Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Tulip fever

A month to Christmas and I still haven't planted my tulips yet! Timing is not really an issue as tulips prefer to be planted in November so they can escape tulip fire blight, a virus that attacks the bulbs and reduces flowering. Mind you, it was a virus all those centuries ago in Holland that produced fascinating flower colours and shapes on tulips and people all over the world decreed them as a 'must have' plant. Tulips were sold for hundreds of pounds, so sought after at this time. Good job prices have come down in these credit crunch times...

A favourite tulip I plant in client's gardens and recommend to others is 'Ballerina': it has striking orange fragrant flowers in a lovely pointed lily-like shape but, I think, more robust than some of the traditional lily flowering types. Great for containers, too and we've used them at Brocket Hall in several areas. To beat the squirrels and other bulb-eating creatures, plant bulbs deep, around 6 ins. Many people prefer to dig up bulbs after flowering each year and re-plant again in autumn, using the same bulbs and/or new stock. By planting bulbs deep you should get a good display over a few years without having to keep on digging them up each year. Another favourite tulip is the species form acuminata which has fabulous wispy pointed petals. Best planted in drifts or in thick clumps in containers.

Daffodils need a longer growing period but you'll still get some flowers, albeit a little late, if you still have bags lying around un-opened. Hopefully, you've kept them somewhere cool otherwise they may well be beyond redemption!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Colour coded

Last month, I visited a garden in Essex to cover for a feature. Spread over several acres, what impressed me amongst other things was the choice of planting for interest all year round from trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs. At this time of the year, the garden explodes into a firework of colours from the changing leaves, all hot reds and oranges. Some favourite plants of the owner include: Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', Cornus obovatus and Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb' - all great foliage plants looking particularly stunning now. Green Island Garden near Ardleigh, Essex is open at various times this month and in November. Read the article in November's edition of Essex Life.

Using plants for colour and interest all year round is something I like to incorporate into gardens. It's fantastic driving around now seeing trees changing colour but even nicer having a display in your own garden. Many trees and shrubs suitable for smaller gardens have beautiful bark, leaf shape and colour and even flowers for a succession of 'wow' factor over the seasons. The Cornus or Dogwood family are a must with pretty leaves, often variegated, flowers in summer, gorgeous autumn leaf colour and then brightly coloured red, orange, green or inky black stems throughout the winter; Fothergilla major is a nicely shaped shrub with excellent autumn colour; Betula utlis var. jacquemontii, the Himalayan Birch, has glowing white bark and makes a real focal point in the garden (keep the bark looking bright by washing in spring with a soft sponge and water); Nyssa sinensis has long narrow leaves which are purple-tinged when young, green when mature and turn a brilliant scarlet red in autumn.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Cambridge in bloom

One of the last gardens I finished in June before being ensconced at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show with the Homebase Show Garden was at Girton in Cambridge. A new build, the three storey town house has a tiny courtyard garden which, on my first visit in April, had the usual basic concrete path skirting round a pile of builder's rubble, cleverly disguised with a dusting of 'topsoil' over it.

'We love our plants,' said the owners, 'and entertain a lot. We've also bought this sculpture for the garden.' Hmm, I thought, staring at the requisite blank piece of paper on my drawing board along with various photos of the garden, there's no point in having a lawn in such a tiny area by the time I've filled the garden with plants. With so many angular lines surrounding the house - from other houses, the chunky fencing and the shape of the garden - it was a definite candidate for some curves and I created two flowing borders cut out of Indian sandstone with a couple of raised beds for height with the added benefit of extra seating. 'I do like my perennials so you'll get quite a few of them, and some grasses,' I said to my clients. 'That's fine,' they said.

I went back to the garden last week to pop in some field-lifted bare-root irises. Three month's earlier, the 'garden' was a sea of pretty awful soil; now it was a billowing feast of colour and interest. I'm really pleased at how the garden has developed and my clients are delighted. The sculpture looks great surrounded by fluffy grasses and brightly-coloured dahlias. Instructions on adding some bulbs - tulips, please - were left with the clients and I look forward to seeing the garden next year when the show will be even better!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

When Iris eyes are smiling

7.57am today: 'There is a severe weather warning for southern England this morning as heavy rain spreads across from the west.' Great, I thought, as I sat in a traffic jam on the A1 heading down to Brocket Hall at Welwyn in Hertfordshire, windscreen wipers doing ten to the dozen. Miraculously, the rain stopped as I finally drove onto the Brocket estate and even a glimpse of blue sky winked at me as I parked my car. Today we'd planned to divide the irises on the main parterre garden outside the Hall. They are stunning a sight in May, but after two years are clumping up thick and fast and need to be divided to ensure the display keeps on for future years, plus I wanted to use some more iris in other areas on the estate. I wasn't long before Ed, Gardening Supervisor, was digging out huge clumps of iris and plonkling them down in front of me to cut up. Weatherwise, the rain kept out of our way for a few hours and we enjoyed the blustery but sunny day. August? 'It feels more like the end of September,' said Ed.

David Howard is looking rather sultry in my garden at home. Well, the dahlia named after him is. He's nudged in to being one of my favourite dahlias along with 'Murdoch' and the Bishop, of course. There's something about the late summer sun that really brings out the colours of these intense dahlias and they just demand to be stopped and stared at. Great places to see dahlia displays until the first frosts get them (hopefully, November) is at Ayletts Nursery at London Colney near St Albans, Hertfordshire and Anglesey Abbey at Lode, Cambridgeshire. Take a notebook and pencil with you to jot down your favourites!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Annual Event

Yesterday I visited Chenies Manor in Buckinghamshire to write a feature on the gardens for the Autumn edition of Buckinghamshire Life. The gardens have been developed over the last 50+ years and surround the magnificent Manor House which dates from Tudor times. They've just finished filming Little Dorrit there for the BBC.

What impressed me in the gardens was the use of annuals to great effect. The layout is of separate garden rooms enclosed by neatly trimmed hedges which give a slightly formal feel but complimented by deep beds filled with frothy annuals like Cosmos, Argyranthemum and Nicotiana. I liked this feathery approach, particularly as the colour scheme was mostly white and pale pink with a few intense splashes of deeper pink here and there. Elsewhere, dahlias are used en masse to create hot and bright in-your-face colour. Personally I prefer to mix my dahlias and not have them in such big clumps, but the effect works very well at Chenies Manor. In spring, 6,000 tulips bloom over three to four weeks, a splendid sight. Chenies Manor is open from early April until the end of October and well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Slugs and Hobbs

It's slug warfare out there! Oooh, and snails. They all love this warm, wet weather and are in their element hiding under leaves, nooks and crannies. Then they eat anything in their path. Mostly the best plants in the garden. Client's are getting a bit fed up with it all: 'You know those lovely plants you put in earlier in the year, well, the leaves look a funny shape and the flowers have some petals missing.' Gosh, I think, hope you are not expecting a refund on this! Educate client's about slugs and snails suggesting beer traps rather than slug pellets (a bit more environmentally friendly). Keep fingers crossed they keep on top of things.

Yesterday I spent five hours at the Rose Lawn at Brocket Hall working in torrential rain. Even my waterproofs gave up and leaked and as for my boots, trench foot was setting in. Thank goodness I had the sense to put a dry pair of shoes in the car before I left home in the morning! We were cutting back perennials for a second flush of late summer flowers. Also removed rather a lot of snails from the undergrowth. Moments like this make me think I'd rather be in a posh frock from Hobbs rather than muddy, soaking wet clothes, and working in a lovely office somewhere looking very important.

Ah, but to dream....