Beyond the Pail

Seriously? It’s April already? How did that happen! (If that’s rhetorical, does it need a question mark?) It’s all systems go here. David and I are Going For It big time: NEW sculpture focal point, NEW rill feature, NEW rose arch. And NEW hanging baskets – no more wicker, gone off rustic – and in their place, vintage galvanized buckets. We’ve even got one for the cats to lie in. More of that later…

Caroline's new rose arch, feature and focal point

Caroline’s new rose arch, feature and focal point
© Caroline Broome

In-between bouts of furious activity in the garden, we’ve been out and about too. (New Year’s Resolution: Get Out More). In March we visited Kew Gardens to see the orchid exhibition, and even though I’m not a fan of orchids I thoroughly enjoyed it. Such bold displays of colour and theatre that I even managed to get from one end of the hot house to the other without having a panic attack and running out! (Memories of Eden Project tropical biome.) There was one orchid that was so intensely turquoise blue that I had to touch it to make sure it was real. (Get a grip girl, it’s hardly likely to be plastic, is it, it’s KEW GARDENS!) Bumped into our esteemed Hort Soc Chair, Doc Page with family and friends; clearly not a good location for a secret rendezvous!

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition
© Caroline Broome

Last weekend we joined friends H & N at their lodge in Belton Woods, Lincolnshire, for a couple of days of R&R. An amble through the ash woodland revealed a cathedral of towering trees, their branches stretching up towards the cloudless sky. At the edge of the woods we saw a small herd of Sika deer. Oh, the peace and quiet; I could get used to this!

A catherdral of trees

A cathedral of trees
© Caroline Broome

Spurred on by all these bucolic influences it was straight back outside on our return, to start planting out. I was surprised to find myself slightly daunted by quite large patches of bare soil (more than 1m² I consider extensive in our garden) that I created by lifting loads of perennials last autumn. But gradually they are all being replanted in a more balanced design, with plenty of room still to spare for new ones of course.

At a recent horticultural club where I was presenting a PowerPoint presentation of The Evolution of Caro’s Garden, I was asked what my favourite plant was. And, like so many other gardeners, I answered, “the one that’s in flower right now.” Which is brunnera. I’m building up quite a collection with no thought whatsoever of where I will accommodate them. Brunnera Hadspens Cream is my latest acquisition, and my T&M trial ‘Alexander’s Great’ from a couple of years ago is certainly living up to its name!

Having derided wicker hanging baskets in our recent Hort Soc newsletter, I felt it would be churlish of me not to put my money where my mouth is, so all nine of them have been swapped for vintage galvanised buckets, purchased through a certain auction website. Once we’d entertained ourselves with humorous quips such as, Kicking the Bucket and Beyond the Pail, David got down to work drilling drainage holes, adjusting brackets and fixing chains, before I replanted all my cherished hostas, ready for the addition of colourful T&M plug plants, which are arriving by the minute.

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great' and Caroline's new hanging baskets

Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Caroline’s new hanging baskets
© Caroline Broome

Talking of which, every day is like Christmas, anticipating the arrival of new plugs: so far Nasturtium ‘Orchid Flame’, Begonia ‘Buffey’ & Begonia ‘Sweet Spice Bounty Coral’. Petunias next. Grown from seed, Tomato ‘Sweetest Duo’ aka. ‘Sungold’ & ‘Sweet Aperitif’, Tomato ‘Sweet Cherry’ and Cucumber ‘Mini Munch’ all have their first true leaves, and even one or two tiny seedlings of Nicotiana langsdorffii (much admired at last Summer’s T&M Press Open Day) have managed to survive thus far! Ricinis communis and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ seedlings, the easiest to grow, are well established now.

Mind you, the mad dash to the greenhouse to open the door and switch the propagators off before work, followed by the inevitable nocturnal dive to shut the door and switch the propagators back on overnight, is fraught with tension (quel domage, that should be one’s greatest worry in life, n’est-ce pas?).

Even going away for two nights was touch and go! Should I cover them with cloches, but they might bake to death; should I leave them uncovered, but they might wither from damping off. Shows you what my priorities are: as soon as we arrived home, a quick grovel to the cats, begging for forgiveness for leaving them, and then straight up to the greenhouse – to find all seedlings fine and dandy. Phew!

But what of the cats? Our covered patio, or Catatorium, was specifically designed for feline frolics in an outside space without risk of injury to the cats themselves or the wildlife beyond. Hence all the shelves and tunnels. The large wicker hanging basket was never meant for them, we just hung it up one day pending planting and Fred got in, and the rest as they say, is history. So the hunt was on for a galvanised replacement, big enough to accommodate two cats, after all, he’s got to have a double bed for him and his new bride, Ethel. And as luck would have it we found the very thing in Belton Wood Garden Centre, a 15” pail.

Caroline's cats, Fred and Ethel

Caroline’s cats, Fred and Ethel
© Caroline Broome

As time marches on plans for this summer’s National Garden Scheme Open Gardens is well under way. In July (Sunday 7th to be exact, put it in your diaries,) our Hort Soc is holding its second NGS Group Open Garden Day in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Our first suburb group open day in 2017 was such a rip roaring success that everybody wants to join in now, so we’ve ended up with 14 gardens (4 new) and 1 allotment, making this group possibly the largest in the UK for NGS. No pressure then!

So as dear old Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, “I’ll be back”. Can’t picture him pottering around in the garden though…

Spread The Love

I’m really not a fan of the aforementioned festive season, but I’ve suddenly realised that I lurve January! The inclement weather gives me the perfect excuse to be bone idle guilt free. Mind you, some things can’t wait, especially when you are up against the horticultural prowess of Diane, she of the London Gardens Society Best Large Back Garden 2016/17/18. (When will it end?) The task at hand is simple muck spreading. (Some might say we are experts in the wider sense already!) So I was galvanised into action after a phone call from Diane on New Year’s Day to tell me, smugly, that she had managed to lay seven bags of well-rotted horse manure over her borders that very day. And I, readers, hadn’t even placed my order yet! Quelle horreur! Within the week I had spread three-bags-full but more supplies were required on both sides so off we went to Crews Hill, Horticultural Retail Epicentre of The World. A dozen bags duly loaded into the vehicle, off we went to Myddleton House, home of celebrated horticulturalist E A Bowles, (ancestral connection with our very own Duchess of Cornwall having never occurred to me before).

Myddleton House Border

Myddleton House Border.
© Caroline Broome

What a lovely way to spend a dull January morning. The grounds were empty bar a couple of in-house landscapers who were rebuilding a dry-stone wall. We wandered around admiring the snowdrops and hellebores in the crisp echoey stillness of a typical winter’s day, the fragrance of hamamelis contorta and chimonanthus praecox filling the air. Mistletoe was abundant in the tree canopies but also at ground level, where we were fascinated to see how it grafts naturally onto its host. The ornamental grass borders looked so orderly combined with sedum spectabile – my sedum never looks that erect even when it’s in its prime. The hot houses were full of exotic succulents, tillandsias and cacti in pristine form. Reminded me of when I was a gel; I lived opposite Broomfield Park in North London and used to love to sneak into their huge lofty greenhouse. Somehow it seemed forbidden and eerie, with its seemingly bottomless irrigation channels sunk into the floor under the benches. (Didn’t care a hoot about the plants but just loved the otherworldliness of it.)

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House. © Caroline Broome

…But the rivalry doesn’t end there. There’s even Green Bin One-Upmanship! With the regular collections having been suspended for six weeks over the New Year, it’s a competition as to who’s created the most waste: “I’ve filled up my two garden bins as well as my two allotment bins.” “Well, I’ve filled up our bin and ALL the other neighbours’ bins in the entire street!” And now she informs me she’s had her silver birch trimmed. I tell you, she doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet (boom boom!)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There’s something so satisfying about spreading the mulch. Apart from the opportunity it gives you to get up close and personal with your plants, to get a sneak preview of spring as bulbs, shoots and buds start appearing, the borders look so finished once its down. (Reminds me of the flattering effect a layer of moisturising foundation can bring to one’s tired and dull complexion, my dear!) Mind you, it seems impossible to imagine the garden at full tilt in high summer with so much bare earth exposed right now. And of course there is the small matter of my digging up half the garden last autumn ‘cos I was bored with it all. Pity the poor transplanted perennials cowering their pots, exposed to the elements, until I’m ready to replant. (Hmm, wonder how soon I can start – steady on, its not even Valentine’s Day yet!) Seems everyone’s at it now, Rosie’s been out mulching the borders in her garden in all weathers. I really can’t be lagging behind so it‘s off to the nursery to buy bark chippings for the fernery and gravel for the stumpery.

Every year, a clever acquaintance makes a note of all plants flowering in her garden on New Year’s Day. Wish I’d the wits to think of that. So here’s my list of flowers for mid-January instead, some bang on target, some way off the mark seasonally speaking:

  • Hesperantha Major formerly known as schitzostylus (so annoying all these name changes.)
  • Salvia Black and Blue insinuated itself up the fence alongside a variegated trachylospurnum, its flowers cascading like wisteria. Hope I can bring that through the frosts, what a combination!)
  • Salvia confertiflora
  • Salvia Uliginosa
  • Coronilla glauca Citrina
  • Rosa Mutabilis ish, one or two bedraggled blooms amongst the orange hips.
  • Viburnum tinus Eve Price
  • Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise aptly named and much admired in the front garden, underneath the contorted hazel.
  • Fuchsia thalia on the patio
  • Fuchsia thymifolia
  • Snowdrops
  • Aconites
  • Melianthus major no natural timing this one, always produces buds just before the first frosts!
Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline's front garden border.

Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline’s front garden border. © Caroline Broome

There are an amazing amount of little treasures to be seen out there if you go looking. Over the holiday season David and I did our usual New Year’s Resolution walks in Kenwood on Hampstead Heath. Some might find the low light levels rather bleak but I love the paired down landscape, the bare trees, clear ponds and uninterrupted views of The City. You share your strolls with every dog and his man, chitchatting with owners and catching snatches of conversation as your pass. Cormorants and parakeets, magpies and crows, sparrowhawk.

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath. © Caroline Broome

Talking of birds, I’m looking forward to introducing three newcomers to the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch: goldfinches, starlings and a black cap. Must be the extensive array of seeds on offer, costing me a fortune. Black sunflower seeds, white sunflower hearts, meal worms, three flavours of fat block, oh and mixed birdseed for the squirrels. So worth it.

I feel quite inspired now, so it’s back to the T&M Spring Catalogue to place my Trial Plant Order. Colour colour colour 2019.

Roll on Spring! Love, Caroline

Messy Job, This Gardening Lark

Autumn colour came late this year, and puff, it was gone, leaving chaos and disorder in its wake. Now I’m a bit fussy about tidiness, not the best character trait for a gardener. And I’m not a fan of formal or minimalist gardens, preferring the organised chaos of more naturalistic schemes. This time of year I just have to man up and get on with the annual clear up. The recent mild weather has meant that whist some plants have well and truly crumbled, others are stubbornly growing on. No wholesale cutting back and mulching in this garden, oh no, flowers keep popping up, (quell damage, colour in December!) and deciduous ground cover keeps growing back, thinking its spring no doubt. So far we’ve filled six of our non-gardening neighbours’ bins and with one week to go before the council stop collecting the green bins until end January, the pressure’s on! Oh how I long for the leaves on the contorted hazel to drop awf to reveal its mystical twisted stems, but on the other hand I shall be so sorry to see its neighbouring blood red Ricinus inevitably succumb to the frost. And when do the grasses change from being architectural to a frightful mess? I can certainly relate to the expression on a friend’s ornamental bunny. (How I restrained myself from snaffling that little fellow home with me I shall never know!)

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!
© Caroline Broome

With all the tender salvias finally lifted and tucked up in the greenhouse along with the heuchera waifs and strays recuperating from the evil vine weevil, I can while away the time daydreaming and reflecting as I tidy up and file away Garden 2018. A challenging year, certainly on the weather front, with The Beast from the East then the Long Hot Summer, but what a learning curve. Confidence built, lessons learnt (yuck, cliché). Salvias, melianthus major & agastaches, which weren’t supposed to like the intense cold, survived. Reliable roses Rhapsody in Blue and For Your Eyes Only failed to flower in the heat. Slugs and snails almost extinct, hardly any wasps. But still the cannas didn’t come into flower until August. Win some, lose some.

And in general terms it’s been a year of extremes. Great pride and joy at winning the London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden third year running; great shock at losing two of our cherished cats but great relief that two of our other cats survived serious illness. Deep sorrow at losing my wonderful 106-year-old friend Ethel. I first met Ethel when she asked me to do her garden for her as she could no longer climb the ladder to prune her honeysuckle. She was 100. She had nerines that were older than me! Ethel was a great believer in the adage, ‘Adapt or Die’. As it is in life, so it is in the garden. When Ethel eventually moved into a care home I continued to visit her every fortnight. Even then, she was always Up For It. Countless number of times she would reel off a poem she had leant as a child and I would look it up on Google and join in. I learnt so much through Google with Ethel that I would never have known otherwise: Why are yawns catching; do the nails on your dominant hand grow faster than on the other? And as a postscript, we are about to introduce a new Siamese kitten into our household. And her name? Why, Ethel of course!

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel
© Caroline Broome

We had holidays in Cornwall in October and Cyprus in November. Do you realise that it took the same amount of time to drive to our friends Bob’n’Patti in Manaccan near Helford, as it took to reach our friend Naomi in Paphos? 7 hours, door to door on both counts. Never mind Friends in High Places, its Friends in the Right Places as far as we are concerned! B&P recently had their garden landscaped, including the regeneration of their wildlife friendly perimeter hedge. Their house isn’t called Fair Winds for nothing, so all the plants must be resistant to severe exposure (something I am not, being the cossetted Londoner that I am). The temperate climate is host to all variety of plants that I have little experience of, or at least ones that I am used to treating as annuals. Echiums spread like weeds in their garden; so-called tender fuchsias & agapanthus grow in robust clumps. Nerines everywhere (again?). Schitzostylis Major on steroids! And imagine having a Trachycarpus Fortunei as the focal point of your borders. (Can’t help name dropping now.) We spent a happy couple of hours at a local nursery choosing a second wave of shrubs for the gaps in the original design, common to both of our gardens, such as hebes, hydrangeas and viburnum.

Bob and Patti's Cornwall Garden

Bob and Patti’s Cornwall Garden
© Caroline Broome

For poor travelers like me Cyprus is a perfect holiday location; driving on the left-hand side, same power points, taxi drivers with cousins in Turnpike Lane. You can tell a British ex-pat by the number of roses in their gardens. The only lawns to be seen are at the luxury beach side hotels, expensive enough to employ gardeners and sprinklers 24/7 – somehow they just don’t go with the local terrain anyway. Parasol shaped pergolas, intertwined with bougainvillea, frame the pavement cafes lining the streets of Paphos harbour. Oleanders and brugmansias adorn every suburban villa; ipomoea winds its way through the wire fencing of every parking lot; wild rose, lantana and rosemary hedges. Coastal paths lined with trachycarpus, olive trees, and banana palms. Cannas along the road side verges. Mega-aromatic pots of basil, lemon balm, rosemary and oregano, placed casually up the steps to Naomi’s apartment.

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden
© Caroline Broome

Of course, we made our annual pilgrimage to Tala Monastery Cat Sanctuary, currently home to 800 abandoned and stray cats, all named and loved and cared for by English manager Dawn Foote and husband Mark. Whether a fine pedigree or a one- eyed feral, all cats are pragmatic but barmy, illustrated here in some truly ludicrous sleeping poses.

Cats

Cats
© Caroline Broome

So there it is for another year, life chez Broome: gardening, friends and cats. We’ll be raising a glass to 2018 and toasting new challenges for 2019. I make no apologies for my sentimentality. Season’s Greetings, keep healthy, live and love well. Laugh a lot. Caroline xxxx

Pass Me My WW1 Trenching Tool

Oh but wasn’t I right – as the nights draw in we wistfully reminisce about the long hot summer of 2018. Get over it! Time to move on! And move on we have; half the garden is enjoying the extrovert opulence of autumn and half, well, the other half has been dug up! The prospect of a year out of charity open days and competitions (more of that later) has been liberating to say the least.

No more Kilmarnock Willow
© Caroline Broome

Armed with my WW1 trenching tool and my shiny new rabbiting spade no clay is too impervious to the dislodgement (new word that) of plants that have either outstayed their welcome or aren’t earning their keep. Funny thing, the more plants I dig up the more opportunities I see. If I keep on going like this there won’t be a perennial left standing in the borders. That’s not to say I’m discarding them, on the contrary, I’m dividing them and potting them on so that I can relocate them next spring where they can create more impact. Shrubs are another matter: gone for good are fuchsia magelanica Alba, replaced by viburnum Mariesii, cotinus coggygria Royal Purple giving way to photinia Pink Crispy, Kilmarnock willow in favour of red stemmed contorted willow, and as soon as its stops raining elaeagnus Limelight gets it. From the patio, miniature ornamental cherry Kojo-No-Mai and hydrangea King George are off down the road to a friend’s woodland garden, and hydrangea Zorro Pink off up the road to NGS fellow Rosie. Along with two large containers that displayed annual climbers this summer I have now created five new planting opportunities to savour over the coming winter months.

And so to this summer’s star performers:

  • T&M Ricinus Impala. Transformation from seed to 4ft triffid in 20 weeks, withstanding the exposed north winds of our front garden and roof terrace. Real show stopper.
  • Salvia Involucrata Boutin. Not reliably hardy? Well if it managed to get through last winter in North London I’d say take the risk. In its third year outside now, all I’ve done to protect it is to cut the stems down to about 45cms and mulch deeply around the crown. Right now it’s at its peak, unrestrained; it’s the size of a small country! Arching spires of bright magenta flowers reaching 7ft high. Overall span in excess of 8ft with neighbouring plants intermingling through its loose habit. And so easy to take cuttings.
Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias 'Prairie Glow' and 'Goldsturm'

Left to right: Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias ‘Prairie Glow’ and ‘Goldsturm’
© Caroline Broome

  • Salvia Confertiflora with rudbeckias Prairie Glow & Goldsturm and patrinia scabiosifolia. My embroidery teacher (yes, well, I’ve got ‘O’ level Embroidery as it happens) always believed that red and yellow should never be seen together. Well you’re so wrong!
  • Salvia Black and Blue with rudbeckia Prairie Glow. Accidental pairing in the potting area will become next year’s most striking combination.
  • Coleus Campfire with Ipomoea Black Tone and Solar Power Green.
Accidental combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’

Left to right: Combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’
© Caroline Broome

  • T & M begonias. If I could only buy one plant from T & M it would be begonia. This year Solenia Apricot, Non Stop Mocca, Fragrant Falls Orange Delight. Easy to grow plugs, extensive and prolific flowering habit, versatile placement, reliable tubers for overwintering. Can never have too many.
Tomato 'Sweet Baby'

Tomato ‘Sweet Baby’
© Caroline Broome

Having almost given up on the greenhouse tomatoes ever ripening, I am now relieved to report that T&M trials of Sweet Baby, Artisan Mixed and Rainbow Blend were, er, marginally successful in the end. Although all three varieties were deliciously tart, the skins of Artisan and Rainbow were quite thick. I feel vindicated as other growers have experienced similar results even after judicious feeding and regular watering, so I recon it’s to do with the excessive heat. Bound to be some chemical explanation available somewhere. Cucumber Nimrod supplied us with loads of fruits for weeks on end, so I came up with a lovely salad idea:

  • Thinly slice cucumbers, multi-coloured tomatoes, red onions and radishes.
  • No peeling, salting or draining required.
  • Marinate in French dressing overnight.
  • Eat! Simples!

Not all my culinary efforts have been so fruitful (boom boom!) Apples and pears on the allotment have been few and far between this autumn, no plums at all, but plenty of tiny sweet bunches of black grapes. Pride certainly comes before a fall. After bragging about my blackberry jam triumph in my last blog, not so with grape jelly this time! Having followed the recipe to the letter, sterilised everything, bought muslin cloth and a thermometer, it failed to set. Boiled it up again, sterilised everything again, still didn’t set. Five jars of deeply rich grape syrup anyone? Not one to admit defeat, certainly with no intention of wasting it, I am poaching nectarines to preserve in the syrup instead. Job done!

……..And talking of competitions, The London Gardens Society All London Championship Awards 2018 were held at The Guildhall, City of London last Thursday evening. David & I were shortlisted for the Best Small Back Garden, Diane for the Best Large Back Garden and Rosie for Best Patio. Having both won the cup two years running in our respective categories, Diane and I entered the hall with severe trepidation: dark thoughts of rivalry and one-upmanship bubbled away at the prospect of Diane scoring a hat trick and us not. How was I to be her friend anymore should that come to pass? (I’ve already had to reign in my canna envy – she does nothing to them from year to year I tell you, and they are still the tallest I’ve ever seen in a domestic garden and in pots at that!) Well readers, as it happens WE BOTH RETAINED OUR TITLES so all was well. Haha! Rosie won a silver medal in Best Patio category (she was robbed!) and we won bronze in the Best Small Front Garden class (must try harder) so celebrations all round.

Carolines friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards

Left to right: Caroline’s friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards
© Caroline Broome

With autumn in full swing now thoughts are turning to next year’s horticultural activities and challenges. Plans are already underway for our Hampstead Garden Suburb Hort Soc three day coach trip to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight next July. A week later the Hort Soc is having its second National Garden Scheme Group Open Day with twelve gardens and one allotment this time. Having said that we were not opening our garden next year, I think it highly likely that David and I will have a pop-up Open Day in aid of the London Gardens Society, but not until late summer. I am so looking forward to being able to make radical changes without having to face deadlines, so that NGS visitors can return in 2020 to rejuvenated and innovative planting schemes. I can’t believe that I’m anticipating two years hence, and being of a superstitious nature, I say all this with my fingers firmly crossed behind my back (quite a feat if you’re typing) with the caveat that We Make Plans and Fate Laughs.

Enjoy the autumn. It’s a long winter ahead!

July – Anyone for Blackberry Jam?

So here we are in early August, it’s 33c outside, and I’m making blackberry jam! What on earth is going on? No sooner had the strawberries finished fruiting than the blackberries were ripe for picking! Is it me or has there been a worldwide conspiracy perpetuating the mysteries of jam making? 10 minutes, some jam sugar and fruit and it’s done. How simple was that. I’ve even gone on to make blackberry coulis. No doubt the apples will be rotting off the trees by the end of the month so I’ll try my luck at Apple Cheese. Blackberry and apple pie in a heatwave is just a bridge too far.

As we enjoy a glorious respite in the garden I’m reflecting upon our eventful summer: first our Hort Soc coach trip to Kent and East Sussex, then Thompson & Morgan Press Open Day, followed by our NGS Open Day hot on the heels of the London Gardens Society competition.

Amazing trees at Goodnestone Park Gardens

On July 1st, 29 of us set off on our three day Jolly amid gardens great and small, no responsibilities, no driving, no phone calls, no housework, no gardening. Yikes, what about the watering? Our irrigation system (aka leaky hose, some lengths leakier than others, due to careless forkage) only runs along the back of the borders. The central island bed, fernery, front borders and containers all need daily watering, if not twice daily. (Yeah, I know, Right Plant Right Place, but what exactly constitutes The Right Plant for this searing heat in clay soil, eh?) Patio no problem; the veterinary nurse who comes in to minister to ours cats’ needs (go on, say it, They Have Their Own Nurse Maid?) was happy to water. But the garden beyond is out of bounds (my Dearly Beloved bolts the gate with an iron bar to ward off intruders) so at the eleventh hour, he managed to rig up a timer onto our oscillating sprinkler (had to look that up, I had no idea what those up-and-over sprinklers were called, did you?). Next decision: which part of the border gets lucky? In the end we opted for the hot border that was about to come into flower and all was well.

T&M Press day!

A couple of weeks later, as T&M plant triallists, we were invited to attend Press Day, held at RHS Hyde Hall. T&M’s new show ground is so breathtakingly colourful that surely you could see the floral displays from space.  Swathes of vibrant flowers and foliage to inspire and motivate you. A new range of echinacea, improved alstroemerias, petunias and begonias. And of course hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride Snow White’, winner of Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2018. New trends for 2019 include Climate Gardening, Stress Relief and Extending Summer. Venerable British gardening writer and TV broadcaster Peter Seabrook was there (I do love a celebrity, don’t you) to present an award to T&M’s very own veg guru, Colin Randell for 50 years in the horticultural industry. Most of all though it was lovely to meet the team and talk about future plans.

Ready for NGS and looking great!

Back on the home front, it was time to start preparing the garden for the London Garden Society judges and NGS Open Day visitors alike, and that included filling the gaps that I had left for some last minute judicious planting. And boy, did I heal’em in! The long awaited day of the annual Chenies Manor Plant Fair dawned. Over 30c it was, quite hideous in fact, but did it put me off, no way. Plants were purchased and abandoned for collection later by my long suffering DB (David Broome/Dearly Beloved – get it!?) Such is my bewildering sense of direction I had to photograph the plant stalls on my phone so that we could find them again later! A sudden urge to redesign the planting on the roof terrace meant loads of new grasses and red hot pokers. I felt sorry for the plantsman who was selling the elusive willowy rudbeckia Prairie Glow; I swooped upon him with such excitement he must have thought I was unhinged. Friends Yvonne and Marjorie, clearly also in the throes of plant lust, filled up the car with their finds until it steamed up. The back seat was dominated by towering lythrum, showering its flowers like confetti in an attempt to pollinate the upholstery.

The drying barn at Great Dixter & Hydrangea ‘True Blue’ at Goodestone

Long story short, after weeks and weeks of subtropical temperatures, the day before our NGS Open Day the heavens opened, the winds blew. Saturday morning I was out there in my babydolls, staking and stringing up the wayward thalictrum, filipendula, lythrum. (Felt like stringing myself up actually.) Having baked cakes all the previous week, max temp 35c, and bought a glass drinks dispenser with tap to serve elderflower cordial (for visitors) and Pimms (for after party-party-party), come the morning in question it was heavy rain, thick cloud and gusty wind! Bitter sweet or what? I’m not bitter…..Two cakes stayed in the freezer and out came the tea urn. (Why oh why is there always one visitor who wants decaffeinated tea?) But by 2pm opening time it had cleared and in point of fact the general consensus was that cool air had brought the visitors out whereas 90c would have kept them away. Could have done with those two cakes an’all. Still, you never can tell. 120 visitors, £1000 donated to NGS charities. Result!

The very next day the heat wave resumed and here we are in August, enjoying the slower pace of school holidays: roads and back gardens are quiet, parking is a joy, watering goes on and on. After such intense preparation I feel as if I’m neglecting the garden but in truth, apart from regular deadheading, feeding and watering, its doing its own thing quite happily with the minimum of intervention.  Actually I feel like a spare part.

One or two loose ends. I regret to admit that as far as T&M trial tomatoes are concerned there’s not an awful lot to report. Despite the better light levels, regular feeding, damping down and watering in the greenhouse, I have about a grand total of half a dozen trusses resulting from six cordons. And they are climbing out of the window! Cucumber Nimrod is another story – lovely fruits and loads more to come. I have managed to make a gazpacho so all is not lost.

More by luck than judgement my patio theme 2018 has been very definitely Red! Red T&M begonias – what was I going to do with 36 Non Stop Mocca red begonias? No problem, they are everywhere, front and back, punctuating all the container displays – red thalia fuchsias, red salvias, red cannas, red coleus Campfire, red ricinus communis, red seat cushions, red framed wooden wall art, red hose and watering can even. Of course when it came to the LGS judge’s observation that this simple colour theme was strikingly effective in it simplicity, I had to concur, didn’t I.

And finally…..on our aforementioned coach trip we visited fellow T&M triallist Geoff Stonebanks’ Driftwood garden in Seaford. What a showman, a great host with a larger than life garden, with quirky plants and ornamentals everywhere. No wonder he’s been so successful in his charity fundraising. Well done Geoff, keep up the good work. We’re having a year off next year. Eat your heart out!

 

 

The Summer of 2018 will be remembered with mixed feelings, but one thing’s for sure, once the heatwave has gone and the nights start drawing in, we’ll miss it, you know.

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