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.