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!