Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Floating gardens

Maybe the lake gardeners of Myanmar/Burma have something to teach us over here - new possibilities for the Levels? I'm just off to check them out......

and will return with photos to make you all want to go there I hope!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The British Flower School

is on line


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Brown spots and BT

A horticultural question: After fantastic health and an initial flush of great productivity many hellebores are browning on leaves and flowers. Is this just the prolonged weather or is it something more serious? I have not seen it before and feel a little anxious as it seems to be sweeping through most hellebore areas, affecting old plants as well as new. Two beds are still completely fine and the new plants started off in gleaming superb health, the established ones have never shown problems before.

The usual BT problems have been occurring with monotonous regularity here - and I know it's wrong to complain because loads of people lost their services completely with all the stormy weather and flooding, but this is normal hassle rather than storm induced. I have suggested they just come clean and tell me they'll never manage to get it right because of geography, distance or whatever but they refuse to go down that route, instead I get threatened with having to pay because it must be my fault somwhere, and endlessly kept waiting for visits that make things no better.
So far four engineers visits for this particular issue. Each one saying something different. Each one blaming the other for not doing the appropriate job and saying I need to see another engineer. I got a letter from BT today about the latest engineer visit which was yesterday (and sorted nothing).

The letter today told me that I was expecting a visit from an engineer yesterday, but if I couldn't make the appointment I should ring them by lunchtime the day before yesterday or pay for a wasted call out. Could I ask them to pay me for time wasting I wonder?

And if they don't confirm by letter they send a message to my landline which a) hasn't been working and b) I don't know how to retrieve them as they don't leave a message on the anserphone but send some voice recognition texty thing and when I punch in what I am told are the relevant numbers for retrieving messages it tells me I don't have that service. Or sometimes they send a text to my mobile. I have no reception here so I don't know they've texted me - the joys of modern communication! It does seem rather unreasonable that those of us with dire service out in the sticks have to pay the same as those with efficient full connectivity.

Friday, 14 February 2014

weathering the weather

A very pretty little greenhouse, one of my favourite structures here which is attached to the original outbuildings, has stood here for many decades. When my mother moved here in 1978 she had it rebuilt. Almost ten years ago she had it rebuilt again as the cedar wood was beginning to suffer and panes to slip and she didn't want to lose it. I was pleased to have the glass replaced and nails made shipshape on Monday after storms took them out before christmas. On Wednesday gales were so fierce more panes blew out again despite new nails and silicone... Then half an hour ago

and now there is almost nothing left but I can't go out to take a photo let alone clear up as the wind is so fierce round the yard I can't stand up, and fear to be hit by glass or tiles. BASTARD WEATHER

And I've discovered another good reason to paint your walls good colours - it means that those of us who are not flooded from the ground up can see where the wet has poured into the house from the roof down. I had been feeling smug about still having power, then the rain got in.

A boxing day

I had hoped to send out loads of hellebores for Valentine's Day (with paperwhites and other narcisissi and the few forced tulips plus anemone posies) but picking proved difficult in the torrential downpours and winds. However, there were flowers, they looked and smelt lovely and went out, and I am grateful to any flowers that manage to smile through the current patch of weather.

I am not well set up for bulk here as I left my large purpose built packing shed at the last gardens, and my current studio is a bit cramped on big mail out days but all is possible  - though yesterday reminded me of those early days of sending out about 50 parcels at a time to the Jigsaw stores before I built the packing shed.....

It is rather disappointing that all the halfhardy annuals that were in waiting in the field have drowned, covered in water since well before christmas. It would have been pleasing to have some early blooms out there, but also I do hate wasting those seeds and seedlings that did so well to germinate and start growing. Many many years ago I went with a botanist uncle to a research lab where he showed me a lettuce seed under a strong electronmicrosope (sorry can't remember the right term!) and it was utterly amazing to see, in the centre of this tiny dry speck of a seed, a beam of flickering light. Life. So I do so hate extinguishing that little spark of life when growth is wasted.

This little clematis has been flowering bravely for about 8 weeks now. Others on the front of the house have finished and formed seedheads before being blown away from the wall, but this one is sheltered and just keeps giving. Subtle but oh so pleasing.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Tears and cake

The lovely old greenhouse got blasted just before christmas and has been covered with tarpaulins since then, reroping them regularly but last week they ripped to shreds so Monday was spent having all the missing panes and cracked glass replaced, renailed and so on. It was such a pleasure to see it back to health.

This morning I was almost sanguine sitting indoors watching huge clay ridge tiles careening off the roof, along with others, smashing into a million pieces on the garden paths. The wind was so fierce and noisy I didn't even hear the crashing. I kept thinking "I'm so lucky, we're not flooded out" (just lots and lots of standing water on grass and beds and the pond has increased at least 600 per cent to cover most of the wild garden) and kept the dogs indoors so they wouldn't be attacked by flying tiles.

Unable to stay in any longer, at lunchtime I went out. The back yard was covered in shattered glass. The greenhouse almost glass-free. I was not sanguine. I wept.

And retreated back indoors to bake a large comfort cake. While it was baking I went out with shovel and broom but had to come back in as one of the remaining panes took direct aim.

Cake was a good solution, I have eaten a lot.

But at least I am not flooded?

Monday, 10 February 2014

What's the rush?

Am I alone in panicking slightly at the lack of progress outside owing to a little bit of weather? And why am I panicking? It's only the beginning of February for heaven's sake, we should all be sitting with our feet up by the fire reading books and occasionally contemplating seed catalogues, but instead somehow somewhere in the ether (or possibly the twittotwattoblogosphere) is a feeling of urgency, that we should be getting on faster faster faster.

After some hours in the garden today without being blasted by wind or rain I calmed down a bit and realised that this time last year I hadn't got anything into last year's new beds, that I hadn't even constructed the parking area and surrounding growing space, that there was no patch in the field even cultivated, that no trees had been planted.... And I actually did feel a whole lot better, there is no point worrying about being unable to get onto this year's new beds which are still just huge lumps of sodden clay, no worry about clearing other areas yet. No point worrying about getting seeds going as it is the beginning of February. It's better to enjoy the snowdrop, the crocuses, the hellebores, the newly flowering pulmonaria, the wafts of scent from various shrubs.

I will inevitably get a bit behind as I am about to vanish from the gardens for a couple of weeks, probably just when the weather picks up, but think how long last year's winter went on and yet it became the most glorious year ever in the garden.

Time is on our side, oh yes it is.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The British alstromeria question

Is a flower always more beautiful and worth a premium price just because it is a British flower? Now that British Flowers are happily right out there, we do need to get this thinking right if the new small scale British flower industry is to progress and prosper.

It's a bit like organics (which I also completely believe in but one does have to also think about it)  - is an organic carrot necessarily much better than another carrot because it's an organic carrot? Well no, not necessarily, the organic one may not be local, may have been hanging around for an age, will definitely be a premium price and so on.  The same goes for flowers, it is obviously better to have flowers that are not flown in from thousands of miles away, definitely better to have flowers that have not caused ill health to pickers or the environment, absolutely stupid to buy exotics from abroad when there are equally beautiful flowers grown right here. BUT just because something is local does not necessarily mean it is automatically more beautiful than something that is not and automatically worth a premium price.

There's a bit of an alstromeria argument to be had here. There are brilliant, and I mean brilliant, English alstromeria growers who produce the best quality best coloured best forms of alstromeria. They largely sell them wholesale, and do not charge a huge amount of money for them. In fact I don't know how they charge so little and produce such amazing flowers. I used to grow a few colours in my previous gardens and it is true that they grow easily if they like where you put them but mine were never the long stemmed beauties that professional growers produce, and after a few years of growing them I realised I hardly ever used them as I had such a choice and for some reason alstros were rarely it. So perhaps this is (as so often) more about my tastes as a gardener and flower lover rather than totally about the flowers themselves.

The best English alstromerias also get sold to discerning supermarkets who still do not charge a huge amount for them. And they last and last. They are thoroughly good value appealing cut flowers.

In the winter months in particular alstros are also often a mainstay of  the new wave of small scale flower providers' British bouquets. Which is absolutely fine, they are good flowers, and fantastically available all year round as an alternative to imports, and so much better to receive a bouquet of British grown flowers at any time of year - but a bouquet full of alstros should not be charged out at premium price just because it is a British bouquet should it?

We all need to get this sort of thing right. Value is as important as quality.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Remembering a love of type

Just stumbled across a stunning bit of typography in the search for style (see last post!). If only I was a letterer...

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Boho and branding

Lovely glimpse of summer on boho wedding blog

Rather cheering considering I am looking out on huge puddles/small lakes of water covering much of the garden, young trees straining and bending as their supports loosen in the saturated ground, twigs and branches roaring around at vaguely ground level. But at least the hellebores are shining out and the witchhazel hs managed to hang on to most of its flowers.

I'm trying to get the right image for publicity for The British Flower School. I am having help from a brilliant pair of young branding impresarios at


but I have been informed that my reactions need honing.
 For example, Joe gathered pages of different visual approaches from all sorts of websites to see which look might appeal and which might not. When I said "I can't bear that sort of thing, it makes me feel sick." he suggested that was not a helpful approach but I needed to explain why it made me feel sick...... 
Actually horribly interesting to see my prejudices laid bare!

Sunday, 2 February 2014


These days I do wash my hands before I bake bread - there was a time when I used the dough kneading as useful swarfega. A friend pointed at my piano yesterday and asked me if I played often. I opened my hands and explained that it was noe only occasionally and definitely only for personal pleasure as my hands are now more than extremely workwomanlike and not exactly delicate instruments.....

I'm on the look out for a good and inexpensive camera, my Canon EOS has died and needs several hundreds spent to bring it back to health so it is definitely time for a different approach but I do need something rather more than an iphone. As soon as possible.

My March 24th course has been so oversubscribed that some people have been rearranged for another day. I do believe that many people want to be pointed to a garden fit for cutting rather than cutting plants fit for a garden....... If you want to start a business then you need to know about production. If you have a large veg garden you may want to know about the best annuals to grow among the veg for picking.If you are a gardener you just want to extend your range so you can pick for the house from your garden. I am enjoying hellebores in the vase and in the garden, winter honeysuckle, winter cherry, mahonia, crocus, snowdrops, paperwhites, myrtle, eucalpytus, osmanthus, rosehips, iris...... a garden doesn't stop giving.