Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Gardens on the move

Oxeye daisies in profusion, plus bilberries, wild strawberries, clover, vetch, speedwell, bird's foot trefoil, eyebright, herb robert, foxgloves and so many more

My plan to blog live from Ireland was a failure as such WiFi connections as I was able to access were so slow and intermittent that posting anything more than a short email proved impossible. But that did not stop me writing nor my husband and I taking photographs wherever we travelled – 1,000 miles from door to door. So my ‘News from Ireland’ is a longer than normal post – two weeks rolled into one. It’s surprising when one is away from home how plans for the garden gel when the day-to-day tasks of sowing and planting and weeding are not uppermost in your mind. So we forgot how the grass would be growing out of control in the orchard, or that the veg would either be dying for lack of moisture or drowned in yet more rain. With little traffic on most Irish roads, we had time to enjoy the diversity of wild flowers – and likewise the insects they attracted. Even though our garden at home is part wilderness, the sight of such profusion reminded me of the importance of creating wild areas in even the smallest plot. 

A cottage flower garden, full of colour; spotted on a country road near Blaney, Co.Fermanagh
The landscape is as varied as the gardens we spotted whilst driving around different parts of this beautiful island – from colourful cottage gardens in out-of-the-way places, to mountain trails and blanket bog (turf-cutting – peat – for fueling fires) for mile after fascinating mile. All could not fail to beguile and entrance a visitor from the UK more used to traffic fumes than the wide open spaces encountered. The Irish clearly love their flowers – their vegetables, too – tucked into the smallest spot, on plots where ground was nurtured and obviously more productive than the surrounding land.

And a long, narrow and very productive vegetable plot alongside the flower patch
Tully Castle Knot Garden
Herbs are never far from my mind and a visit to Tully Castle alongside Lower Lough Erne near Enniskillen, Co.Fermanagh – on a day when the sun shone – should have had me extolling the beauty of a formal knot garden below the ruined buildings. Past the willow thicket (good for hurdles and beansticks, and for weaving platters and baskets, too), along a paved path within the ‘bawm’ to discover geometric beds surrounded by clipped box. (Not the dwarf  'Suffruticosa’ variety, but the common Buxus sempervirens; the dwarf variety would have been far better for you could not see the herbs. But at least the box disguised the weeds – the garden seemed neglected and decidedly sorry for itself.) 

The scent of Rosa Gallica on the warming breeze compensated for my disappointment, as did the lavender and bay, lemon balm and southernwood. Bay - Lauris nobilis - will grow into a large tree if positioned in a sheltered spot, as here, in a corner outside the castle walls. And like other herbs, it has so many uses - decorative, culinary, and medicinal.

These strawberries at The Apple Farm are grown in sturdy containers with a drip-feed system at a height perfect for pick-your-own (a good idea for the garden, too)
Not neglected at all, but remarkable, is The Apple Farm, in the far south near Cahir, Co.Tipperary. Our overnight campsite is a part of this working farm and we learned that apples have been grown around here for hundreds of years. Since 1968, the Traas family have been planting more orchards to increase their supply. As well as apples, they grow pears, plums, sweet cherries, strawberries (you can pick your own as well) and raspberries. The farm also makes apple juice, and mixed juices from their other fruits; all done on the premises. They even make a sparkling apple juice, and cider vinegar, too.

Pavement planter in Westport, Co.Mayo
Everywhere we went, towns and villages welcomed visitors – residents proudly beautified their streets and buildings with flowers, giving a joyous feel no matter where you were. The heritage town of Westport, Co.Mayo (on the west coast) was no exception, and small wonder for it has been voted the best place to live in Ireland, best kept town and has won more awards, besides. Situated at the south-east corner of Clew Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, the town has many picturesque features, most notably its tree-lined, flower decorated, boulevard known as The Mall with several stone bridges over the Carrowbeg river. Notable too is the unique Westport House & Gardens – having been the family home of the Browne family for over 300 years (it still is, which makes it all the more special); its roots trace back to Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught. 
Flowers everywhere in Westport - this plant stall was located on a roundabout
We didn’t exactly dart around Ireland, but in every town, I sought a bookshop, looking for local interest. On our last full day, we were in the south-east and Waterford. A half-hour in The admirable Book Centre proved valuable; I never quite know whether the book I pull off the shelf because the spine attracted me will be as interesting as that first glance, but ‘The Paper Garden’ by Molly Peacock definitely is. I bought a copy immediately. Published in paperback in May by Bloomsbury, it is subtitled “Mrs Delaney [Begins Her Life’s Work] at 72”. It will appeal to gardeners, botanists, social historians and journal-makers for it tells the real-life story of an 18th Century woman who noticed a petal drop from a geranium and, in a flash of inspiration, cut out a paper replica – and the art of collage was born. Superb.

Which brings my Irish tale to a close with another flower, to be seen growing wild around Irish hedgerows at this time of year, and equally at home here in Britain in warm and sheltered gardens. The cerise and purple flowers of the hardy deciduous Fuchsia 'Riccartonii’ or ‘Magellanica’ dangle profusely like teardrop ear-rings, delicate and charming, and far less blowsy than their greenhouse or conservatory counterparts. Just cut them back before winter and mulch well for protection.

Don’t forget to click on the Dobies of Devon website for details of seeds, plants, spring bulbs, equipment and so much more; new varieties are being added all the time. And in August, we will revert to our usual timings for e-news and blog posts; for my travels for a while are over and I’ll be back in the garden again. (And readers who may care to follow my Irish journey in more detail – history and landscape, culture and food – can do so on my Traveller’s Tales blog: posts are being created over the next few weeks.)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The beauty of garden shows

A show garden photographed today at the RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park
This post comes to you live from Cheshire - at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. Having experienced and enjoyed the show here last year, I wanted to view it from a different angle - not so much specific vegetables or flowers, but other aspects that help one to make the garden an extension of one's home. Show gardens nearly always inspire, whether they are the sort that one could replicate, or ones that seem to be more design-and-build than gardening with plants. The stories behind any show design always intrigues and 'Remount' designed by Stephen Dennis & Brett Landscaping was no exception. A contemporary, modern space on the site of an old barn, it made use of recycled building materials (Cheshire brick, cobbles and partially rendered walls). One wall incorporated dozens of 'living-wall' succulents; an environmentally-friendly touch as they are natural air-purifiers.

85 years young and still going strong
Herbs are wonderful for so many reasons: culinary and medicinal are obvious, but don't forget them in any planting scheme or veg plot. Let them flower, for they will attract bees, butterflies and other insects, are a joy within a household floral bouquet, and have many other uses indoors - craft, home remedies, teas and beauty products amongst others. The Herb Society display alone was a reminder that herbs are steeped in folklore and and their uses worthy of discovery. This year the Society celebrates its 85th year, and is encouraging all gardeners to become members which offers many benefits, including access to the Society's Herb Garden at Sulgrave Manor near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Students from Askham Bryan College building their show garden
Encouraging youngsters to enter the landscaping profession is vital for the future of the industry, so watching students participate in the 'Squad UK World Skills UK' selection process at various RHS shows is a delight. The Tatton Park contestants are currently all students aged 18-23 from Askham Bryan College near York, and their task was to create four different gardens representing styles traditional to Japan, Canada, UK and Finland. The UK garden featured above highlighted traditional skills that still thrive in the countryside today - particularly a meandering dry-stone wall acting as a backdrop to a naturalistic style of planting. The stream weaving its way out and beyond the garden's confines featured lush marginal plants; only a small area but necessary for wild birds and other creatures. What was so special was the blurred lines between home and landscape beyond, so often forgotten when a newly created garden is 'plonked' out of natural context. 

'Poppy Heads', Vivienne Cawson
So many artists are inspired by plants and gardens, so the 'Horticultural Arts & Crafts Pavilion' warranted a visit, and I was not disappointed, for I came upon the beautiful and evocative work of watercolorist, Vivienne Cawson, and added a few of her cards to my growing collection of art that inspires my own nature journals. Vivienne's work ventures way beyond 'photographic' botanical drawing - it has a vibrancy full of juicy colour. So much so that I wanted to dash back to the motorhome and start painting! When questioned  on a tip for those who wish to do likewise (out with the paints and paper), she said that you need to be passionionate about wanting to try, and to keep practising. Her central location in middle England makes her studio accessible for anyone who would like to participate in one of her workshops.

Young garden volunteers also help care for their community
And so to learning with a difference. Young gardeners aged 8-16 volunteered over 200 hours of their spare time to design and build a show garden at Tatton - 'A Year in the life of DreamScheme'. The garden reflected the changing seasons and was spectacular for many reasons - the woven sculptures, the house with succulents growing on the roof, the beds of tulips flowering in July and the enthusiasm of the youngest children. They were awarded a Silver Flora for their efforts. Bur what was remarkable was that these youngsters are all members of 'DreamScheme': a project run by (Greater Manchester) Tameside's largest provider of social housing, New Charter Homes, to encourage young people to participate in safe and organised out-of-school activities. Many of the children have volunteered on gardening projects on their estates to improve the communities in which they live (they earn points which they can cash-in for days out). A scheme well-worth emulating in other inner-city areas.

Dobies of Devon were not exhibiting this year but are nevertheless fully involved with new catalogues and dispatching orders for the late Summer and Autumn. Order now before coveted varieties of plants and seeds sell out. (And if you wonder why this is such a long post, well next week's may be somewhat shorter as I am off to Ireland in search of gardens and other visual treats and may have limited WiFi access.)

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Return to the wilderness!

After three weeks away working on the continent, I could not really believe the transformation that had taken place in the garden. Not so much weeds, but the sheer entanglement of growth. Some areas have become an impenetrable thicket; in others crops have failed miserably. If it were not for my passion for old roses and their splash of purples and mauves (at their best at the end of June and the beginning of July), one could say that our whole acre was over-green - but so many shades of green that had I the time, I would be rushing to capture it in paint. Out with the camera instead.

Potatoes are delicious, but almost drowning in mud in  the 'allotment' (my Shakespearian quote in the June e-news holds true); and this triggers a reminder that we can plant potatoes again now and be eating them new on Christmas Day. Clematis (I prefer the small-flowered varieties) are rampaging through the shrubbery surrounding the courtyard potager, climbing beans have been nibbled by the mice, losing their growing shoots in the process, radish have bolted, arugula (rocket) adds a spicy touch to salads - the cut-and-come again lettuce have taken over one raised bed. And hardneck garlic is putting forth the first 'scapes' - the stalks are delicious in stir fries. Courgette plants are doing well, and I am trialing a new variety, Black Hawk, which has a trailing variety and can thus be trained vertically  rather than allow it to ramble horizontally. Time soon to be planning other successional sowing.

Weeds are I think constantly on most people's minds. There are those who cannot abide the sight of them - losing much potential useful wildlife thereby when eradicating them. And there are others like me who tolerate some and find them beautiful. Of course, if you plant crops and 'wanted' decorative plants sufficiently closely, there is less room for nasties to take hold. Weeds are usually an indication of soil type and fertility - and many are edible. Our prehistoric forebears would not have survived without wild plants, and it is from the wild forms of so many that modern edible species have evolved. If you doubt this, thinks culinary herbs. And do get hold of a copy of ‘The Weeder’s Digest’ by Gail Harland. Only just published by Green Books, and sub-titled “identifying and enjoying edible weeds”, it is truly a revelation. Divided into two parts, the first – ‘Know your weeds’ – covers the characteristics of weeds, achievable weed control (a question of balance) and poisonous plants that can be easily mistaken. The second part offers the reader a bouquet of weeds and will have you rushing outdoors to glean what (hopefully) you have not destroyed. Food for free! The author has a BSC in Nutrition and Dietics, holds an RHS Diploma in Horticulture and she, her husband and children have been eating weeds from her garden for nearly twenty years. Follow her example – I can’t wait to make blackberry brownies!

Not taken at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, but last week in Germany
RHS Hampton Court – on Monday, I’m off to the Flower Show at Hampton Court where Dobies for the first time have their own stand. Can’t wait to learn about what they are launching their at their 'Dobies of Devon Village Show', Stand GYO/9, Growing Tastes Marquee, Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU. but will let you know in the July e-news which will be published shortly. Meanwhile, enjoy this herb garden – one of many which delighted me last week in our visit to Germany.