Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Some more Tiger Woods News for those who haven't had enough already. It made me laugh, anyway.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


It's the final day at West Dean, and the weather is dull and overcast. I was imagining this was the end for garden photography, but actually Jacqui sent us out once more (protesting "I just felt it spit on me") to tackle photography in low light.


Look at these two photos of the blue and yellow border (above). On the top one, the aperture is set to 5.6, so that the depth of focus is very shallow. This makes the michelmas daisies in the background out of focus, concentrating the eye on the foreground's pale yellow daisies instead.

The second photo shows the same view, but with the aperture set to 16. In this photo, the depth of focus is much deeper, and so more stuff is in focus at once. The problem now is that the photo looks (to me anyway) "messy", full of distracting detail. I prefer the first snap, which lets the eye settle on the foreground detail while leaving the lilac colour to provide a foil.

The point is, though, that for the first time in my life I have a choice about this.

AND I got my spiderweb photo. Result!

Saturday, 10 October 2009


I am at West Dean this weekend, a delicious establishment at the foot of the South Downs. It must be good because James has been here as well.

Award-winning blogger James Alexander-Sinclair was here to deliver his plenary lecture on why garden designers can all go in the bin, apparently; he was last seen round the back of the fruit store being told off by some angry women.

Whereas I am here for a weekend-long course on how to create a garden blog. It may seem illogical to have an award-winning garden blogger on the premises and yet fail to exploit him for the garden blogging course, but there we go. So I'm the lesser-award-winning garden blogger helping the group to work out the foibles of Blogger's odd attitude towards uploading pictures etc.

But as well as a writing person, the group also get a photography person, in the form of Jacqui Hurst. As well as being a super-duper photographer, she is also a thoughtful teacher, and I feel like I've learned so much from her in the last 24 hours (never mind the actual paying students).

In one exercise she got us to do today, we had to try taking something we'd normally put centre of the photo - like these dahlias pictured above- and instead, put it off centre. And she has me thinking about backlighting, reflections and even planning to get up before breakfast for a spot of dewy post-dawn snapping.

I know the Sock is a fan of West Dean and its courses, but I would recommend them to everyone; there are people here this weekend learning to carve gargoyles, make lace, play Schumann and paint watercolours. The atmosphere is so peaceful, with rolling hills, baaing sheep and no mobile phone reception. And the food is excessively delicious and I fully expect to be rolling home at least a few pounds heavier. You can download the whole course brochure here, and if you've ever had the feeling that there isn't enough creativity in your life any more, I recommend you do it right now.

One watercolourist enjoying the autumn sunshine.

Friday, 9 October 2009


Slightly wonky camera taking artily-not-quite-right photo of one of my favourite autumn pleasures, the sunlit spider web. 

Over at Veg Plotting Madame Veg says I had a bit of a go at her last year when she moaned about autumn. 

(I don't actually remember doing this, though I'm sure it's true.)

I do really like most things about autumn, except the days becoming so much shorter. But I love the smell of wet leaves, the sense of things winding down; even squishing the funny little fruits that fall off crab apple trees is fun! (Though they make an odd metallic bonk when they fall off at night onto cars, which still wakes me up.)

But one of my favourite things about autumn is getting on with planning for spring, so that I feel like it's not too far away. This year I am doing posh white bulbs in terracotta pots, and then a separate downmarket garish scheme in 99p B&Q buckets. You need to make drainage holes with a bradawl, not a hammer and a nail, if that's a helpful tip. Then I layered up probably far too many bulbs. 

I do love autumn, but I also really identify and sympathise with all the people saying they'd rather not bother, if at all possible. 

I think planting bulbs is the absolute number 1 top way to look forward, understanding that it's all gonna come back round rapidly. And don't forget the indoor bulbs too! Paperwhites need to be started any day now to be flowering at Christmas, which is the best possible way of all to feel that spring is really not far behind. Check the wise words of Nigel Colborn, whose excellent instructions and tasteful planting suggestions I followed last year. 

98p! 98p!!!

Friday, 11 September 2009


This is just a quick post to say thank you to everyone who has participated in the Emsworth Online Village Show, and that includes everyone who has visited, about fifteen hundred visits so far in the three weeks it's been up. But most of all I want to thank the competitors, without whom it would be a load of pants. 

Secondly, about a month ago I said I would give away a copy of Dan Hinckley's new book - I finally got round to putting the names in a hat and the winner is New Shoot, not because of her sore tooth but because of the laws of chance. So congratulations and I hope she likes the book, I'm absolutely sure she will. 

Anyway it looks as if we might have one of those gorgeous, unforgettable September gardening weekends to get on with some digging and cutting back and tidying, and I wish everyone a really nice weekend! 

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


People with a long-term affectionate relationship with this blog will know that this time last year I was piffling on about my genuine excitement that both Sarah Raven (MD) and Nigella Lawson (lush) had an Xmas themed cookbook out. 

This year it goes one better!!!

The veritable Queen of Christmas Delia Smith relaunches the big green christmas cookbook with A HUNDRED new recipes. 

What could these POSSIBLY be I ask you?

How can she POSSIBLY make Christmas any BETTER??

On a completely different note, I have worked out a brilliant way of pruning my wisteria using the kitchen broom. I'm telling you, it's incredible, and I will be revealing the trade secret within the next few days, so I expect at least 1000 extra hits. 

Thursday, 3 September 2009


I am sure that most people reading here will already be familiar with the strange and whimsical world of Stuart (is he a real person? Is he slightly too young and handsome to be real? Is he one of the Ramsay Street Robinsons?) and his amazing Blotanical, a Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang of a website which allows all us garden bloggers to find each other. 

Every year Blotanical has awards, which so far I have only ever managed to vote in (and given the Chitty-ChittyBang-Bangness, I feel even this counts as an achievement). 

This year nominations for the 2009 awards are now open. 

And for once I plan to actually enter myself. (I mean, I hadn't actually noticed that I was registered for a blog I haven't written for about a year, and that you couldn't have voted for Baklava even if you had been crazy enough to want to.)

So I did my nominations. 

But after you have nominated, your work is not done. Oh no, for nothing so simple could satisfy Stuart from Australia's handsome, devilishly labyrinthine mind. 

You have to wait three weeks, then it gets down to the top five, and then we all have to vote again! 

Jesus, it's like France. 

Anyway, all I can say is Stuart, we love you for all you do; Fellow Blotanists, let's give Ryan a run for his money; and fellow gardeners, don't worry if you would rather just browse through the bulb catalogue. I'm sure it's a lot more relaxing. 

Saturday, 29 August 2009


So I'm sure all of you are familiar with the need occasionally to go and get a member of your family and take them on a nice outing. My grandma has been suffering a bit lately from feeling worried about everything (a trait she helpfully passed onto me in the DNA, I don't think she did it on purpose though). So I decided what we needed was a nice little jaunt in the countryside. 

We picked a National Trust property, Buscot Park, about an hour from where she lives, partly because when I was seven she made me a life member for Christmas and we still both regard it as a point of principle to carry on trying to get ultimate value for money from this £75 purchase. Another £15.25 saved! Kerching!

Buscot is really gorgeous and starts with a walled garden that was rich in lovely Asters and other autumnal stuff, great big rosehips and lots of wasps (see VP for details). But the real treat is to come. 

The house is a little jewel on the hilltop with what I think must be the best collection of art I've ever seen in a private house - Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Reynolds; however my grandma and I both fell in particular love with the central room of the house, which is decorated with big paintings of the "Legend of Briar Rose" by Burne Jones. Somehow, the strange, slightly weird atmosphere of the Pre-Raphaelites totally suited this house, isolated in the countryside, and the storyline of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) with its idea of sleeping, surrounded by high hedges, also went perfectly with the setting. Really amazing. 

But after that you still aren't finished: now, you walk down to the lake (There's little lake and big lake, just to be clear) through a Harold Peto water garden which is just stunning. It's a tribute to Italian water gardens, and for a moment we felt far away from England. 

Or would have done if there weren't lots of little kids in football tops trying to jump over the water channel. Which we both actually found quite entertaining (especially my grandma, but then she does go to sunday worship at a place I call "The church of tiny tearaways" and she likes that too, which would drive me mad). 

Anyway I really recommend Buscot, it's one of those places you don't hear about much but it's got a really powerful magic. And very nice chocolate cake. 

Ps the bit of this garden I want to take home?

Yes, the swimming pool, in a cool, enclosed courtyard. Ahhhhhhhhhh

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Okay, firstly, Lullingstone Castle isn't very far away. Yes, we thought it was, because it's in Kent, but actually it's about seven minutes from junction 3 of the M25. That means that if you live north of London you can whizz round there, and from my house, in the very westermost bit of what is still technically the capital, (junction 2 of the M4, right by the big snazzy new SmithKline building) it took me just a princely one hour and five minutes to get all the way there. 

Secondly and much more importantly, it's REALLY COOL. I think that because I'd watched the Tv programme, and seen what a struggle it all was, that I hadn't imagined how magical it might be to actually be there. The corn had all been harvested, and the fields were that lovely bleached colour with the rolled haystacks. The house is unbelievably beautiful, old Tudor gatehouse n all. 

But much more importantly, the garden is really really great. The last time I saw it was on the TV show, so just being laid out into island beds with each one representing a continent. Now it is lush with the year's growth, with the beautiful seductive greys of the eucalyptus growing in the Australian corner, with the tall grasses and freakishly massive daisies and dahlias Tom Hart Dyke manages to grow. 

And there's also tons of colour, with beautiful dahlia borders interspersed with runner beans, sweetcorn, sunflowers and tomatoes. Really, really fantastic. 

The most stunning thing is that actually all this work gets done by Tom and volunteers. There's ONE member of full-time staff, and it's HIM!

When you look around, and you see how few weeds and gaps there are, this seems like a stunning revelation. You realise his statement that he 'doesn't get out much' probably underscores one of the most serious commitments to a garden of anyone I've ever met. 

And it's just in this SUCH pretty setting, with old brick walls, a Moon gate, an old red brick chapel, honestly, it's sooooooo pretty. 

My orders to you are GET YOURSELF THERE. It's the perfect September outing. Especially as they are doing two events that I know will be of interest to ye bloggers. 1) A specialist plant fair, all day on Sunday 6th September - £6 but that gives entry to the fair, the garden AND a tour of the castle. 


2) on Saturday the 10th October the totally ameeeeeeezing Mike Nelhams is coming from Tresco to do an afternoon event in partnership with Tom - 2-6.30pm. He has been the head gardener there for many years. You get a tour of the garden, a slap-up tea in the big house, and then an illustrated talk from Mike N. I think this sounds like the kind of treat grannies, aunties and basically people like me would really like. So I say think about booking it - I've never heard Mike N speak but my grandma basically swears by him and will book any gardening holiday he's escorting she says he's that good. 

Anyway now I have been there I am basically going to go on about it until you go too. Bear in mind my penchant for the spikey and you will imagine the experience correctly. But I will say this - I thought it might be more like Futuregardens - you could see the idea was interesting, but it wasn't quite 'there' yet. Lullingstone really is there (even though Tom is modest). And the place itself is really magical, with a stupendous Roman Villa (English Heritage and a separate charge) for those who like to double up on culture. And a river with CHILDREN SWIMMING IN IT!!! I THOUGHT THAT WAS AGAINST THE LAW THESE DAYS.....

Honestly please go and have a really uncommercial, enthusiastic amateur brilliant magical experience. It's the exact opposite of going to Sissinghurst but it DOES have good plants and tudor gatehouse, and it's MUCH closer to Ealing. 

I rest my case. 

Sunday, 23 August 2009


So, very kindly, or maybe not so kindly, both VP and Ryan have tagged me in their writing meme....

Which words do you use too much in your writing?
Oh god, no idea, probably 'oh god'. 

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
I literally cannot stand people using the word literally. Unless they actually mean literally. No actually I think I am pretty tolerant. I am the total opposite of Lynne Truss. I have just realise the word I overuse is 'actually'.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha I so do not sit around thinking about what is my favourite piece of writing by myself. Honestly what kind of wanger would you have to be to do that?? [wanders off chuckling to make tea]

What blog post do you wish you’d written?
All of Arabella Sock. 

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?
Like what? Like what? What are you saying?

How has your writing made a difference?
Another completely absurd and pompous question which reveals this quiz was definitely made up by an American. :-)

Name three favourite words
 cannot take seriously

…And three words you’re not so keen on
Leonardo di Caprio

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
I think there are so many amazing garden writers that we don't get to read enough of. I bought a second hand copy of Anna Pavord's columns last year - she is just so funny, so knowledgeable. Ursula Buchan I love, whatever Matthew 'evil thoughts' Appleby thinks. Elspeth Thompson I revere. I love Sarah Raven for her bossiness, I love Beverley Nichols for his naughtiness, I love Vita Sackville-West for being so Vita-ish. You could spend your life reading about nothing but gardening and a) not run out of material and b) always be reading utterly stylish stuff. 

What’s your writing ambition?
I just like to be able to describe things for people who aren't there. I love that challenge. Describing something is a really weird process on a neurological level. Think about this - your brain is finding a way of putting an image, a physical, possibly smellable, touchable, evocative image, into someone else's brain. It does this merely by words, it doesn't show the other person pictures, it doesn't let them smell the smell. Just words. If you think about it long enough, you begin to realise that writing is a form of weird mind control. You can make other people angry, sad, turned on... See! It's so weird! You can make water come out their eyes! (if you are really good at it)
I'm telling you, it's weird. 

VP and Ryan I love both your blogs, don't go changing. xxx

Monday, 17 August 2009


I've just this minute noticed that my eucomis picture is actually out of focus. SORRY. I don't know what is wrong with me lately, it must be the heatwave [in France].

Anyway I am going to go away and sort another one out. But in the meantime, I have noticed that I hardly ever blog about my own garden, even though I really do love it. And I ALWAYS miss garden bloggers bloom day. It's partly because actually I do not know the name of a freakin' thing growing in my garden, apart from the Euphorbias which of course I am on first name Latin terms with, and I think that probably GBBD does need to be labelled. But everything else is just there cos it's pretty, I lose the labels five minutes after buying the plants and I can never remember what anything is, but also, don't really care. 

So in some sort of token but completely unlabelled effort, here is a sort of late garden blogger's bloom day thing. Top left is a wildish canna indica I bought from a garden sale somewhere in Croydon about ten years ago at least, which has flourished happily in my front garden ever since, and which has small orange flowers and large leaves, sort of the way I like it. It is now in five big clumps that all survived the snow, so, rock on. Next round clockwise is Emma T favourite Euphorbia mellifera that I grew from seed. Next a eucomis, but I don't know which one because I lost the despatch note... or should I say more truthfully it was consumed by molluscs. 

Next round is Phygelius, cape fuchsia, which came from a garden sale with my mum last summer and which has been rocking the whole summer long and is still going, I heartily recommend. Then a huge blue moptop hydrangea I got from Cottesbrooke, where it was white, but I was told it was going to go blue so that's okay. (I am absolutely in LOVE with it so don't say a word!)

Then another wildish, good fuchsia which lives through every kind of bad weather outside in my garden and comes back each spring after a harsh prune. GOTTA love those fuchsias, for late summer performance shut up your weedy Piet Oudolf pie hole about any of those rubbish lazy daisies and get me some fuchsias. 

Then bottom centre, a startling scarlet geranium I also got from Cottesbrooke and have been really enjoying. I think it came from Derry Watkins but predictably the name tag has already gone to Run with the Wolves. 

Next, Euphorbia cornigera, a pretty and good-performing euphorbia with lovely lime green bracts right now, to give you spring zing in late August, which is energising in a flower bed. 

Then last but one, Lobelias tupa, of which I have a huge stand but which I can't get a good photo of, here's one bloom leaning out into the road. Another one new to my garden this year, but a total star performer I wouldn't be without, and i SUSPECT one of the VERY FEW plants in my garden that you might also find in James A-S's.....

Last but not least, in the middle, some B&Q Indian Pinks bedding I bought in May which has been growing strong ever since. NEVER, never knock the carnation family. The lot of them are dudes. 

Anyway there you go, that's what was looking nice this weekend, I'm hoping for some more canna flowers before the end of the summer and two ginger lilies too; I've also got some agapanthus but the photo was a bit lame, and possibly a datura to flower yet too. 

Sunday, 16 August 2009


I know these are a favourite of Martyn Cox who seems to have been away on holiday for weeks at the moment. I'm just very much enjoying that they got over the bad winter, and that they sent up more flowers than last year.....

Friday, 14 August 2009


Here is a fine photo of me presenting the Garden Monkey with last year's overall achievement cup. I hope very much it inspires all of you to take part in this year's Emsworth Online Village Show, which is now open at

Friday, 7 August 2009


Ah, my friends, it's been a while. The fickle ways of the world. The need to earn an actual crust. The lure of the shops. 

Now firstly I would like to exhort anyone I haven't already to get to the Chilli Festival at West Dean. Here's me going on about it, I am going tomorrow am. Sarah the head gardener is SOOOO amazing and gave me all these chillis after our photo session to take home and cook. 

Even if you can't make it, check out their coming events (for example the up and coming tomato show), or just plan to go on a quiet afternoon to admire the incredible walled gardens, gorgeous exhibition of stone carving, or just have a nice cream tea. In fact don't even bother going in the garden, just have the scones. 

Anyway in the meantime, I wish you a good weekend, I wish you no blight (eek)
and I save the best till last, waiting to reveal to you that even if you cannot make it to ANY of these wonderful real life shows.... 

Emsworth Online Village Show 2009 is coming. 



Anyone remember this?

Or this? 

Yes my friends, it's summer. Just in case you had forgotten. 

In fact here are the sum total of my photos of a recent garden visit I organised to the Thames Barrier Park at Woolwich, as recommended recently by this blog's sacred deity, Joe Swift. 

We met initially at Canary Wharf. Now admittedly, the skies already looked somewhat dark and threatening. 

But we made it to the park okay, walked to the dramatic view of the river, and began taking a few snaps. At which point we felt a few drops of rain. And then a few more. 

And then the skies caved in. I have honestly never got caught in rain quite that wet. The lady taking the photo, Izaura, is from Brazil, and even she said she'd never seen rain like it. And she is from the rain forest. 

Here are some youths sheltering under the bandstand. We weren't so lucky. We made a run for the tube station which I can fairly unexaggeratedly compare to being a contestant on Tizwas we got so much water chucked on us. 

At which point, the sun came back out. We, however, in our linen/summery outfits, were soaked. Even on the inside of my raincoat. And we had to wait 9 soggy minutes for the next DLR. Sigh. 

For those who can't remember what 'summer' is, here's what the garden is meant to look like. From, needless to say, last summer: 


Anyone who watched "A Year At Kew" got to know the fairly irascible Yorkshire head of arboretum Tony Kirkham. And they all liked him so much that then he got his own TV show, "Trees that Made Britain". They liked his bluffness, his sense of enthusiasm, the way he tells people off for silly ideas, and his general matter-of-fact way of going about things. 

Anyway Tony Kirkham may be famous for being on TV, but amongst the horticultural community he's highly respected for trying new things, like mycorrhizal fungi to help ailing trees, and for going off (especially to Taiwan) to try to collect some of that island's rarest trees to bring back and grow in Kew. 

So recently the RHS honored him with a medal, which I completely missed as I was away doing bla bla bla during Hampton Court week, but honestly, listen, this is the best piece from the website "This is Lancashire" that appeared today about Kirkham and his career. 


Okay guys, I am about to do some serious evangelizing to those of you who do not already worship at the throne of Dan Hinkley. 

Dan is the kind of person who makes Ray Lancaster start going all burbly and delighted. That's one way you know he is the real thing. 

He runs a really well-loved American nursery at Heronswood in Washington State, but also is a plant collector of so many years standing, and one way to experience his amazing knowledge and adventures is to read 'The Explorer's Garden". Rare plants that will make your mouth water and your little hand start itching its way across the desk towards the computer mouse....

However until recently you had to get it in hardback. 

It's now out in paperback! And I have a copy to give away! 

At the same time, his follow-up book is out in hardback - this one does "Shrubs and Vines", so stuff like rare witch hazels and rhododendrons. Maybe a bit less practical, but just as, mmmm, mouth-watering. 

So listen if you would like to WIN a FREE copy of the paperback of the Explorer's Garden, which I will post within reason to wherever you live, please leave a comment below. I really recommend the book, he is one of those people who REALLY knows what they are talking about.... even if this recommendation comes from someone who knows that, most of the time, they don't. 

Saturday, 25 July 2009


So i know that at least one of you has remarked the general paucity of posting over here in the last few weeks. And my last two posts have begun "So I just nicked this off x". 

I was determined to do better. I said to myself, I wanna make a post to make my readers proud.To make Vp weep tears of pride. To make Arabella Sock snicker. 

Off I went at 9am this morning, to capture the Titan arum for you all, in glorious technicolour. Before anyone else had got there. Including even the Daily Telegraph, who was hot on my heels with his big ole wide angle lens. 

So I did my bit, and came proudly home ready to upload Baklava Shed's very first Moving Images. 

Only then did I realise my filming was irredeemably, irrevocably sideways. 

Sorry! Try better next time! In the meantime, crick your necks, and be glad you can't smell it (Ryan!). I absolutely love the way the other lady sniggers after I say "have a little sniff" at the end.....

*ps by 'the smell of a fishbox', I mean a scent I remember from my childhood, when my best friend's dad was a fisherman. His car and their hay loft always reeked of this terrible ammoniac smell of beyond decay. 

Friday, 24 July 2009


Just pinched this from Richard the Guerilla Gardener's wonderfully informative (and constant, unlike some of us) Twitter feed. 

Anyone not yet on Twitter, come on, it's fun! even if you just listen in and never make posts yourself. You get little nuggets like this video, too.... 

Friday, 17 July 2009


Just nicked this off Kew's facebook page. We anticipate full frontal odoriforous assault in the next few days, stay tuned

Friday, 10 July 2009


Dahlias, eh? 

Last night I was sitting out in the gardens here in Cambridge at dusk and I saw this great big shape scuttle across the garden. At first I thought it was a rat, and then I suddenly realised its hips were too big. It was a hedgehog, racing along, undulating over the lawns. Sniffing. 

Anyway that made me laugh. 

The funny thing about Cambridge gardens is that they are all behind great big tall hedges and fierce iron gates and wooden structures that stop you looking in. I saw one gentleman being politely directed away from King's Fellows Garden yesterday and then I realised it was Ian McEwan. What about that? Even he isn't allowed in. 

So you spend your whole time peeping over things and round things to try and get a view. And even then it's just a tantalising one, with no sense of the whole perspective, just leaving you with a rather disappointed feeling and a bit of a cricked neck. To be honest, a bit like Chelsea show gardens. 

Anyway this is the kind of thing you are faced with: immaculate herbaceous borders behind tempting walls with delicious skyline scenery, but no way in. 

(this is a tiny glimpse of the much-loved Clare College Scholars' garden, thought to be one of the best)

Anyway it was pissing me off, so instead of showing you lots of awkward views of halves of gardens, I posted the dahlias, from John Brookes' Denmans. Which don't hide their love away at all. Which is how I like it. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


Some of you will know that I spent last winter working on a book about Darwin's relationship with his dogs, which was warm, passionate, and ended up with the beloved pets making an appearance in some of his most important books. 

I am at a Darwin conference this week (which means I get to loiter in lobbies next to Richard Dawkins and weirdly, Ian McEwan) thinking a lot about animals, humans, parenthood, love, affection, loyalty and evolution. In which context I found out that Arabella Sock had lost one of her two darling cats, Luka. 

I am really sad for her. In a sort of tribute mood, I found this section from my book, which is what I would like to be like myself, really. Darwin wasn't especially a cat person, which is what makes it even sweeter. 

"Whilst dogs were always Darwin’s favourites, Henrietta Darwin wrote of her father’s tolerance towards her own pets,

'He cared for all our pursuits and interests, and lived our lives with us in a way that very few fathers do… He had no special taste for cats, but yet he knew and remembered the individualities of my many cats, and would talk about the habits and characters of the more remarkable ones years after they had died.'

Darwin saw each animal as having its own separate being, its own 'individuality'. His celebration of Henrietta’s remarkable cats suggests, just delicately, that if we had asked Darwin if cats had souls, he might have answered, as much as any other creature does." 

Monday, 8 June 2009


So as a couple of you may remember I was off to do a talk at the British Museum about the India landscape installed for the summer by Kew, to tie in with exhibitions at the Museum about Indian art. 

I was very nervous, and deservedly so because more than 30 people came. I'm in the black, with the weird microphone necklace hanging around my neck (felt a bit like a medieval instrument of torture. A bit.) We looked at the planting, which varies from Banyan to Meconopsis, and talked about great botanists associated with India, including my favourite, Wallich (of many different Wallichiana/ Wallichii fame). 

I didn't feel like it went all that well, I have to admit. Though people were complimentary afterwards. On the other hand, it was very satisfying to have actually done it. And it was the first time I'd done something like that - in such a small space. At Kew, we have acres to impress people with. My immediate thought was "Oh I wish I could do it again another day, I think I could actually make it good now." 

Well I don't have a chance to do the same garden tour again, but on Friday I am going back to the British Museum to give the lunchtime lecture. It's about Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin and Indian plants, and if anyone wants to come along I would be so delighted to see you. 

You could make sure to ask me some nice easy questions, too. Eeeeeeeekkkkkkkkkkkk.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


Well I do apologise to those of you I offended in my previous post by my Sapphically lovesick ramblings about Dr Nikki and my use of the word 'brill'. Now, down to the serious business.

It was fascinating to see how many people turned out for the press day of FutureGardens. All the people who are committed to trying to create interesting new outdoor space seemed to be there. It was interesting to see the way people paired off to pursue serious critiquing. Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes were doing the rounds and waved cheerily; Corinne Julius and Stephen Anderton took notes and talked like show judges, in private low tones; James Alexander-Sinclair and Therese Lang, the last pair of the day, looking over what they'd achieved as organisers. 

I personally really try hard not to see images of a garden or landscape before I go and visit it. I just hate having preconceived ideas. So as on the 10 o'clock news, I must warn you to turn away now if you don't want to know about these gardens. I think there is something big to be said for just turning up and looking. 

On the other hand, if you need persuading, or you've already been and you're interested to know what someone else thought, carry on! Blog beginners, please remember, that as ever you can click on the pics to see them bigger. 

Let me start with one I completely adored. This is Tony Heywood's. You may know Heywood's work already, or be totally new to it, but I defy you not to have an opinion. For me, I find it 100% enchanting. It's like a cross between a Hollywood filmstar's garden fountain and a strange deserted coal beach in the North East. Wizened trees he got from the National Trust and some 1970s conifers complete the picture. Bizarre and beautiful. For me, worth the journey on its own. For others, bleurgh, and where are the plants? (Apart from the ones he's spray-painted blue that is.)

Now, this one I hated. I really didn't get it. Peter Thomas designed it, who is well-regarded, so perhaps I will put this down to my personal not-getting-it. I hated the execution of it, really - I thought the blue plastic frames were too flimsy and I hated the colours of the plastic balls which I thought were too much like something bought from a shop. The idea of all these children working so hard to produce the painted butterflies which hang from the frames offended me. (Directly opposite to how I felt about the plasticine garden, in fact, where I adored the communal aspect of the work, which reminded me of Anthony Gormley's Field for the British Isles.)

I've shown you some of the most outrageous ones, as they are the ones which have stayed with me, I feel, a few days later. But there are other, quieter, more contemplative takes on the conceptual garden. This one I enjoyed, but didn't find especially exciting. However, I think a lot of people will really love it. It's called "Nest", by Jane Hudson and Erik de Maeijer.  It has a gentleness and an attention to materials that's very striking, with a wonderful woven fence and this incredible oak planking (which makes you immediately go 'how did they afford that on a £25k budget???). She is an RHS judge so knows how to put together a good scheme, and I'll be interested to revisit and see how it changes as it's one of those where the planting looks reasonably intriguing. 

And there was this, by two young graduates of Falmouth's increasingly prestigious garden design course (partly a Beardshaw production I believe, for those who care about such things), Maren Hallenga and Hugo Bugg. In many ways one of the most conservative of schemes, it bisected the whole space with this glorious log wall which had rusty steel circles making porthole views through it. Birch trees created dappled sunshine, and ponds full of old cutlery shimmered in the summer light. And, the planting of natives like stinging nettles next to gauzy astrantias really worked. They want to do a show garden at Chelsea next year (not ambitious then, are we?) so good luck to them, I think they have the kind of attention to detail and general balance of skills to do a good job. 

I was perplexed by Andy Sturgeon's entry, I have to admit, though its rusted iron plates had a sombre quality that I kept returning to - especially so close to the anniversary of D-Day. I would happily sign up to ban birches as standard default modern tree for an interim period of perhaps three years, by which time people might have thought up something else to use. Though I guess the whiteness against the red does really work. 

I wished the plates hadn't been quite so close to the back fence really; but this garden will come much more into its own over the course of the summer as this Richard Serra gesture is planted in what looks like grass, but is actually baby wheat. As the wheatgrass grows up, it will turn golden in the sun, and the rusted rectangles will sit in a miniature English field. I will still be thinking of Normandy and war, I think, but I will enjoy watching the change come about. 

And lastly I really got into this one, after a conversation with the designer, Marcus Green. And after being slobbered on by his gorgeous dog Cosmo. He made the garden after many walks in the Northamptonshire countryside with Cosmo. The idea was to try to map in the garden some of the lines of energy created by the dog running through the fields. Anyone who has ever watched a dog running through young wheat knows how exhilarating it is, for the human being and the dog, and I loved the way he'd used native grasses such as the wonderfully-named "Yorkshire Fog" to create those characteristic 'crush' lines of animal tracks. Delicate, energetic, ley-liney, it really grew on me. 

So look that's my brief report - I hope to read more from everyone else after their visits, and also to go back myself, and continue thinking about what I've seen. I have only one question about the whole exercise: I hope that lots of people find the £12.50 entrance fee good value for money, rather than extortionate, and recommend it to their friends. Here's hoping. But what do others think about that entrance fee? 

Eek totally forgot my best pic of all. It's E17's Martyn Skywalker on his home planet of Tattoin, just coming from a day's moisture farming. 'The only Alexander-Sinclair I know of is old James ASinclair," he's saying as he ponders a weird message from a 'Princess Lila" that he found in a robot left in one of his fields earlier. I just hope he's keeping an eye out for Stormtroopers...


Thursday, 4 June 2009


In the future, people will undoubtedly spell future like that. I can see the way it's going already. The young people and their spelling, hey? I'm pretty surprised that they managed to resist calling Twitter 'Twytta'; but I guess that most Twitter users I know are well over twenty,so  there's no need. 

Anyway here is everyone's favourite and most radiant 'AWB' in the blogosphere's firmament, James, pictured in the process of rehearsing his opening speech for the said Futuregardens. Unlike the previous speech, of the gloriously pretty, slim, clad-in-crepe-de-chine Emilia Fox*, his contained the word 'amazing' a mere three times. 

Futuregardens was brill and I would like to go on about it at some length but I want to have a proper think about exactly what I'd like to write first. In the meantime, je vous embrasse tous. 

* I actually had to suppress a psychotic lesbian impulse to stroke her lovely hair as well. And shout "you can investigate my death anytime, Dr Nikki Alexander!" Honestly she is like an Oxford educated Barbie, only with lovely real skin like a replicant. 

Friday, 29 May 2009


I didn't know this before, but apparently it can help in your defence for the crime of putting your mum's dead body in the freezer for twenty years if you keep your garden 'in pristine condition'. 

Thursday, 28 May 2009


So yesterday I participated for the first time in Wordless Wednesday, and I had written three paragraphs of text about the gorgeous Rose 'Albertine' before I realised, ahem, that is not strictly within the rules. So here it is on Wordy Thursday, with apologies to those who prefer their flower pictures un-meditated upon by their author. 

Albertine is a bit of a trashy old madame, she'll basically grow anywhere as far as I can tell. As a bit of a Proustophile myself, I cannot help thinking when I look at her of the female character who appears in the second half of Proust's big book, In Search of Lost Time. 

In the book, Albertine is described as being very pretty, with the 'little pink nose of a cat'; herself a bit flirty, she leads the main character 'Marcel' quite heavily astray, managing to get both a Rolls Royce and a yacht for her troubles despite not actually 'putting out' (as they say in 'Grease: The Movie'). 

Albertine the rose does, however, put out all June long. And then, with a bit of tender care and a once-over with the Felcos, she will do a few more flowers in the later summer, which of course I tend to love much more because there are less of them (the contradictions of a woman's mind, let's put that down to). And she smells good too. 

The character in the book was actually based on Proust's chauffeur, for whom he had a long and unrequited passion. Proust was gay, but obviously when it came to writing A la recherche he changed his annoyingly flirty chauffeur love into a girl, to avoid questions being asked. Honestly what a funny man. It's only after I realised that Proust was funny that I got round to reading the books, as up till then I had imagined they would be too loooonnnnggg and borrrrriiingg. 

But I will always think of the rose and the girl (and possibly the chauffeur too) interchangeably: as Peter Beale says, 'A famous old rambler, with a strong constitution.'