Monday, 31 May 2010

Hay festival almost passes me by

It's the annual and brilliant Hay festival this week, but sadly it's rather passing me by this year - I was incredibly busy last week with lots of extra orders for the Festival and different venue, and by Friday, when the jamboree began, I was fit for little except gasping. My gardens somehow managed to fill hundreds of vases last week, I can't quite imagine how! Luckily the first batch of cornflowers came on at just the right point, and a stand of sweet williams, along with the lovely iris, camassias and lots of other bits and pieces, but it was quite a job picking as everything is scattered in different areas at this time of year, I must try to get better organised for this time next year. This week I'll expect to be picking the first delphiniums and campanulas, veronicas and larkspur, pinks, astrantia, camassia, nigellas, alliums, iris, cornflower, sweet will, stocks, alchemilla, bupleurum....... but all in small quantities.

The gardens are beginning to look really beautiful, fresh and inviting, from the herb garden in the cottage garden outwards. And rather weedy. I'm trying to sort out how much labour I need for the summer but haven't quite got it right yet.

Every sunflower seedling has been eaten by pigeons. They arrived one by one at first then a whole flock came. About 100 metres x 2 metres now empty. In desperation we have sown some in modules in the tunnel but we can't fit enough in as the tunnel is full. Bother.

The dogs have been doing their bit for pest control though. They're both getting quite plump as they're spending a lot of time in the hedges and every day seem to eat at least one rabbit. It was a bit much when I arrived back with them from somewhere in the car, opened the boot, they jumped straight out and killed a rabbit in the garage though. Not good.

I had a call from a journalist wanting to mention me in a feature in one of the national Sundays in a few weeks. I hope that I was helpful but I know I was not as forthcoming as usual. Gardens Illustrated, who I really rate and want to continue to work with in different ways sent a photographer for a (wet and windy) weekend last year, and a writer, and had a good look at what's going on here (though I'll probably grimace a bit when I see it as things have moved on so far from last year, now we're more than double the size and production!) and the GI piece will be coming out at about the same time as this proposed mention. So I really didn't want to give too much away - to be fair this journo is not writing a piece on the gardens but how people can create their own cutting gardens and just wants to mention a couple of places where they can go to buy garden flowers if they don't want to create their own, so she was really looking for advice on plants through the seasons and so on, and she did understand when I explained that I wasn't going to give away my favourite four plants for each season as i didn't want to cover the same ground as in the GI article as they had priority. If she had come here she would have known that I am probably not the person to ask for advice on what to grow in a small space or in a well organised manner, I think I will invite her up later in the year.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

long hot days - and Chelsea

Phew what a scorcher, or words to that effect. Yes the weather was fabulous for a few days, but not so fabulous for gardening, I have had to keep even more unusual hours than usual, trying to work early in the morning and late in the evening. My heart went out to all the Chelsea exhibitors trying to cope with supraMediterranean weather, especially in the floral pavilion, it has been hard enough here trying to keep cut flowers in good condition while we condition them, bunch and pack. I was very fortunate to get to Chelsea yesterday (in the boiling heat) to drop off some flowers and have a good look around. Lovely to see how the more natural style of planting is everywhere, encouraging to see lots of the same plants as we have here. Slightly galling to see people using swathes of my absolute favourite euphorbia shillingii which I lost this winter....

Because I was off all day Monday, wonderful Meg came over on Sunday to help me pick for Monday's orders, that she then sorted. I don't have a walk in fridge here (mental note to purchase some sort of insulated container at least for next summer if at all possible) so I blacked out the flower house where I pack, as it does at least have the advantage of having the main windows all facing north, but how I wished for an old cool stone barn...... We couldn't pick until 10pm on Sunday evening because it had been too hot, and we were still sorting at somewhere around midnight, then I was up at 4.oo to check what we had picked the night before and pick any others we needed while it was still cool, plus pack a bunch of wildish looking pinks and purples and greens for Gardens Illustrated's stand. Decided not to drive, so got the train around 6.00....fabulous few hours looking around, then another meeting, then back on the train and trying to deal with packing queries (it had to be the one day I had not quite sorted out all the greetings cards and postcodes so poor Meg and another helper were left with a slight muddle as well as trying to make sure things looked fresh on the hottest day of the year), home around 6.45 and out to check and water the tunnel and anything that was totally gasping.

Happily it is cooler today. Even the field garden is beginning to take off, so many different textures and colours of foliages to choose from as well as the flowers...

And my flowers looked very at home on the GI stand!

Friday, 21 May 2010

suddenly it's all action

I'm so sad to see the tulips finishing, but the joy of having so many is that those no longer suitable for sending out stay and wave their graceful dying dance in the field so I can still enjoy them. And suddenly the sunshine is bringing everything leaping along furiously fast (though of course never quite fast enough or too fast, is it possible to get it just right in a garden?). The outside sweet peas which have sat sullenly unable to move since they were put out in the sheltered top garden at least five weeks ago must have grown a foot in a week. The cottage garden has overnight turned into a purple and pink haze of aquilegias and alliums and joy of joys the iris are all budding up. But I am very ambivalent about their arrival. I love them, the picture attached is one of my favourites from the gardens although I have hundreds to choose from, but as soon as I see their fat purple buds appearing along their stems (I have at least a dozen different types of I. sibirica for cutting with slightly different colours and habits, including palest pale blue to dark regal purplish blue) I know they will be over soon. So it is with a mix of joy and sadness that I greet them as they are probably among the quickest of all to flower and vanish.

I'm disappointed that the libertias were rather badly hit by frost and many are still looking hideously browned and unhappy, though some are throwing up their lovely white spikes, and sheaths of Nectaroscordum are poking provocatively between them before they split open, having chosen to move in to the libertia area. The first cornflowers are suddenly flowering, it's rather odd to have them at the same time as the last of the tulips, and I'm a complete convert to some of the double tulips as they have stood and stood and stood and although no longer fit for cutting, they have given pleasure for about five weeks. Astrantias have been promiscuous this winter it seems, lots of crossing has gone on and I seem to have a lot of different slightly shaggy pinks that I haven't seen before.

Anna Pavord's piece has had a fantastic response this week, and thanks to all those senders or recipients who took the trouble to leave me a message or even send me a card to say thank you. I was particularly touched by a call from a delighted gentleman who had sent a bunch to his wife for her birthday. They had been to Hidcote the day before and had particularly admired the last of their tulips, then when my flowers arrived exactly the same tulips appeared so it looked as though I had just rushed over to Hidcote and picked specially for them. I would just like to confirm that I live quite a way from Hidcote, so if any of their tulips have disappeared I am not the culprit!

And now the less good part of the week. BT Broadband. Having had the best publicity I could wish for, for a largely online business, on Tuesday night our broadband went down. I got up around 5 on Wednesday to do emails as usual and discovered that none of the messages I thought I had sent the night before had gone off. And there was no internet, just an onscreen message telling me there was a problem..... to cut a very long stressful story short the BT hassle went like this: Four and a half hours of telephone calls to different people who each asked me for exactly the same information and each gave me an entirely different reason for the problem. These included 1. my not having paid the bill and the phone line being barred - False. Bill paid, no bars, but this took 4 phone calls to establish going through the horrendous BT menu each time including two trips to Bangalore or wherever. 2. My having changed the settings on my computers. False. Two different technicians in Bangalore or wherever. 3. There being a fault in the BT box where the broadband line enters the house. False. technician in Bangalore and supervisor. This was particularly surreal, me sitting here trying not to scream or weep while I was asked the dimensions of my BT box and the exact position of the two screws that held it into the wall....4. My router not working - actually this was part of the questioning for each different call, I must have explained what the lights on the router looked like fifteen times.....

And the real reason? A problem with the broadband in the whole area here. No-one in the Clifford exchange had broadband at all on Wednesday or for most of Thursday and it is STILL limping as I rant this at 09.01 on Friday morning. I have had to drive in and out of Hay (a half hour return journey) three times a day to collect and respond to orders as this has been my biggest week ever and I have not wanted to let people down or seem like a flake..... If they had admitted that at the beginning it would still have been annoying of course. But not so annoying. I was a very ragged person to be around on Wednesday and though I don't think of myself as "doing" stress, that day I definitely did.

But the flowers have been great, and it is amazing how much better I always feel as soon as I can get my hands back into the earth or around a bunch of flower stems!

Monday, 17 May 2010


The first and last weekend off of this summer was brilliant, Michael Morpurgo's warhorse is as brilliant as reviews have stated, and thanks Tom and Ellie for a wonderful wedding party, and of course thanks to my family for taking time out to spend some relaxing time together ..... I returned to lots of very positive correspondence after the article on Saturday, if you didn't see it, Anna Pavord (big thanks) got it just right, describing the slightly obsessed gardener that I am!

It's amazing being away for even a couple of days, the gardens look further on than they did on Friday, some of the spectacular alliums have opened, and some of the darkest astrantias, and my gorgeous white Oriental poppies are popping open. I know I can't really use them in cut flowers apart from bouquets and short term displays but I do so love then..... But that was all I could really notice in the twilight, daylight is now breaking so I'm off for my early morning tour now!

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Independent article

Look out for us next Saturday May 15th (I think there were rather more important things keeping the papers busy last weekend) as I believe we're appearing in the Saturday magazine. It could be awful but fingers crossed! The piece was originally meant to come out much earlier when the tulips were in full bloom but unfortunately now comes out at the very butt end of tulip time, and as all outside gardeners will know May is a slightly in between time without other bulk flowers yet making an appearance. But we do have lots of lovely things getting ready, it is just rather a lengthy business picking and preparing compared to those times with great stands of things beckoning to be picked. But I guess that's gardening, things are always better a week before or a week later.....

Saturday, 8 May 2010

and more wedding

bouquets and buttonholes etc will follow at some later stage....

wedding time

The weather wasn't as kind as it could have been for a May wedding, but we think the flowers looked beautiful! How incredibly obliging of all the beautiful elegant lily shaped and peony faced tulips to bloom at just the right time, so they were the main attraction, with scillas and others, and bouquets contained plenty of lily of the valley... A few pictures to give you the general idea.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

wedding preparations

We've got a lovely wedding on this weekend, or I hope we'll help to make it lovely, so today was getting the materials together. I don't know how conventional florists manage this, we are so lucky having amazing things to pick so don't have to worry about ordering in but can rush out and pick what we want. But it still takes about a day to pick what we need, it is unbelievable how much foliage we have gathered, but it will still probably not be enough! We have a full church door garland plus three other garlands and a large hanging globe and tent pole decorations to do, and these all take buckets and buckets of greenery as the bases. Meg arrived with sack loads of wonderful mature eucalpytus from a tree that desperately needed pruning which we will use in the bases and other arrangements, with viburnum, malus, lavender, stachys, golden philadelphus and ivies before we start on the flowers - mainly a mix of Solomon's seal, camassia and scillas with lily of the valley and the most delicious double white scented tulips and beautiful white lily shaped tulips which are obligingly in their full glory and look so delightfully bridal. Bridal wreath spirea and the other lovely Bridal white arching shrub whose name I've currently forgotten will brighten the globe, and some of the tulips will go in the church arrangements, others on tables and the very best in the bouquets and buttonholes. Or so I hope, I will post photos when they exist!

But first we had to make more garland cages, out with the chicken wire and snippers which is a job I don't enjoy doing and happily Steve who helps here on Wednesdays is a dab hand with the wire cutters - he has made the sweet peas such superior wired supports this year I dare them not to do their best.....

And now an early night - it's sometimes a good thing being an insomniac because it means there are a few more hours in my day than most people have, but sometimes just a drag, and today was one of those days when I was working a lot slower than usual. Thanks so much to the charming Martha who came along to see what we were getting up to and stayed and weeded for most of the day. The weeds are definitely beginning to gain ground now, but that's just the way it is at this time of year, hopefully we'll keep on top of them in most areas but we're going to ignore them in the new big patch and hope for the best. Even for someone who has little sleep there are only so many hours in the day.

I saw the photos they're putting in the article this Saturday and had to laugh - I had jokingly said to the photographer (Jamie Harris, charming as well as talented but usually shoots fashion so he got a very raw deal here though he told me that it's OK as being unfashionable is actually very fashionable) ) that my mother would be horrified that I hadn't brushed my hair. She will be more horrified when she sees the main photo of me clutching some flowers as my hands are utterly utterly ingrained and filthy, serious gardening paws...........

Saturday, 1 May 2010

size just might matter

For the person who left a very chatty message but no return number: Yes I do have more than 2 acres in intensive cultivation, don't know quite how much as I'm very bad at judging but the whole field is 5.6 acres and there's more than a third of that growing weeds among more salubrious offerings, plus at least three quarters of an acre in other bits. 

And yes it is a lot and no it is not very tidy.

But yes I do love it because it means I can be outside nearly all the time and really rather grubby and probably become at least as feral in my fifties as I was when growing up as a country tomboy ....! 

And it is all worthwhile when (as today) someone phones up after receiving a bouquet with a lovely generous message and they love my flowers too. Because that is what it is all about.