Monday, 29 July 2013

Show time again!

Inspiring displays to encourage new gardeners were in evidence up north
No sooner was I back from the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show than I made a snap decision to head north and spend a day at another RHS show! The RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park (near Knutsford, Cheshire) was, this year, as at Hampton Court, cleverly subdivided into four distinct sections, which made it much easier to visit the area of gardening and horticulture in which you were most interested. ‘Grow’, ‘Inspire’, ‘Escape’ or ‘Feast’: there was plenty to enjoy.

This simulated allotment attracted much attention
Show gardens featured edible produce on various scales – either just veg and fruit, or a partial inclusion within a mixed design. Older visitors were completely familiar with the wartime home allotment of ‘The Home Guard-ener’ complete with Anderson shelter created by Finchale College from Durham. Families relied on the produce they could provide – a staple necessity in a time of austerity and food shortage, and even now, home-grown produce is far tastier and more convenient than supermarket produce.

Raised beds were popular
Feed the chickens!
A large area was devoted to a number of National Allotment Society Community Plots. They had a huge area to fill, which they did with a joyful mix of adult and childish interpretations showing what can be achieved in a variety of raised planters set at various levels and different angles. One exhibit that particularly caught my eye was devoted to the concept of growing greens of many types – for hens! As this is something I continually advocate as being sensible for the production of good eggs from hens which cannot free-range on grass, I recommend growing cabbage, kale, broccoli and spinach in every possibly spare space.

Inspired by Beatrix Potter
Yet more vegetables: ‘Through Nature’ was a fascinating insight into the life of Beatrix Potter, indeed it celebrated her journey through the natural world in which she lived and grew up. From a typical sculptured Victorian garden complete with ferns, the imaginative Beatrix ‘travels’ through a rabbit burrow and out into the vegetable patch, in the form of a modern potager with terracotta tile edgings. Created by Tatton Park and Cheshire East Council who run an excellent educational programme throughout the year. Indeed, all sorts of garden- and country-related activities for adults and children take place at Tatton throughout the year.

An excellent example of a Show Garden incorporating flowers and edibles
More of a conceptual garden was ‘An Edible Medley’ with a mixture of ornamental and edible plants (from figs to herbs) that would not look out of place in any modern housing estate. This was the type of Show Garden that you might expect at any RHS Show, with formal geometric blocks of colourful crops and swathes of informal grasses and flowering perennials. Created by Angie Turner Designs.

This garden was literally buzzing
A revelation with not an edible in sight, other than flowering herbs, was ‘GreEnCO Sense’. It bridged the gap between nature’s rolling fields and recycled materials, which did not impinge on the design but added their own beauty. Cleverly planted and answering so many ecological concerns, it was at all times a mass of insects, bees and butterflies, far more so than any of the other ‘wild-life’ gardens at the Show.  A ‘Young Designer Garden’ by Christopher James.

Not a bee in sight
'The Bees Garden', designed by Florian Degroise was intended for a young couple who want a garden with central living space that “makes use of natural and recycled materials and incorporates wildlife habitats.” The plants were selected to attract bees – though whether the young couple could handle the traditional hives and position them relative to ‘flightpaths’ might be questionable.

A serene outdoor living space - and my favourite
Gold-medalist Tony Woods turned on its head the more usual desire of escaping to the country, with his ‘Young Designer Garden’. Here, in ‘Escape to the City’, was a garden designed to fit a small space, yet more rural in its concept and planting than the all too-prevalent current practice of moving out of town and suburbanising the surroundings. (Though he might not have envisaged it that way!) A delightful and natural mix of plants and produce, shaded by trees in what would become a very private space.

Remarkable results from a relatively new school garden
Children were much in evidence at the Show, and the results of their work – particularly pleasing in view of the RHS Campaign to encourage school gardening, and the recent announcement that horticulture was to be re-instated within the National Curriculum. In my eyes, Norris Bank Primary School came up trumps with their display– and their attention to providing a printed explanatory leaflet and clever presentation of the produce they were selling. Their actual school garden is only three years old, involves children and the community and has reached the highest level of RHS awards for their achievement. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

RHS Shows designed to inspire

A very special location (Hampton Court Palace) - the RHS Show
spans both side of the 'long water'
Fortunate indeed are those of us who are able to visit some of the major Gardening Shows in the UK. Going to these events offers the keen gardener so much more than just those ‘ooh-ah’ moments of sheer joy at what we discover. It might be a brand new rose, or other plant; it might be a new product to make life easier on the vegetable plot, or when trimming the boundary hedge, or it might be the elegance of a Show garden by an as yet unknown designer. Or the location itself, as last week at the 2013 RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

I really loved the mixture of planting in these raised beds
As far as I am concerned on these occasions, I attend to keep ahead of trends, looking specifically for ideas that I am sure will inspire readers, let alone me.  Although I have an acre of ground (somewhat neglected of late), the garden is subdivided into small plots, of a size no more than many gardeners have at their disposal. So much can be achieved by utilising raised beds, which can be configured in various layouts. So long as the compost used is appropriate for the plants to be grown, is kept topped up and adequate feeding is given, you can mix veg, flowers and herbs to great effect, whilst also considering beneficial insects.

These staddle-stones would provide a focal point in any garden
Think garden art, too: a pleasing arrangement of statuary or artefacts need not encroach on the growing area. Indeed, a modest introduction will add interest to a plot during the winter months when plant growth is at a minimum, so that you view the garden on more than one plane. Exhibitors at Shows will have a far greater variety to offer than your local gardening centre. Or head online to the Dobies website and see what you can discover to augment your garden layout.

So calm and peaceful was this garden that I omitted to record any details
(my apologies to the designer and sponsor)
“Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder,” and that could hardly be more apposite than when wandering around the Show Gardens. Some are truly beautiful from every angle – a jump ahead of the rest, whereas others appear to have lost the plot and you wonder if there is some hidden meaning that has entirely escaped you. Surely a garden should not need a lengthy explanation from the designer to be able to understand it? Would you be happy if it was suddenly transported into your own plot, or as an adjunct to it? And wearing the other hat, if you have a favourite at any Show, could you give a reason for your choice?

There was another part to this garden - the 'regeneration' aspect
At RHS Hampton Court this year, many designers were supporting worthwhile causes, or being sponsored by them. Supporting concerns is always worthwhile, though one does not have to fall in love with a garden or its concept to do so.  One quickly comes to realise why gardens and their designers continually win Gold medals – as is always the case with knowledgeable and thoughtful Chris Beardshaw, whose McCarthy & Stone garden, challenging the concepts of old age, I wrote about last week. Equally provoking of thought was Landform’s ‘Desolation to Regeneration’, a conceptual garden inspired by Tolkein and designed by Catherine MacDonald. This explored the two phases of forest fire through clever sequences of film, crackling sound, smoke, smell, birdsong and of course, plants. Right on the edge of the showground, I almost missed it.

It's always a joy to see so many schoolchildren at RHS Hampton Court 
Palace Flower Show (and note the little lad in conversation 
with the Roman gladiator)
Challenging concepts and pushing the boundaries of garden fashion and design extends one’s own thought processes, so it is always a delight for me (a former primary school teacher) to see so many schoolchildren visiting these shows. Individually, they may be overwhelmed but the experience will rub off on them – how many amongst the various school groups might become the garden designers of the future? Those visiting this year were participating in the World Costume Scarecrow Competition.

Chatting to James Alexander-Sinclair
From schoolchildren to garden personalities / celebrities (such horrid designations!) and this year eight who admirably fill this classification (for their names are certainly well-known) had the opportunity to create their own designer planting plots with their own description. Catching my eye was that of garden designer, writer and broadcaster, James Alexander-Sinclair – as much for his description as the planting, for James has such a way with words that you never tire of reading or listening. “A container can be subtle, sophisticated, blaring or productive but, whichever way you go, it should always be joyful. I very much hope that my design, filled with grass and colour, does precisely that.” Believe me it, did – so much so that I forgot to photograph it!

The next RHS Show is at Tatton Park (Knutsford, Cheshire) at the end of this coming week (25th-28th July), and that will be as different again as are all the RHS Shows, but equally designed to inspire. Do go if you can; details can be found HERE.

Don't forget to  visit the Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

July Update From The Elephant Farm

 Early Onward peasHello folks ,

The produce is looking catwalk good, we have had the most perfect growing conditions thrown our way. I have been picking pounds and pounds of the "early onwards "peas so will be using these again next year, the ones in the tunnels are producing now and the ones outside will provide when the others have finished...Perfect.

I have used all my broad bean up and these also did extremely well "aquadulce claudia " I used these last year too excellent provider.

The carrots are ready and giving excellent yields as are the beetroots I am using candy pinks, yellow alto, golden burpee, and alto.

We harvested the first international kidney potatoes and they were delicious.

Enjoy this wonderful weather my gardening friends and hope all is blooming in your gardens too . apologies for the north who are probably a few weeks behind us spoilt southern belles but you will be rewarded!

Well another glorious week had by all (except the tip of Scotland! ) and how wonderful the garden is looking. The peas, climbing French beans, beetroots, carrots, salad, even a few chillies have popped their little heads through. Everything is so plentiful and tasting delicious. The elephant restaurant are getting the majority of their veg from us now. The weeds seem to be kind too and as for the slugs and snails... Well not half as bad as I expected (so far ) so all in all life is very good at the moment and providing us with excellent things. Enjoy and soak up the wonderful sunshine .

Here are just a few pictures to show how things are looking:

The Three Stages of MicroGreens!


Our Wild Strawberry Bed

 Jerusalem artichokes

Inside the Tunnel

Oh by the way you can buy small allotment size poly tunnels, well worth the investment as my tunnels proved last year .

Catch you all soon

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Never too old ....

Notebook in hand, I am deep into
interviewing Chris Beardshaw

This is the first of two posts I am writing that relate to my visit earlier this week to the 2013 ‘Hampton Court Palace Flower Show’ – and I am devoting this first entry entirely to the gold-medal garden designed by Chris Beardshaw for McCarthy & Stone. The story behind this award-winning and thought-provoking creation celebrating ‘Later Life’ was not at all as I had anticipated, so I was more than fortunate to have had an opportunity to chat to Chris during the Show, on a searing hot day, when bright sunlight made photography difficult, bleaching colour from the spectacular planting.

What lies behind the substantial hedge?
I asked Chris about the brief he was given, and his thoughts on designing for ‘old people’ when he is nowhere near ‘retirement’ age. The usual concept is that gardening becomes well-nigh impossible for some and you may not even have the space for plants.  Chris explained that the Hampton Court garden celebrates the wisdom of the ages by challenging pre-conceptions whilst honouring the experiences of the UK’s growing population of over-60s. 

The grassy meadow with woodland trees
(ignore the hosepipe, photographer's error)
He was fortunate in experiencing the gardening wisdom of older people from an early age, and says:  “From the age of four I became fascinated by plants after watching my first seeds germinate, and that initial tingle of excitement and enthusiasm is still as strong for me today. My love of plants and wonder at how they behave, perform and function together with how we interact with them is the driving force behind my work.” Older generations nurtured his interest, and he further remarked that today all too often families become separated and knowledge is lost to the young. (I fully understand his thinking, having had the benefit of long nature walks in the countryside with my grandmother during World War II, and regular gifts of books on plants from my great-grandfather.)

No ordinary deck chairs - they each represent a different era
(and what here appears to be 'lawn' is in fact a carpet of
thousands of wild flowers
Chris sees his garden as a “theatre to provoke discussion.” The garden is in two parts, a large outer square is prelude to a secret circular sanctuary approached by three converging pathways. The outer meadow is filled with woodland trees and wildflowers, and a high dense hedge deliberately hiding the glorious inner garden from view. The areas are each symbolic, and the inner sanctum takes your breath away with its rich planting of summer flowers. 

The symbolic head - every visitor viewing it will have their own memories
At its centre is a massive head sculpture representing the three sides to memory: personal, cognitive and habitual. This ‘head and heart’ side to the inner garden also reflected the personal audio snapshots to which visitors could listen, recorded by some remarkable people in their 80s and 90s who have certainly not grown old, demonstrating that life can be lived to the full – encapsulated by the fragrance of roses, rosemary and lavender.

I'm discussing the summery planting with Jane Southcott, who
handles PR for Chris Beardshaw
(McCarthy & Stone, a UK builder of retirement homes and flats, have their own philosophy of “Life with just the good bits – everything we do is built around a belief that later life can be rich, rewarding and hugely fulfilling. We build and run beautiful developments but actually, the most valuable thing we offer is time.” Take a look at thisYouTube clip in which Chris guides you through the peaceful oasis of the garden.

Words came to mind, "Here where the world is quiet ..." (Swinburne)
And I guess I am an oddity, for it was the grassy meadow that brought me a personal inner calm, or maybe I was just re-living my untroubled childhood. 

(It’s the first time I have included a YouTube video; I hope you enjoy the experience. Comments are always welcome so let me know what you think, and I will endeavour to source other gardening-related clips. Next week I will be posting other aspects of the Show.)