Saturday, 30 March 2013

And your question is?

In answer to many questions. For early production in most parts of the Uk you do need a tunnel. 

But apart from that, spot the difference:

The garden on the Welsh borders this week

And the garden in Dorset

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Kitchen flowers

Not just for orphan lambs  (and bountiful baking, I think I shall eventually burst if I keep cooking as much as I have been since coming down here, an Aga is a wonderful thing but also a tyrannical beast, telling me constantly to bake bake bake as it's costing me money not to) today the Aga  has also been a useful flower warmer. I have been worrying for months about a wedding going out today as the wedding is on Saturday but there are no couriers to deliver on Friday morning, so flowers have to sit around an extra day.

As it happens, rather than worrying about them going over, my main concern has been trying to get buds popped and started into flowering so they're not all tightly furled, not a good look. So buckets and buckets sat on the table near the Aga all night and looked a bit more hopeful this morning. I know, it's exactly what I would usually advise people not to do.

Building work starts next week, more chaos. The trouble is, now that I've been here a couple of months the need for doing anything seems rather irrelevant even though I know really that things need doing. Certainly it will be a good idea to mend the roof, and stop the electrics being scarily dodgy, and I am looking forward to making a lighter brighter sunnier kitchen. I briefly looked rather quickly at the idea of a new kitchen, feeling rather bamboozled and indecisive one day. And just as swiftly reverted to plan A, new worktops, new cupboard fronts, return of the original sink that has been in the garden now for almost 35 years, and old freestanding cupboards coming back in. ...... Who needs to hide a fridge behind a door when I can just as easily hide it through the wall in another room? Why have so many kitchens become banks of doors?

It's dry. But freezing, literally. The flowers that stayed outside in the store last night had  n layer of ice around their stems. Roll on spring.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Box scheme

I've decided this year it's all about the garden, the business is going to follow the garden rather than the other way round. I'm just so excited about this garden, it's so different from any garden I've ever had or imagined and I just want to make it beautiful. And low maintenance. And all for cutting. And super productive. All feels possible.

So first it's to boxes. As I moved so may plants, lots of boxes/crates were involved. And lots are still involved. I found a lot of secondhand plastic plant (or other uses probably) crates and moved loads of plants in them, and now I'm using lots of them for emergency growing. I don't have tulips at the new garden, though still have tens of thousands at the old garden which I hope will be appearing here (sent in more boxes) soon, but I needed to have some of my favourites here so hurled them into the plastic crates. There are a few lines of crates strewn about the gardens so far.....

But most plants were moved in potato boxes, secondhand of course - people who know me know I'm a rather keen recycler. And these are a godsend. It has been so bloody wet and vile that cultivating the field next to the garden has become rather a joke. I sprayed off a bit, finally, in ancitipation of cultivation, but I just don't want to get any machinery on to the patch as it will make a hideous claggy puddled clay mass not far below the surface and I'll just be storing up problems. So it will just have to wait until everything has dried up, maybe it will be in waiting for months. And the main patch will definitely have to wait for many months as I do not want to start off by creating a whole heap of future problems. So the solution to getting some annuals going has to be elsewhere. It's boxes. I've filled some with leaf mould/grass clipping compost which I'm topping off with gold dust compost from the proper domestic compost pile (beautifully rotted now for three years) and sowing little spot crops of annuals while other ground gets happier. I've made plastic covers for warmth and I'll raise them on cloche hoops when they appear. Mini tunnels I reckon.

The peonies which I moved from the other garden are coming up beautifully. Unfortunately there is a secret weapon at loose in the garden. She likes the peony bed more than anywhere else, and new shoots seem a bit of a draw. Oh and that was my favourite sheepskin boot in the picture.....

Friday, 22 March 2013


All felt fantastically optimistic at the beginning of the week. I moved potato boxes to make small raised beds in what was the old veg garden - they'll be veg beds next year - and cover ex lawn, dug over another bit of new bed and gave some of my perennials new homes (they breathed out after being held in a straightjacket of clay for several months), moved a heap of perennials from bags and boxes over to the new bed in the old veg garden, put fleece down to warm the ground prior to hurling a few annuals at the soil....... Then I spent the second nice day running around and couldn't get into the garden. Then a morning filling boxes with old leafmould and grass clipping compost (I'm trying to bring nothing in to this garden for as long as possible but making do with everything I can use) prior to making plastic covers and sowing annuals.
Then it rained.
And stormed.
And rained some more.
And at the Herefordshire gardens tulips are once again under snow.
Lawns here are now under water again. Large new perennial bed is like a water bed, if you drop a plant at it (yes I know it's not a good idea but it happens) there's an unhealthy sploshing sound, the earth wallows a bit then settles stickily. The plant all but plants itself, but really not in a good way.

On the bright side, I am so overwhelmed by the number of really rather wonderful people who would have liked to come and help me here, but couldn't choose everyone....  Owing to the weather and prolonged wet I'm changing my ideas about how much I can get on with this year and am going to concentrate entirely on the garden and wait to cultivate strips in the field for annuals until it really has dried up. If I try to get onto that land now, even if it dried out for the next couple of weeks, all I will be doing is creating a horrible puddled layer of claggy clay not far beneath the surface, which will be impenetrable for plant roots and will form a water basin. No point. Patience will have to be a bit more of a virtue than it has historically been for me!

I've been asked to do the flowers for the Gardens Illustrated Chelsea Lecture again which is always fun, and am about to offer a little project with River Cottage doing flowery creations for hen parties, should any hens want same, and probably some other courses. I'm thinking of headdresses for hens, and also flowers to wear, it's particularly fun to wear flowers in your hair and there really aren't many opportunities unless you're a seriously boho type of gal. I think it's definitely time to replace fascinators with floral headpieces. (Though I admit I did go for a feathery rather than flowery option for my son's wedding as I felt I'd done enough flowers and wanted to fade into the background, though that was probably not exactly the impression in heels that made me about 6 ft 3 and a dead bird in my hair).

There are so many amazing projects round here, lots of people growing flowers, so I'm going to ask some of them to supply me with annuals when I need them for large do's early in the year. I'm sure my perennials will catch up after their trip down here so they should be fine. It is all rather exciting, re-starting, though some days a little daunting.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Hail Snow Floods - again!

The delightful couple who came from London yesterday to talk about their wedding flowers for River Cottage this summer were almost stranded here as it hailed so hard when we were inside chatting that the gateway was completely flooded. The groom had to brave wet shoes and carry his bride to be across the torrent  So it's not the best gardening weather in these parts!

My daughter, mid return journey to Burma, was stuck in a transit lounge in Dubai this morning and mailed a few of their blurry shots from the wedding. Blurry yes but you get the general idea. There will be lots of flowery details etc etc from the official photographer in good time.

Butley Priory is  a magical place for a wedding. Daisy wore a dress refashioned from an antique 19th century dress worn by a previous bride in her family, she looked utterly beautiful of course, and I think my son looked pretty good too! (And on a flower note, the fact that the flowers in her hair matched the flowers on Joe's tie was actually accidental, her bouquet was hellebores with a tulip or two and myrtle sprigs from a shrub here that was allegedly grown from a cutting from a sprig of Queen Victoria's bouquet, or so my mother always told me ). Happy days indeed. 

Making Daisy's hellebore bouquet
Butley Priory

Friday, 15 March 2013

Back to earth post wedding

Gorgeous day here yesterday, good gardening...

But it has taken me all week to get back to some sort of normality post Joe and Daisy's wedding. For which I have no photos yet as my daughter and son in law took hundreds of photos for me and their camera was tragically on non-functionning mode. There will no doubt be lots of official ones at some point.

All went very well. Groom and bride very very happy. Ceremony delightful. Party amazing.  Lovely to stay at Butley Priory where the wedding was held.

It was a bit of a stretch doing all the flowers on my own so early in the year, and fitting everything into the Transporter van for the 6 hour transporting was more of a stretch, but all worked well. 20 tables each with three containers of flowers and two or three candle sticks/candelabra/hurricane vases, two large arrangements on stands, lots of small arrangements on mantelpieces and in recesses, three large hanging hoops with lights through them, two tall braziers.....  For the large arrangements I used mainly foliages, all sorts including lovely soft grey phlomis italica, escallonia, myrtles, loniceras, ivies, and some beautiful black catkin willows along with pussy willow and magnolia buds. Strung through with some little red tulips and tall white ones and some hellebores.  Table and occasional arrangements included small red and small white tulips (tunnel grown from the last garden, the remnants of those forced for my daughter's wedding last year), pulmonaria, bergenia, foliages, some random bits and pieces from the tunnel including a few heads of wild carrot, even some stocks, some little wild daffodils from the wild garden here and lots of white scented narcissi that I bought in from Cornwall as it absolutely poured for two days before the wedding and I couldn't pick as many wild daffodils here as I wanted, all was too soggy,. And lots and lots of hellebores.  Daisy's bouquet was hellebores with myrtle and a few white tulips, the little bridesmaid had narcissi and myrtle, the headdresses included rosemary, myrtle, a few anemones...... Buttonholes were hellebores and myrtle or tulips and myrtle. The hellebores had been picked on Wednesday, but were still perfectly happy on Saturday after their travelling - in fact many of them hadn't got into the ground here yet but were brought back from the `herefordshire garden in bloom the week before, I just cut the blooms. I loved the way they graciously bent and nodded rather than standing up straight.

I was pleased with the hanging decorations which looked effective in the space, I made large twisted hoops of willows and dogwood and included lots of good catkins and pussy willow sticking out from the main hoops, then strung them through with fairy lights.

None of the tables matched, I used a selection of different candle holders, some had a pair of hurricane vases, some had elegant candlesticks, some had scruffier candlesticks. And I placed a dozen tall wrought iron candlesticks around the ancient urn in the flowerbed in the centre of the marquee. I think it all looked good. I'm looking forward to photos.

And now it's to the gardens here in earnest. Trying not to panic. And looking forward to all those tulips from the Herefordshire garden soon.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Rushing headlong into the season

My camera has not resurfaced since the move. Bother, I must get another one to document what's going on here at the very least.

A hectic week, I spent a couple of days at the herefordshire gardens noting all the thousands of plants I still want to dig up, but with no room to bring them this time as I had to load up with heaps of floristry kit and caboodle I hadn't brought last time. The van groaned with one layer of composts and moss, milk churns, buckets, vintage pedestals etc, and another layer of plants as I just couldn't leave the magnificent hellebores at one end of the top garden (Looking slightly less magnificent today but next year they will be happy again) and the healthy looking clumps of perennial scabious, plus heaps of centaurea and willows for the wedding hoops, but I forgot the other things I had intended to grab. There will be many other trips.

Back here it's dry at last. So I've been rotovating like mad, hurling leaf mould at the freshly turned clay soil more in hope than expectation, and starting to plant. I do so wish I was a more systematic planner. I got one bed largely planted yesterday afternoon then lay awake half the night bemoaning my choices (and suffering from the usual annoyingly painful resurgence of carpal tunnel which has more recently become dead arm syndrome if I do too much). Where am I going to put the veronicastrum for example? What on earth has become of the boxes of veronicas? Are those purple leaves penstemon or something entirely else?

Then I had to get stuck into finally properly clearing out the old potting shed, something I only half did a while ago. There was evidence of rodent infestation, probably old, in one corner so I didn't wear the now rather necessary glasses or contact lenses which meant I couldn't see it as I really really hate rats. It was a good solution! Next stage will be whitewash or whatever the equivalent is then I'll have a lovely flower storing shed, finally a cool old stone building. And I started shelving out the garage but this was more problematic as it's currently home not only to all my boxes but also loads of really heavy black metal candelabra and candlesticks. Which are very heavy when they fall. I can be very clumsy so today I am hobbling and have a disgustingly blackening toenail as a result. I hope I'll still be able to get into killer heels next weekend.

And now I have to concentrate on gathering things together for the wedding. I already know I can't get everything into the van as I had two braziers made on stands that don't pack down.... Luckily Joe and Daisy have said that whatever I do will be fine so it is going to be a very random collection of containers and decorations. Must make a note to remember my dress as I know space is going to be very very short!

Oh and a very pleasing response to an ad for a part time gardener/grower. I look forward to meeting some of the people who have expressed interest next week. It's so different from herefordshire where it was really difficult to get good people to work outside, I did find a great team but it was quite a struggle to get there, I'm quite excited by the response here.