Saturday, October 22, 2011

Walking on sunshine

Autumn on Windermere
Having dragged myself back to my blog after what seems like a long absence, I have no excuses for my tardy approach. I haven’t been double digging in the veg bed and no doubt sadly neglected a lot of tasks which should have been performed before the onset of winter. So no real excuses for not blogging.

I have been praying that the frost would stay away that bit longer, so that my happy flowering geraniums would flourish just a few more weeks. Oh and I have been to Highgrove. I have also been reading! To quote the ‘bad tempered gardener’ Anne Wareham, (she has a fab website – thinkingardens, ) - there is a lot of ‘garden porn’ around. The mushy, cuddly, ‘I loved it’ type of article can be entertaining but it is not always helpful for someone who wants to know the how, where and why of aspects of gardening. Anyway, more of Anne later. So, I turned to two of my favourite garden designers for inspiration. Tom Stuart-Smith and Chris Beardshaw. Out with the garden porn and in with the practical and intelligent.

Tom, writing in The Telegraph, pondered the role of the subconscious in planting design.

This sounds like an excellent title for a Master’s thesis I thought - reading on I found the crux of the article was basically that we draw on a rich mixture of influence and memory when we devise some idea of how a garden might be planted. We should not be trying to compete with or outdo nature. Indeed, our gardening is often to do with pleasant memories and experiences – a pleasant walk through a wood, an idea from Chelsea or something we have seen on television.

Around about the same time as Tom’s article, Germaine Greer – also writing in The Telegraph, exhorted us to give up the struggle with weeds and pests.

Her opening comment was: “Is your garden becoming too much for you?” This is new I thought. Here she was telling us to put down our trowels and forks and leave the garden to its own devices! We should play tennis or bowls instead. Oh Really!

While I did have some sympathy for her point of view that garden programmes and magazines always show immaculate gardens - as a reckless gardener I don’t subscribe to the ‘neat and tidy’ syndrome - however, the thought of letting the ground elder, couch grass and dandelions take control fills me with horror.

In some ways it also misses the point – gardeners love the contact with the soil, the pleasure dead-heading brings, the enjoyment of raking newly turned soil, staking and of course planting. Going to shows and finding unusual plants, different varieties, starting a collection and experimenting with different planting styles are all part and parcel of the enjoyment of gardening. In fairness she did suggest some plants you could use which could take over and be low maintenance – however,  I wasn’t convinced and have no intention of letting my little patch of cottage garden capitulate in the war against the ground elder.

Chris Beardshaw, on the other hand, writing in The English Garden, took on a similar theme in his article ‘Weed it and Weep’. He no longer worries and strives to maintain absolute control, embracing the delights that so many so-called weeds can offer.  He pointed out that there is a constant battle between human order and that of nature. We all know that there are plenty of plant species that can thrive and colonize, needing very little attention and he points out that these species are often the root of the label ‘weed’. However, perhaps rather refreshingly, Chris sees these gatecrashers in his garden not as worthless interlopers, but more as plants requiring further exploration to discover their attributes.

Nettle and comfrey, for example, can be used as fertilizer and many other so-called weeds can enrich and feed the ground. Chris quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “What is a weed? It is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.’

So, there we have it. Either you put down your tools and go and play tennis and let the garden do its own thing or you look upon the invaders into your plot as rather tasty greens for the salad bowl or food for the garden. The ground elder leaves can now find a place in the salad bowl but if I am honest, I rather prefer the approach Chris takes to the one Germaine suggests. I think we need to get sensible here and find a reasonable balance.

And so to Highgrove. Here is the garden porn – I loved it – why? Anne Wareham put me on the spot when she asked me that. I was pleased that she did because I then really did sit down and ask myself why? I liked it because parts of the garden were unusual - somewhat of a hotch-potch of themed areas so you really did not know what would be round the next corner. I liked that because it created a frisson of expectation.

The garden is a mirror on the soul of the gardener and at Highgrove, HRH Prince Charles has created what he loves and cares for -  it’s a statement of his environmental philosophy.

I found the whole visit highly enjoyable, I can’t be more specific, I just relaxed and drank in whatever came next. The important thing for me is that I took away nice memories and yes I would happily go again at another time of year.

Good news that Chris Beardshaw will be doing a garden for RHS Chelsea 2012. He last did a show garden at Chelsea in 2007 and for 2012 he will be designing a garden of ericaceous plants and shrubs inspired by the Furzey Gardens in Hampshire. Feature on Reckless Gardener:

We are at the time of the year when the garden prepares for winter, and we expect all that snow - so to cheer myself up I am listening to Katrina & The Waves, Walking on Sunshine – happy gardening.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Summer Reading

Gardening is all about sitting in your little piece of heaven and enjoying a good read and of course what we gardeners like reading most is gardening books! (Ok among other things). So, here is a list of some of the latest gardening books which you might like to add to your list for summer reading:

‘Monet’s Water Lilies’

Vivian Russel’s ‘Monet’s Water Lilies’ explores the making of the water garden at Giverny and how Monet was influenced by the Japanese aesthetic. This is a beautiful book to look at with superb illustrations. For anyone who has visited Giverny it will be a wonderful reminder of a special visit and for those who have not a voyage of discovery into this special garden. The author tells the story of the water lilies’ role as a central source of Monet’s artistic inspiration and describes the making of the water garden, bringing exciting insights into his work as both gardener and painter. Reading this book is a wonderful excursion into Monet’s world and garden – read it in your garden and feel its serenity wash over you. Enjoyed every minute of it. Excellent value for money. Published by Frances Lincoln Ltd., in paperback at £9.99.

’50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants’

In a busy lifestyle, maintaining your garden in an easy way is paramount. In this book, garden designer, Tracy Disabato-Aust, provides us with a collection of 50 show-stoppers, including some of the toughest plants that anyone can grow. She has chosen plants with long lasting blooms, architectural form and texture and also those which are drought-resistant. It has an easy-to-follow presentation, good photographs and straightforward text. Originally for the American market, this book contains much to interest the European gardener. Published by Timber Press at £9.99.



‘High-Impact, Low-Carbon Gardening’

For gardeners who are serious about green gardening practices, Alice Bowe’s book provides plenty of ideas and advice on sustainable gardening, from simple tips to intensive makeovers. Chapters deal with Improving your garden’s ecological credentials; Choosing materials for boundaries and structures, Maintaining the greener garden and Gardening with Wildlife in Mind. The main theme of this book is that you don’t have to compromise on design in order to create and maintain a greener garden.
 Published by Timber Press at £9.99.



‘Vanilla Orchids’

Ken Cameron’s ‘Vanilla Orchids’ is an interesting and unusual book. It charts the history of the world’s most popular flavour and fragrance, vanilla, from its discovery to its fascinating genetics. This is a scholarly work, illustrated with more than 100 colour photographs and presents the reader with some fascinating facts about the origins of Vanilla and in greater detail Vanilla the orchid. Chapters include the Origins and History of Domesticated Vanilla, Profiles of Select Vanilla Species and Harvesting and Processing. Many people are unaware that vanilla actually comes from an orchid and that they are among the oldest surviving members of the orchid family. The book even tempts the reader to create one’s own vanilla extract to make vanilla ice cream from Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe.
 Published by Timber Press (Hardback) at £20.00.

‘Envisioning the Garden’

Perspective in gardening is often one of the most difficult skills to master and in his book ‘Envisioning the Garden’ French garden designer, Robert Mallet, gives an excellent insight into what style to give a garden and how best to lay it out. Mallet offers a range of practical ideas that can be adapted to visually enlarge space and liberate the mind. There are good photographic illustrations and diagrams, plenty of ideas and throughout the book the lesson of using our ‘eyes’ is paramount. Trying to understand human vision and which optical effects open up broad prospects to the human spirit is covered. He also assesses how we respond to certain shapes and colours as well as other sensory associations.

So if you want to get a better understanding of planting distances, distance and light and visual traps, this is the book for you. Published by Norton, in paperback, at £24.99.

‘Late Summer Flowers’

Keeping a display going throughout the summer is made easier with this new book by Marina Christopher, ‘Late Summer Flowers’. Informative and readable, Marina’s book will help the gardener feel confident about prolonging the summer display. Co-founder of the Green Farm Nursery, Marina now runs her own nursery, Phoenix Perennial Plants in Hampshire. She chooses plants that have a late flowering season, or offer such bonuses as attractive foilage, seed heads or berries, so that you can get the best from the garden in the late summer and into autumn. There are excellent illustrations by Stephen Wooster and the useful Plant Directory is easy to follow, with comprehensive information on each plant. A really useful book for the garden library.

Published by Frances Lincoln Ltd., ‘Late Summer Flowers’ by Marina Christopher, is on sale at £16.99 paperback.

‘Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities’

At last we have a comprehensive study of public parks and their history from Alexander Garvin in ‘Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities’. Often overlooked in the past and sadly neglected, Public Parks are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. In this book, he explains the rationales for their existence, the forms they take and the ingredients that make successful parks. He covers every aspect of parks, from their history, evolution and planning to design, development and finance. The book includes everything that landscape architects, architects, planners, civic officials and public users need to know. For the general reader the book provides a fascinating insight into public parks and how important they are in communities. It looks at major parks in the US, UK, France, Italy and Germany.

Published by Norton in hardback priced at £45.00 - check out Amazon on the Reckless Gardener website for discounted price:

‘The Bad Tempered Gardener’

I can certainly sympathise with the title of this book by Anne Wareham. There have been many times in my gardening life when I have been ‘bad tempered’. To be truthful, I am sure that there are many gardeners who, no matter how much they delight in their creations, get a little peaked at times with the day-to-day tasks that need to be performed. The book has attracted a lot of publicity and has been described by James Alexander-Sinclair as “at once entertaining, opinionated and deliciously annoying.” So be prepared to be both entertained and annoyed when you read Anne’s book – illustrated by Charles Hawes – as she describes her ‘outside housework’ and takes a swipe at ‘gushing garden stories’.  If her penned thoughts and criticisms make you think a little more reflectively about gardens – and gardeners - then her book will have achieved its aim. 
Published by Frances Lincoln @ £16.99 (available on Amazon).

As someone who has struggled with the concept of colour in the garden for decades, I found Andrew Wilson's 'Contemporary Colour in the Garden' inviting. That my little plot is 'colourful' is in no way due to my expertise of using colour as the 'powerful tool' in the gardener's armour, as Wilson suggests. It is more by accident than design, so I felt that a good text on using colour might enlighten me.

I like the way Wilson structures this book - he charts the use of colour in the garden from Gertrude Jekyll's colour-sequenced borders to Conceptualism and describes how todays plastics, resins and painted surfaces can deliver a brillance and saturation of colour that is successful in the right situation. Wilson reminds us that colour can promote an emotional response and argues for an intensive burst of colour for a short period, slowly subsiding for a more dramatic effect. Not sure I agree with that argument but I found his analytical approach to colour and how if reflects our personalities and therefore our garden very interesting. The book contains excellent colour plates and the author reflects his ideas with illustrations and examples from a range of designers including Andy Sturgeon, Tom Stuart-Smith and Cleve West.

The book is also for the American market so has American spellings - and just to be petty Jekyll is spelt wrongly on the sleeve cover - but hey, this is an excellent and stimulating book and for the first time in my life someone has actually started me thinking about colour and my approach to it.
Published by Timber Press, 'Contemporary Colour in the Garden' by Andrew Wilson, is in hardback at £20.00.

Check out the above titles on Amazon via the Reckless Gardener shop:

Monday, July 25, 2011

RHS Tatton, some musings

Best in Show - Save a life, drop the knife
I love RHS Tatton Park Flower Show. I love it because it is held in the North-West and is our very own little piece of Chelsea - well not quite but as good as. It gives northern designers and growers the chance to show their talents and you don't have to travel to London to enjoy it. There is space and fresh Cheshire air, room to tootle about and (apart from those blasted plant trolley things) nothing in your way to prevent you getting a good gander at the gardens.

I felt rather smug this year that I correctly picked the winner of the RHS Young Designer of the Year. The odds on this were not that great because there are only three finalists, but nevertheless, I was so impressed with Daniela Coray's lovely 'A Stitch in Time Saves Nine' that I just knew she had to be the winner and so she was. Daniela specialises in environmentally aware approaches to garden design and her lovely, peaceful garden really drew me in. It was designed as an engaging and restorative place and so it was and certainly met with approval by the visitors to the show.

There were some challenging gardens this year, or rather gardens with challenging messages. The Best in Show went to 'Save a Life, Drop the Knife' and the Best Visionary Garden went to the Design Charity on behalf of Survivors Fund (SURF). Not so much a garden really but a metaphor for a Rwandan refugee's flight to freedom. Those brave enough to go inside the 'jungle' certainly came out with a stark impression of what it must have been like to experience those terrible years in Rwanda during the war. Quite moving in fact and not easily forgotten.

I love the Flower Bed competition and always marvel at the quirky ideas that the different local authorities and community groups come up with for this category. Bournemouth's 'A Novel Approach' was a worthy winner. My personal favourite was Birmingham's Iconic Mini and I also liked 'Arthur's Waterloo' by Partington Parish Council. This type of bedding is not to all tastes but there is a lot of hard work that goes into these displays and I think its great that our municipal gardeners get the chance to show their talents and get some praise for a change.

There seemed to be a lot of purple and blue on gardens, with one garden - Black and Blue - designed by Clive Scott winning a Gold. I like colour, so black and blue doesn't really do it for me, but obviously the judges thought Clive's clever quirky garden did it for them, hence the Gold. I have to hand it to Clive that designing a garden with a colour palette of black-purple-blue is no easy ticket and the effect was nothing if not stunning - just not for me.

Sue Beesley's 'Grasses with Grace' was easily a contender for Best Show Garden. It was absolutely delightful with a graceful colour palette and stunning early flowering ornamental grasses. Sue is rightly chuffed with her Gold - well deserved.

Finchale Training College's 'The Schedule' was excellent and if I was feeling a bit down with the Knife Crime message and the Rwandan jungle experience, now I was propelled into a paroxysm of unsurpassed joy by the sight of this lovely allotment. Well done to all the Finchale Students who produced this great and interesting garden.

Oxfam's 'When the Waters Rise' (Gold) highlighted their 'Grow' Campaign for better ways to grow, share and live together. I really liked this garden and felt that it achieved all its aims in making us understand the various methods being used to adapt to climate change.

The show site has been redesigned this year and seemed much easier to get around than in previous years. The weather on the day of my visit was reasonable, sunny periods and thankfully no rain. Tatton can be unlucky with the weather, although having said that I have sheltered from the odd thunderstorm and gales at RHS Hampton too!

Below are a few more of the gardens for your delectation:

Colourful and cheerful NSPCC Garden  

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine - Winner of the Young Designer of the Year    

Iconic Mini      

Serenity, Russell Watkinson Landscapes

Bournemouth's winning Flower Bed   

Pip Probert's Chocolate Orange

So until next year ........ 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tatton party

The North's great garden party, RHS Tatton Flower Show, kicks off next week and I can only hope that the weather improves before then. Today in Cumbria it is wet, windy and quite cold, so no gardening this weekend. Hopefully it will blow itself out before Press Day on Wednesday. Tatton is our own Flower Show and we always look forward to it because its a chance to meet up with all the northern nursery owners, gardeners and designers. Its our own showcase for northern talent and each year has gone from strength to strength. So, no matter what the weather does, I have packed my bags, notebooks, camera and pencils and I am ready for a great party.

It's seven years since the Trentham Estate was taken over by St Mowden with the aim of completely restoring this once magnificent estate which originally belonged to the Duke of Sutherland. I first saw Trentham in that first year and there was much to do but already a lot of progress made. After seven years you can appreciate how the gardens have matured and a visit today is highly recommended. Trentham's dramatic resurrection has been led by renowned garden designers and Chelsea gold-medal winners, Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolk, who along with Trentham Gardens Manager, Michael Walker, have revitalised the Italianate grandeur with a stylish modern interpretation, to create one of the largest examples of contemporary naturalist perennial planting in Europe.

They are a lovely team at Trentham led by the energetic Michael and I am sure that the garden will go from strength to strength in the coming years. To find out more about Trentham, ticket prices, events etc log onto their site at:

If you are in to Chilli then you might like to go along to West Dean's Chilli Fiesta between 5th to 7th August at West Dean Gardens, Nr Chichester, West Sussex. Three days of Chilli madness from farming food, live music and salsa dancing, with an array of over 200 peppers to spice up your day. There is also a Treefest at the National Arboretum, Westonbirt, between 26th and 29th August, with four days of woodworking, music and camping, crafts and of course fab trees. Westonbirt is home to the National Japanese Maple (Acer) Collection and is run by the Foresty Commission. So two good venues there if you are in those areas.

Congrats., to two young men who will be representing Team Uk at the WorldSkills London 2011 in Landscape Gardening this October. Simon Abbott and James Cuffey, have been chosen to take part in a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent the UK. Simon comes from Doncaster and is self-employed and James comes from Downpatrick, N.I., and works for a landscaping firm. WorldSkills 2011 is the world\s largest international skills competition for young people with 1,000 competitors from over 50 countries taking part over four days. There are some 37 skills ranging from Obile Robotics, Electrical Installations to Graphic Design and of course Landscape Gardening. So good luck to Simon and James as the make their preparations for the competition.

You will be able to see a full report on RHS Tatton on our website:
but in the meantime, happy gardening.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ethical dilemmas of the gardening kind

When I started gardening as a child, life was simple. There were no ethical or moral decisions I had to make, I just planted my seeds, got excited when they started to grow and enjoyed seeing the results of my efforts. There was no talk of global warming, dying bees or Japanese knotweed. There were plenty of bomb sites with what we fondly called weeds (sorry, wildflowers) and life tended to be a bit grey in colour but overall gardeners were not that troubled with moral dilemmas.

As I got older and family came along I enjoyed involving them in the daily round of planting, weeding and watering. It was also fun to see their delight when the seeds they planted grew.

Today, however, now in the ‘autumn of my years’ as Frank Sinatra so aptly put it, I am faced with all kinds of ethical and moral dilemma and gardening is no longer the easy pleasure it once was - well not if I care about the environment that is.

I recently read an excellent article in The Telegraph by Mark Diacono on the ethical dilemma of using peat. I stopped using peat about seven years ago as a result of a National Trust campaign. I can’t say either myself or the garden has noticed this deficit. I totally agree with one observation that some of our addictions in the garden are the result of no more than clever marketing. The add men tell us that we must use this or that to achieve a perfect result and we become conditioned. Many of us have forgotten how to make good old fashioned compost and rely instead on buying many of the branded varieties now adorning our garden centres. That said, if you really don’t want to make your own compost there are plenty of peat-free varieties available such as New Horizon Organic that can be bought ready made.

According to the RHS almost 70% of peat sold in the UK is used by amateur gardeners. The RHS itself only uses peat based material for propagation of plants and maintenance of a small number of specialist plant collections but they, like the National Trust, strive towards a totally peat-free future.

So gardening dilemma number one is whether or not to use peat!

Then there is the thorny issue of global warming and sustainable gardening. A lot has been said about sustainable gardening over the last few years. I confess to not having heard the phrase ‘sustainable gardening’ until about four or five years ago. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) urges us to garden in a sustainable way - there is even a special section devoted to this on their website -

The RHS give a very good breakdown on why and how climate change affects our gardens and what we can do to help reduce the greenhouse effect. They also produce leaflets to help us combine benefits for the environment with practical gardening. You can’t bury your head in the sand any longer folks - RHS Flower Shows have had lots of ‘sustainable gardens’ to inspire the rest of us and the word ‘sustainable’ seems to punctuate every gardening article we currently read! I can no longer feign ignorance.

So dilemma number two is ‘how can I garden in a sustainable way to help the climate?’

Now gardening dilemma number three - how can I help wildlife in my garden and in particular make my garden a happy place for bees?

By now I am becoming slightly paranoid as another dimension is added into the mix. My simple sowing, growing and enjoying is turning into a ‘Kafkaesque’ experience! I want my garden to be a paradise for bees, a Monaco in the sun where they can buzz happily till their hearts content but I also want it to be a happy place for me as well, so are the two compatible? My dilemma is made worse by that lovely Sarah Raven who wrote recently that if we want to help bees and butterflies we should avoid Chelsea’s bright blooms! Hell, I love my bright blooms, my Gertrude Jekyll style of planting and my bright and blowsy cottage garden. Reading on it was not quite as bad as the headline made it sound. She advocates that we avoid plants with thick multi petals which make it dificult for bees to reach for pollen and nectar and choose instead more native plants such as primroses, single dahlias and wild roses which are rich in pollen and nectar.

So its back to the good old RHS for their ‘Perfect for Pollinators Plant List’, which gives the best flowers for insects and we can all rest in our beds (flower that is) because armed with the RHS list and a new ‘bee friendly’ label (which will now help gardeners to choose the right plants to help hoverflies, bees and butterflies) we should all be able to make the right decisions. Phew!

Dilemma number four - to be or not to be organic!

Here again I try to be organic but I am not totally so. I really got into the organic thing by way of HRH Prince Charles. No I’m not name dropping, I have only met the gentleman once (a pleasure I might add, he really loves gardening) - it was really as a result of reading his book about Highgrove that got me interested in organic gardening. I can understand why HRH is so passionate about organic gardening BUT and its a big but, I find it hard to really follow all the principles although I have been astounded by several totally organic gardens I have visited and not a greenfly in sight.

So times are changing - one of the recommendations in a recent Government White Paper   on the environment suggests banning the use of peat by amateur gardeners by 2020. Recent research by the RHS confirmed the vital role played by gardens in reducing city warming - plants bring down energy consumption in winter by providing shelter and insulation, cools the air in towns and cities in hot weather and reduces the risk of flooding by absorbing rain.

There is plenty of research to prove that gardening is beneficial to us in many ways, both physical and mental and can have very therapeutic properties - that nothwithstanding, I have to say that I am becoming increasingly anguished at all the factors I now have to consider just by putting my trowel into the ground.

It was so easy in the 1950’s, there was Miss Marple, weeds (sorry, wildflowers) growing on bomb sites, red buses which ran really regularly, no motorways and yes 6d could get you a good seat at the Saturday matinee. But life moves on - now I use an iphone, an ipad and a pc in my everyday life and just as I have accepted those technological innovations, I suspect I must now adjust to global warming, peat free environments and bee friendly flowers in my gardening life.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 - Royal Bank of Canada New Wild Garden (bug hotel wall)

I’m not totally sure if I will ever ‘get’ the sustainable thingy but I will rest happy if my flowers bloom, my bees buzz and I can sit and enjoy a gin and tonic on my patio being smug in the knowledged that I have helped save the planet if only in a very, very small way.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Getting down to summer

The recent fair spell up north has given us a chance to get in some serious gardening. Plenty of roses to dead head, box to cut and the start of the flowering perennials to admire. Post-Chelsea the sob story is that Dianthus Cruentus has proved so popular that Crocus has sold out! Short of finding a plant like ticket tout who might be prepared to part with their specimen I will have to wait for next year and hope the Dianthus is offered again. It seems that Dianthus Cruentus is rarer than an Olympic ticket!

This amazing plant caused a storm at Chelsea on Cleve West's Daily Telegraph Garden and no wonder. It shines like a 3 D red light even in bright sunlight. I have found that Dianthus do very well in our Cumbrian garden, they shoved off the really cold and bad winter, the sever frosts and winds we had and have positively blossomed this year. Which encourages me to make more of a feature of them, however, the little gem from Cleve's garden will have to wait until stocks are replenished - hopefully. Well done to those who have managed to get the plant and for the rest of us unlucky ones, we will have to be content with the photograph!

A really lovely paperback, 'The Cottage Garden' by Twigs Way, has just been published. This delightful slimline book in a handy A5 format is published by Shire Books - The archetypal picture of a cottage garden conjures up images of roses growing around the door, honeysuckle creeping over the garden wall and fragrant lavender lining the brick path - however, while this image may have some resonance, Twigs delves deeper into the chocolate box images and examines the history, style, planting and moral significance of this most English of garden creations.

She charts the history of the cottage garden from its origins as a functional space providing food for the table, herbs for the physic bottle and room for the hens, pigs and privy to the 18th century Romantics and intellectuals, such as Wordsworth, who transplanted wild flowers into their patch of English Eden. The austere morality of the Victorian era, who held that a well-tended garden was a 'symbol of honest frugality and sober industriousness' and that poverty and drunkenness were the downfall of the labouring classes, positively encouraged gardening and allotments as a key to 'society's salvation.'

Twigs leads the reader from the cottage garden of 'productive poverty' to the wonderful gardens of Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, grown for colour, smell and pure indulgence and reminds us of a definition provided by the editor of 'Cottage Gardening' in 1892 who stated that: "The charm of the cottage garden is .... due to the absence of any pretentious plan." Most of us would agree with that. She then brings us up to date by pointing out that in the modern style there can be various approaches from mixing traditional with contemporary to the more formal approach bringing symmetry and more precise planting.

The illustrations used in 'The Cottage Garden' are delightful and perfectly convey the 'cottage' theme. The author has also included a list of suitable plants for the cottage garden which will be useful to those gardeners who are perhaps thinking of developing the style in their own garden. 'The Cottage Garden' is priced at £6.99 and is an excellent easy overview of this delightful form of gardening.

Flora Locale, the charity that promotes the restoration of wild plants for biodiversity, landscapes and people, is calling for more British wild flowers and trees to be grown in British gardens. Sue Clarke, of Flora locale points out that the campaign aims to encourage British wild flowers and trees in our gardens and public open spaces to create species-rich habitats that are attractive to butterflies and other insects. Even in small spaces native wild flowers can create colourful borders and individual plants such as teasel, juniper or wild angelica can be used to add structure.

This summer sees Flora locale running a number of workshops as part of the campaign for more areas of species rich grasslands to be re-created so that they are attractive to butterflies and other insects. To check out their programme log onto their website at  There is an event at Haddo Country Park on Thursday 30th June on the Management of wildflower grassland and another at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex on Wednesday 6th July on Seed collecting and use for restoration and re-introduction.

Hugo Bugg's Albert Dock Garden at RHS Tatton

Much excitement will be building now for RHS Hampton Court and of course the north's very own RHS Tatton Park. I like Tatton because it is easy to get to from Cumbria and can be achieved in a day with no expensive overnight hotel bills!

Tatton is also the venue for the RHS National Young Designer of the Year competition, so looking forward to seeing the gardens of the three young designers chosen as this year's finalists, Alexandra Froggatt, Daniela Coray and Owen Morgan. Alexandra is Cheshire based and although new to exhibiting at RHS Shows has already been making her mark with her own company. Daniela is currently completing a Masters in Art and Environment at Falmouth and she too has set up her own design company based in Cornwall. Owen set up his own landscape design firm in 2004 and is based in Rutland. So good luck to all three in their bid to become the RHS National Young Designer of the Year.

Last year, Hugo Bugg not only won the title of RHS National Young Designer of the year but also the award for Best in Show. Hugo's Albert Dock garden has set the bar high for this year's entrants.

Finally, a mention about the Gardening Against the Odds awards for 2011 which honours the unsung heroes of gardening who create beauty against the odds. These awards, launched by The Sunday Telegraph in association with The Conservation Foundation, call for entries from individuals and community groups who garden in often unpromising and unlikely places or in the face of physical or psychological difficulties. The awards are dedicated to the late Elspeth Thompson, the Sunday Telegraph writer who sadly died in 2010 and are named after her final online diary.

Last year's winner, Andrew Barnett, whose severe depression left him unable to work as a headteacher, found gardening a lifesaver. His story is typical of many who find relief, pleasure and hopefully rediscover a sense of joie de vivre through gardening.

Closing date for this year's entries is 16th September 2011 and winners will be announced in October. For details log onto:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chelsea exceeds all expectations

The Daily Telegraph Garden (Gold) designed by Cleve West and Best in Show
I had said before going to this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, that I expected it to be one of the best in several years. There was a kind of excitement in the air weeks before the event, buzz on the twitterfeeds and a general air of expectation growing as the press releases, news articles and blogs started into full swing.

With such a good line-up of designers, yes it might just be a vintage year, but you never know. Perhaps, after all, with all the gloom and doom just now, we really wanted to feel that here was an event on which the sun would shine, we would all be delighted with wonderful floral displays and drool over gardens to die for.  And we did!

Pictured above, Sarah Eberle's 'A Monaco Garden' (Gold) with a pool we all wanted to sample and that touch of sun which we were all looking for. For me this garden was certainly Monaco and brought back many happy memories of a trip there.

The lovely Cleve West can do no wrong for me and we were all thrilled that his delightful garden for The Daily Telegraph not only won a Gold but also Best in Show. One plant which caught my eye on this garden was Dianthus cruentus, it positively glowed and stood out in a sort of 3D 'look at me' way. Definitely on my shopping list that one. Cleve can always weave the classical with the contemporary and his use of modern and traditional materials on his garden worked so well. He is one designer that always has time for you and is only too willing to show you round his garden or answer questions, so well done Cleve on your success you deserve it.

This year, Chelsea was cool, calm and collected. The gardens oozed peace and tranquility while at the same time stimulating one enough to get excited about a particular design theme or idea. The Laurent-Perrier Garden designed by Luciano Giubbilei (Gold) was another of my favourites - a romantic garden where you wanted to linger and absorb the vibes.

I was disappointed that Bunny Guinness did not get Gold for her garden for M & G (the Show's sponsors). Her Silver-Gilt, in my opinion, is not worthy of this garden. Perhaps, as someone said to me, it was too crowded.

I didn't think so, it was a modern take on a traditional kitchen garden and I loved it. Someone near me commented that he thought it "was beautiful" and I had to agree with him. It brought a big leap of delight to my heart and I loved the colour,  the layout and the planting.

Bunny Guuinness 'M & G Garden'
I also liked her choice of Pelargonium Voodoo, used in some of the pots on the wall, her use of the pleached trees and the general overall integrity of the planting. I longed to be able to get inside that garden to really look into each of those planting areas and delight in the variety of plants. After the show, elements of her garden will be donated - the fruit and veg to The Royal Hospital Chelsea and the raised beds and a selection of flowers to the RHS Campaign for School Gadening, who will be re-homing the plants in a new Community Garden at Christ Church CofE Primary School.

The 'Irish Sky Garden' brought all the 40 shades of green that is Ireland to life and we were delighted that at long last Diarmuid Gavin has won a Gold at Chelsea. This enormous garden was proving to be a sensation on press day and you just felt that if he couldn't achieve a Gold with that garden he might as well take his spade home and forget it. I am sure for those lucky few who were able to hitch a ride in the pod the view over the garden would have been amazing.

Irish Sky Garden

James Wong and David Cubero achieved their second Gold at Chelsea on their second visit with another fantastic Tourism Malaysia Garden. I pleased to report that I helped in oh such a tiny way before judging by lending James a 20pence piece for him to use with his cleaning rag. My simple claim to fame! Well done on yet another delightful and interesting garden.

The tallest ever garden built at the Show,  the B & Q Garden, (Gold) designed by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins, had so much going for it that you could spend a whole morning just looking at this garden alone. The bug wall was very clever and colourful and the way the tower block had been constructed with the hanging plants eye catching. There were some mumblings about gardens going too high this year, but personally I felt this was refreshing. I would like to see the shape of some of the plots changed in future years so that designers can be even more imaginative - very few of us have gardens which are perfectly square or oblong after all and in some cases this could be quite challenging.

Among the Artisan Gardens I found a couple of really brilliant little gardens. The Hae-woo-so (Emptying one's mind) Garden (Gold) designed byt Jihae Hwang (Muum) was a real cracker. There was a wall on that garden which looked as though it had stood for a thousand years and again here was a little Korean garden full of peace and calmness. We won't go into the toilet side of it but suffice to say it was merely a little shack at the bottom of the garden. Delightful and worthy of the Gold and best in category. Also liked A Postcard from Wales, cleverly based on Dylan Thomas's Laugharne home. The Literary Garden, with its lovely phrases, made one pause and think, particularly the clever waterfall - "We never know the worth of water till the well is dry".

All sorts of images stick in the mind from a Chelsea Press Day, the 'celebs' - the gardens of course - the wonderful smell and displays of the Great Pavilion - new plant introductions - the lady in the toilets who sounded just like Lady Bracknell when she said: "What, No Mirrors!" Vanity dear, vanity.

The clash between the steel band and the bagpiper was rather fun as they seemed to play at the same time at one point,  the Chelsea Pensioner sitting on a little rocking horse on one of the trade stalls was a bit surreal and I was quite taken with the Morris Minor traveller on another trade stand which so reminded me of my first car.

Nice to see Charlie Dimmock at the show and to have had the pleasure of sharing a taxi from Euston Station with two lovely Chelsea Pensioners, John and Stan, thanks for your company guys.

Check out the Reckless Gardener - - website for news of the show and the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year which has been awarded to Anemone 'Wild Swan' bred by Elizabeth MacGregor and presented by Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants. It has white nodding flowers with blue reverse with a flowering season from summer to autumn. Second went to Saxifrage 'Anneka Hope' and third 'Blue Lagoon' a Verbascum bred by Thompson & Morgan.

It's over for another year, we move on to Hampton Court and Tatton Park and many other Flower Shows in between. But the magic of Chelsea 2011 will stay with me for the rest of the year. I feel complete, satisfied and soothed by this year's experience, which is nice. Rather like a good champagne there is a pleasant after-taste, the memory lingers and the images are still fresh. All that remains now is to find the plants on the 'must have' list and get them to grow in our wet, Cumbrian climate!