When I think of tulips, I think of Amsterdam. I think most people do. It’s almost certainly to do with the song which I have hummed in my head a thousand times over since childhood… windmills, tulips… mice wearing clogs… but I’d never actually been to Amsterdam. In fact; I’d never actually been to Holland, and considering the number of bulbs I plant every year, it seemed a shame not to know where a lot of them had originated. When you are a writer – sometimes you are lucky enough to be taken to wonderful places on press trips – and this week, I finally got to see Amsterdam! Although I was there for a blissful three days – seeing plenty of other sights around the area and in Haarlem – it would have been possible to do Keukenhof in one day from the UK (a long day, but definitely worth it if it’s the only way you can afford to do it).
Arriving at Keukenhof was just as you would imagine – once you have cleared the gates, it was like arriving at a theme park for gardeners! The sun was shining on us as we walked around the park, and although it is difficult to suggest an exact time of year to go (with tulips being like all plants – and doing exactly what they want in their own sweet time), the park was looking incredible this week. There were some parts of the planting which weren’t yet at their peak – for example a huge picture of Van Gogh planted in blue plants, which were only just coming out, but on the whole, the flowers were looking just perfect!
The thing I loved most about the tulips there was that there were so many different varieties to look at. Tulips are so varied, and really have something for everyone to fall in love with – no matter what your style. I have always loved the parrot tulips – with their stunning colours, but this week I have fallen in love with the smaller more round budded varieties. The colours all around the park are like an assault on the senses – in the best possible way of course! It would be impossible to look upon the bright glossy reds, and the cheerful yellows, without a smile on your face.
Of course, if tulips aren’t your favourite thing, there are plenty of other flowers there too – hyacinths, and narcissi, and all of the other beautiful spring flowers that combined with the tulips, make Keukenhof a very special place indeed. The park is only open for 8 weeks in the springtime, but if you have ever wanted to see this wonderful display – it’s definitely worth the visit!!!
For some people, the structured gardens are not appealing, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be of interest to visit the area. Following our visit in Keukenhof, we rode through the bulbs fields on bicycle. It is possible to hire cycles from right outside the park, and the experience of riding through the bulbs fields – with a bright tapestry of colours from the tulips, and hyacinths, is something that I will never forget. Now when I plant my spring bulbs, or when I buy a bunch of tulips, I won’t just be picturing Amsterdam – I will be thinking of bulb fields, and the scent of the flowers on the air, and a wonderful country with an amazing history which has been so interlinked with horticulture.
I am sitting looking out at the garden and there seems to be a funny tinge to the trees. They have a kind of lightness in their colour, but only here and there. Underneath one of the trees there is a scattering of leaves, the trees are shaking off the leaves from the summer which provided such wonderful shade on those long hot days we were lucky enough to have in the summer. But the winds are changing, there is a breeze which is rattling the branches as I write. The autumn is hastening on. I have taken to wearing my woolly tights to work, and there is a definite chill in the air.
My favourite thing about this time of year is what happens to nature. There are so many exciting things to look at with conkers, and hips, and by no means least – the leaves. The colour of the changing leaves never fails to take my breath away. It’s not the yellow, or the orange, or the red. It is the myriad of colours and hues in between that seem to pervade each leaf. The way in which the leaves start to curl up at the edges, knowing that their job is done.
Sweet chestnuts are another real treat at this time of year, along with pumpkins of course! It doesn’t matter how old I get, I am still always excited to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. This year I have promised myself that I won’t waste the flesh though, and will make a pumpkin pie, or some soup.
Although spring is a time for promise in the garden, I see autumn as a time of bounty.
Something appears to have happened in my garden. All of a sudden, it is full to bursting with roses – some of which are just in bud, some in full bloom, and some, which have got to the painful point of just bursting.
As I stood taking photographs of the roses in my garden on Friday evening, I watched as one burst in front of me – the petals cascading to the floor – completely spent. It had done everything that it could do, and after giving days of incredible scent, it was over. Just like that. I almost felt a stab of pain as I watched it happen – gone for another year.
I hadn’t been expecting the roses – I have been so caught up in planting other parts of my garden, that I had completely forgotten that they would be coming. It sounds strange to hear myself say that, as my garden is small, and the roses are such a big part of the garden in the summer months, but because most of them were already in the garden when I moved in, I don’t really anticipate them, and when they bloom, they are like a wonderful surprise. There is the rambling rose, which towers high above the rest of the garden. I can’t even tell, to what it is clinging, but the tiny white flowers, tinged with pink, are so different to all of the rest of the roses in the garden – which are largely the old English type, that she stands quite apart from the rest.
Some of the roses are quite gaudy – in bright oranges, or yellows, they wouldn’t have been something that I would have picked for myself, but they try so hard, and stand so proudly, that I daren’t think of taking them out. The scent from them is divine too, so I take great delight in cutting them, and filling jugs full of them for the house. They may only last a few days – but for that time, the cottage smells heavenly.
Perfection in peach
There are roses which are tightly budded, like a pair of lips, waiting to be kissed, and there are others which have petals which are so far flung, that they look to be trying to break away from the plant. Each of them have their own personality – but each very much a rose.
Roses seem to be so unequivocally English – there is something about them which screams Cottage Garden – they are talked of in literature, and shown in paintings throughout the ages, and they always evoke pure beauty. It seems strange that they have such thorny stems – almost warding away the picker!
For these few weeks, the garden will smell of roses, and I plan to enjoy every second of it!
I have been to Chelsea before – I have always loved it and I’m sure I always will. Never before have I felt so excited about going as I did this year. The last time I went to Chelsea, it was the second day and I went with one of my best friends, a florist who runs a fantastic florist shop in Berkshire called Green Parlour. My friend Emma had got the tickets for us and we had a wonderful day looking around the show together – looking for inspiration for her floral designs. This year was quite different. I had been lucky enough to be accepted for Press Day and I was so excited to be able to see the showground, whilst it was still quiet before the gates opened to the general public the following day.
The fantastic Get Well Soon garden at Chelsea this year
Walking around the grounds so early in the morning was wonderful, and gave me the chance to speak to the garden designers and exhibitors as they were putting the finishing touches to their displays. You could tell how much work had gone into their exhibits and although they were clearly nervous waiting for the judges to come around, everyone was so friendly and keen to speak to me about their gardens.
There are so many things that I love about Chelsea – I love to see what medals have been awarded and I love to listen to the opinions that people have of the gardens as they speak to their friends. Every garden will divide opinion and it’s easy to see why. There is such a range of different gardens that they will never be to everyone’s taste. For me, the larger show gardens are hard for me to get passionate about. It’s not that I don’t think they are beautiful – I do! I find it hard to draw inspiration from them though, as they are so different to my own garden. The artisan gardens are a different matter though, they are about the right size for my garden at home. I can find so many things in them that I would like to bring home to my own garden.
The wonderful “Get Well Soon” garden by The National Botanic Garden of Wales was fantastic – full of things to show us that gardening is good for our health. I chatted to the ladies who were putting their finishing touches to the garden, who were all very friendly and I will definitely be going down to visit them in the garden in Wales.
The Grand Pavilion is another fantastic part of Chelsea – there are displays from nurseries from up and down the country. It’s a great way to look at plants that you might want to order as bulbs. The scent is indescribable and hits you as soon as you walk in.
What can we do to ensure that our allotments are getting the love that they deserve? Locally to me in Hertfordshire, there are some sites which have been threatened with closure, due to planned developments – the people who grow on the sites are understandably battling hard to try to keep their beloved allotments, and it made me think about what it is that we love about our allotments, and why some sites are now struggling to fill plots, or why councils are trying to close them down for development.
Me and my old allotment plot
I had an allotment a few years ago – I was like many allotmenteers – very excited to have the plot – full of enthusiasm when the days were long and sunny, and when I had time to get out and clear the plot – which was completely overgrown when I got it, and after I had carefully planned what I wanted to grow, and bought myself a brand new allotment diary, I thought that I was all set. The one thing I hadn’t planned for, was the amount of time that I would want to spend at the allotment, and when I would fit that into my already busy life. For many people – they can share their allotment with their spouse or partner, or they can take the kids along to help them out, and make a bit of a day out every weekend – but for me, there were my long suffering parents, who couldn’t bear to see the plot go untended in the weeks when I didn’t get a chance to get down there. Soon the plot had become their job, rather than mine, and without getting time to spend on it myself, I soon lost interest. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have the plot, and it wasn’t that I didn’t absolutely love the gardening – any kind of gardening is pretty close to heaven in my eyes, but I found that I started to get annoyed with myself, because I couldn’t give it the time that it deserved, at least not as well as tending my own garden at home, which was also suffering neglect with me trying to split my free time between the two.
Things have changed now, and I find that I want to spend even more time, rather than less in my garden, and I’m wishing that I still had space to grow my own food. Having spoken to various people locally, I know that there are some sites that are struggling to fill all of the plots that they have – maybe people, like me, have found that they don’t have the time to keep them up, or that after last year’s bad weather, they don’t want to bother with their plot again this year. I was really surprised to hear that there were some places with free spaces though, as I have always thought that there were full waiting lists everywhere. Luckily, my parents have got space in their garden to let me have a little veg patch, so last night I put in my potatoes and onions, and I’m going to grow some cutting flowers – probably sweet peas, which I adore! I wonder what can be done though, to fill up the empty spaces in the council run allotments? I wonder if there is any way that the plots can go onto a centralised website for each council – I know that this is already done in some areas, and it makes it much easier for people to look on a map and see if there are any available plots.
The old plot – a productive year
For anyone who has ever grown their own fruit and vegetables, they won’t need telling how great a feeling it is; to eat food that you have grown from seed, is incredibly satisfying – add to that the sense of community that grows between people on allotment sites – all sharing their left over seed, or coming over to lean on an old fork and chat about what they’ve put in, and whether it’s early, or late, and whether there might be a frost. The health benefits are untold – spending time outside, digging, not to mention eating food that you know exactly where it has come from.
If you ask me – it’s a no-brainer – if there are any local allotment sites with plots available – bite their hand off!