Saturday, 11 October 2008

Back from Iceland

Not because Iceland is the latest Big Issue seller on the block but because I was never there in the first place. To all you lovely people who read my last post and wished me good luck in my new career in Iceland, apologies. It was a joke. Just not a funny one that anyone got. No, my real reason for lack of posts in recent weeks is far more mundane.

Being a bit concerned about the current downturn in the economy I decided to take pretty much any job that came my way. As a result I've been working flat out pruning, digging, dividing, hedge trimming etc. Although I'm currently extremely fit (six hours straight digging will do that for you) I'm also so knackered by the end of the day that it's as much as I can do to keep house and home together, let alone write a blog!

My clever plan has backfired on me a bit because so far there seems no shortage of people looking to get their gardens designed so I'm a bit snowed under on that front too. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe as people aren't moving because house prices have plummeted, they are deciding to invest in a new garden instead. Or perhaps they think that as they won't be having expensive holidays for a while they might as well enjoy their own back yard.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Versailles rejected

My new client is no more. We have decided to abandon our attempt to create a garden together, mainly because I shall be going to work on a large garden in Iceland for the forseeable future. And after that I'm taking up cat breeding. Here's how the last (and final) meeting went:

Me: (Handing over a couple of outline proposals) I thought you might like to take a look at these. They're only rough ideas as yet but...

Client: Well I'm glad you dropped that water idea

Me: (Stunned silence)

Client: Anyway, I've been doing a bit of research myself. You know the Mail on Sunday?

Me: I don't actually rea....

Client: Well I really like that Tim Piggot-Smith's garden.

Me: The actor?

Client: Is he? I didn't know that. You read it then?

Me: No, I just...

Client: It's very famous. I'm surprised you don't know about it

Me: I can probably...

Client: I don't want those tin bath things though

Me: Tin...

Client: Baths, no. What I was thinking was, stainless steel would be much better. See if you could do that instead

Me: Instead of what?

Client: Well, tin, obviously. Oh and he had some of these round tree things. I'd like some of those too. They were really nice, very unusual. They were crowd pruned

Me: Crowd pruned...? (Brain finally catching up, breathless and incredulous) Was this garden at Chelsea?

Client: I don't know where he lives

Me: No, I mean the flower show

Client: I'm really excited about this. When can we start?

Friday, 8 August 2008


Back in the mists of time when I first started blogging...well May actually, but who's counting...I, in my innocence, created this blog under my own name. At the time I didn't even notice that most bloggers write under pseudonyms. Up until now it hasn't bothered me, but I have a new client who is so completely off the wall that I'm convinced I could simply write up a transcript of our conversations and get it accepted for a new sit com ...or at the very least for the sometimes God-awful 6.30 comedy slot on Radio 4.

On the extremely unlikely off-chance she reads gardening blogs (she got rid of her computer because it attracted too much dust) I can't write in too much detail about the surreal meeting I had with her recently, but I'll give you this little taster.

Client: I want to do something really radical with this space

Me: Perhaps you'd like to take a look at these (hands over a file containing images of plants, buildings, garden styles, textures, shapes, blah, blah, blah)

Client: Yes, that one

Me: That's Versailles

Client: I'm not sure about the water

Me: But it's Versailles. It's in the file to inspire and give an idea of....

Client: Could it have some sort of cover over it?

Me: It covers more than 100 acres

Client: Well obviously not that big

Me: I thought you might be interested in these (points out some very nice designs of courtyard gardens). They're about the same size as...

Client: There are a lot of corners. I much prefer the open feel of this.

Me: Maybe we could...

Client: Do you topiary?

Me: Well yes, but...

Client: I'm so excited about this. When do you think we could start?

Friday, 1 August 2008

Lil's return

She's back, full of the joy of life and completely unaware of how close she came to meeting her maker. Yesterday, for the first time since the accident, my lovely Lily was allowed to run off her harness (she can't have a lead yet because of the injury to her neck) did she enjoy it! I, on the other hand, was on tenterhooks in case she jumped too high, or ran too fast, or (God forbid) picked up a stick and swallowed it.

We were out for just 30 minutes, as opposed to her usual two hours, but when we got home she crashed out as though she had been running all day.

I took her to my favourite place in the whole world, along the Greensand Ridge to a place called Boughton Monchelsea ( From the ridge you look out over an ancient deer park to the Weald of Kent below. We walk there often, and I always come away from it feeling uplifted.

Anyway, things are thankfully getting back to normal...lots of gardening and pottering about the allotment, a fair bit of design work, and rehearsing for a play I'm in in the autumn, 'Stepping Out', which involves learning to tap dance! Now I'm no Cyd Charisse but I'm really enjoying the old step ball change and cramp rolls - even though it was so hot last night that we were all begging for mercy after two hours!

One more final pic of Lil and I promise I won't bore you any more. It's just so great that she's survived it

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Land grabbing and comedians

You know how, when you've been away from home, you notice things to which you've previously been oblivious? Well yesterday I took Lily for theraputic stroll around the village (see my previous post Lovely Lily to find out who and why) and noticed some pretty obscure signs. I know what they are all about, obviously, but anyone visiting the village could be forgiven for thinking they had wandered into a gentler, very English, version of Deliverance.

Signs in windows and on lamp posts around Loose send out messages like 'LEE VE LOOSE ALONE', 'BEWARE! ANTLERS LOOSE', 'DON'T LOSE LOOSE VALLEY VIEWS' and 'LEE HURST LOOSE'

Of course, this is all completely incomprehensible without knowing the background to this very English protest. Let me enlighten you.

Lee Hurst is a comedian. This is not a comment on his personality or the way he conducts his life. He does, in fact, earn his living as an alternative, right-on, slightly leftish, politically correct comedian. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to discover that he is also a property speculator, buying up properties and allowing them to fall into disrepair so that he can cash in on the current, mad, greed-inspired rush to turn most of south-eastern England into a housing estate.

Some years ago, there was an OKish bungalow in the village which came onto the market. Attached to it was a very productive apple orchard and a large garden. Enter Mr. Hurst. He bought it. Much excitement ensued. We were going to have a 'celebrity' living amonst us. Except he never did. The property deteriorated, as did the negelcted orchard and garden. Trees were felled without permission (this is a conservation area) and it gradually turned from an attractive home and small fruit smallholding into something of an eyesore.

Enter Antler Homes, who are keen to buy the lot from our comedian and build on this now 'brown field' site. They are proposing to build six new 'executive homes' but come on, who ever heard of a property developer building just six houses on a nine acre site?

The village protested ( and We turned out and protested, almost to a man, but will it be enough? Or will greed and shortsightedness prevail? Something has to be done to stop good, fertile, food producing land falling prey to landgrabbing comedians.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Allotted time and disappearing gooseberries

Well, I finally got back to my allotment after four weeks of neglect. I've been putting it off because I knew I was going to be apalled but...argggghhhh...!!!! Where to start? My garlic is rotting in the earth, broad beans are huge and probably as tough as old boots, peas desperate for water, mooli radish about to throw seed everywhere (and I don't even like the stuff), and the worst crime of all, plump, sweet raspberries rotting on the canes (not to mention the globe artichokes about to flower, for God's sake).

My husband has been entrusted with looking after it, but he's no gardener, bless him. During my enforced absence he thought all was well. And to be fair, he leaves the house at 6.30am and doesn't get home until around 8pm, so tending vegetables is a bit of a luxury.

The problem with my allotment is compounded by the fact that I took over the other half of the plot when the previous tenant gave it up, and decided that I would plant some fruit trees and give the rest over to a wildflower meadow and pond. What was I thinking? I'm a garden designer, for God's sake. I know how hard it is to establish a wild flower meadow. The soil was too rich and the grass has gone beserk and currently it's looking like a complete mess. I'm ashamed to show my face there until we can get it cut down and under control. Problem is that I live in a very small village so everyone knows how abysmally I've failed in the wild flower stakes. I spent a fortune on the seed too (it included about 20 wild flower seeds and 11 different grasses).

I have another, fruit related question. Last year I bought two half standards of London and Langley Gage gooseberries. This year, in spring and early summer, they were covered in blossom then fruit. They were completely protected by mesh had and been sprayed against the usual pests and protected against slugs, but all the fruit was stripped off them. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The story continues...

3 July: Spent a fruitless two hours chasing around the M25 for a rendezvous with a man delivering Dactylorhiza praetermissa (Southern Marsh Orchid) on behalf of his father, who grows them. The pressure is really on now, and I don't have time to waste, but his car developed a fault and he had to abandon the handover (sounds like I'm dealing in drugs or something). He says he'll try again tomorrow.

Out of our original batch of 20 plants only four are still flowering so I really need these extra ones, but you have to be so careful when buying orchids because there are some very dodgy types out there who dig them up in the wild then sell them on as cultivated plants. Quentin checked this grower out very thoroughly and we have proof of the plants' provenance. They'll look lovely in the long, lush grass at the rear of the garden. I'm planting oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) too.

8 July: The show opens to the public today. God, I'm tired. It would have been great to have had a break after finishing the build just to get some energy for today, but we only just got it finished in time. Two weeks isn't long. Still, Wendy and I are really pleased with it. It looks absolutely lovely (a completely objective opinion of course). Click on the pic to see if you agree.

Which brings me to today, at home still looking after Lily while Wendy labours on breaking the garden down. I'll be there tomorrow though, as we have to have it completely cleared by Friday, back to the 4 by 6 metre rectangle of bare earth, as though it had never been.

Was it worth all the planning, organisation, frustration and exhaustion? Yes. Would I do it again? Ask me in a months' time!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Lily and Hampton Court update

All those lovely people who have expressed concern for my beautiful Border Collie Lily will be pleased to hear that I picked her up today. We have had a few scares over the last two weeks and it has been touch and go as to whether she would survive, but she's home! She's looking a bit battered and bruised and gets tired quickly, but it's wonderful to have her back again (I realise that the non dog-lovers amongst you will find all this completely incomprehensible).

Anyway, on to RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. I tried to keep a journal each day and failed miserably, of course, but here are some of the scraps I managed to record:

23 June: Arrived at the site at about 7.30am having left home at 5.45. The RHS have removed the turf on our plot, but that's all. Just a 6 metre by 4 metre rectangle of bare earth which over the next two weeks will be transformed into our garden. By the end of a very hot and difficult day we had pegged the garden out, taken levels and started digging...

30 June: (Did I say I had diligently kept at record? No, I did not.) Up at 5.30am to hand over the plants I've been nurturing at home to Quentin (Stark, our brilliant nursery man) to transfer them to Hampton Court with all the rest. It's wonderful having the plants here now, although I think I've gone overboard on the quantities. The advice is to decide what you'll need then order another 60%, but I think I'll only use a quarter of what's been delivered.

The trees are in! It took a fork lift truck and 4 big, strong men plus Wendy, and God knows how we'll get them out again...but they are so beautiful. Slender and white stemmed, leaves trembling in the breeze.

It's now 8.30pm and I'm so tired that as soon as I get to Jodie's (my neice who lives about 2 miles from HC) I'm going to bed.

1 July: Spent the morning cleaning the three clumped birch trees. I've got one of those E-cloth things and it was brilliant at cleaning algae from the trunks and branches. Had to be careful not to damage their peeling bark and it took ages,but it was worth it. They have emerged even more beautiful than before.

Strangely, although I've been looking forward to it for ages, I was scared to start the planting. I kept finding other things to do to delay the moment. Finally, when I couldn't put it off any longer, I plunged in with a grouping of Veronicastrum, Sanguisorba, Orlaya and some catmint. I did prepare a planting plan, but I don't like to stick slavishly to them. It all depends so much on the individual plants that I prefer the freedom of designing as I go but with a rough framework provided by a plan. This is especially true of this garden. I really want it to look as though it hasn't been especially planted out but has just happened, in a very relaxed sort of way.

I didn't finish planting until about 8.30, then ate at Pizza Express in Hampton Court for the second night running, totally exhausted and glad to be staying with Jodie.

There is more to come, promise, if anyone's interested. Now the pressure's off and the show's over I'll update the blog more frequently. We still, however, have to break the garden up and leave the site as we found it, so back on the chain gang tomorrow!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Lovely Lily

I know some gardeners aren't keen on dogs, but I am. I have a beautiful Border Collie called Lily, and last week, while I was building the Hampton Court garden, I got a phone call from a neighbour to say Lily had swallowed a stick while being walked. To cut a very long and distressing story short, a stick measuring around 8 inches went down her throat, pierced her oesaphagus and (it was initially thought) entered her lung.

The reason for this additional post today is that after writing the first one, all jokey and upbeat, I suddenly felt disloyal. Isn't that stupid? So I thought I'd share this with you. She's going to be OK I think. She's had two operations, one to remove the stick and one to patch up the internal damage it had done. She's alert and drinking and eating small amounts, and I'm hoping to have her home some time next week. The moral of this story is 1) don't throw sticks for dogs and 2) there are more important things in life than winning flower shows

No time to blog!

How do dedicated bloggers do it? I started off with the best intentions...I'd write frequently, detailing the highs and lows of building a show garden blah, blah, blah. Obviously, I've failed miserably.

Anyway, here I am, one week into the build and I'm happy to report that it's going really well. The excitement of actually being there on Monday morning was tremendous. Everyone is really helpful and the atmosphere at the moment is quite relaxed. Of course, this will change as we near judgement day! At the moment we are concentrating on getting the hard landscaping elements installed to Wendy's satisfaction. She's project managing the build and is an absolute perfectionist (mind you, so are Russ, Liz, Neil and Nick too, so that's OK).

As expected, the planting is a bit of a movable feast at the moment. It looked like the Eryngiums were going to peak too soon so I sourced a substitute, Berkheya purpurea. But now, guess what? Berkheya has gone over and the Eryngiums are holding back, like shy virgins on their wedding night. My latest information is that they may be OK but I need to wait as late as possible to plant them. The grass is proving a bit problematic too. It was supposed to be long (15cm) and lush, but when it was delivered it was at least 60cm, flat from being rolled and rank at the base from lack of light. I've been frantically trimming, watering and raking (lightly with a spring tined rake) since Wednesday but it's still looking not so much lush and verdant as slightly apocalyptic (you know, the bomb's gone off and there's no-one left to mow the grass).

Tomorrow the plants and trees arrive and the plan is that we start planting on Tuesday. Don't know when I'll be around next, but keep fingers crossed for good weather this week. It wouldn't be half so much fun in a mud bath!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Loose Duck Race

No, ducks aren't running riot in some sort of paddling marathon. Loose is where I live, and today is the day of the annual duck race when hundreds of yellow plastic ducks bob competitively along the Brooks Stream (that's it on the left; pretty isn't it?) to the noisy delight of children and adults alike. Except that today, as I write, it's pouring with rain and winds are so high they can't get the refreshments marquee up. I've been up since six, baking the cakes I foolishly promised to donate when full of wine and bonhomie in the local pub at Christmas (these things are planned well in advance you know).

I also have my orders from our leader, the venerable Roy Hood. Tanya and I must allocate the even numbered ducks and Sean will do the odd. I'm not quite sure why this is, but orders are orders. Must leave now as I need to find my wet weather gear.
Full race report, the runners and the riders etc, will be posted later, after I've dried off.

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Sunday, 25 May 2008

Hampton Court countdown

Only four weeks until we start the build for Hampton Court Flower Show, and the garden will be judged just two weeks after that! After seeing the tears, disappointment and sheer exhaustion at Chelsea last week I'm beginning to wonder what I've let myself in for...although it's going to be sooooo exciting.

All the hard materials are sourced now, thanks to my brilliant partner in design Wendy. The plants (my special responsibility) are looking good, although I'm still having trouble sourcing some. One is a wild flower which is now very rare (I'm not telling you what it is so as not to spoil the surprise). That's it's rare in the wild does not surprise me in the least because I can't get the b....y seeds to germinate. At the other end of the plant fecundity scale, some which shouldn't flower until July are bursting to get out now, and there's only so much pinching out they'll stand before going into a big sulk. But then, just when I start to get a bit edgy, I think of the trees. Three slender, beautiful Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, planted in a clump when whips to look like a multistem.

Off for a run now. I'm in training for my role as labourer during the first stages of the build. Of course when it comes to the planting I can go all designer(y) and wax lyrical about drifts and swathes...