witton doesn't list amjilassa, nor, longifolia, which T&M list it under (they exclusively sell the seed in a nice scheme designed to benefit the Kashmiri village where it was discovered by Kew collectors). Hmm. Enjoy the plant, I tell myself, and don't worry about the label for now.

Another new-to-flower for me, Brugmansia of some random kind I bought in Wyevale for £8.99. If I'd known they were this easy I'd have bought one years ago.

A slightly fargone, but utterly wonderful ginger. Another new-to-me success, Hedychium kewense.

And an old survivor from last year, Celebrity Fuchsia Gary Rhodes. The only time I've ever bought a plant based merely on the name. The breeder, Tony Hickman, was a well-respected old dude who sadly died during the winter 2007/8, so I get to think of the funny time I had meeting him when I look at this plant. 

I took six cuttings of my old rosemary, which I'd had for about ten years and which everybody in the whole street used for cooking. Some of it even went in a bouquet for Princess Diana (that was my neighbour Sanj, not me). All of them died, except one. I got one cutting to carry on the old dear. Very happy about this. 

Proper August flowers. I don't know how anyone makes do without Echinops ritro, it's completely completely essential in my garden. Especially for the lovely bees. I don't know how you tell it's not bannaticus, except by looking at the label. Does anyone else know?

Pure and total joy. Another new to flower. Gladiolus callianthus murielae. Felt like a total twerp last year at the Bulb of the Year lunch while Stephanie Donaldson and Kathryn Bradley-Hole sung its praises. Now I have grown it, I know what they are talking about. What a perfect flower, and smells lovely too.

Caper spurge. A much-mentioned weed in my garden, but much-loved too. What's not to like in all that shape and structure? I could eat it up. Except that it would burn my tongue.

Noel Kingsbury managed to write a whole book a few years ago about how great seedheads are. I don't disagree one bit. And all the better to drug you with, my sweet.

Yeah, okay, I never manage to dig them out completely. One always seems to manage to stay in there. But one's all you need for a crumble.

And here is a final picture facing back down the garden. Black bamboo has collapsed sideways. I put it in so that you can laugh at the mess.