Saturday, 31 March 2012

Warm Days and Light Evenings

A glorious week of warm sunshine and summer temperatures.  The positive aspect: it puts everyone in a good mood. The negative: plants move apace and so many of those early blooms are out and over before one has had the chance to appreciate them.  No signs of rain and in my garden on dry sandy soil things are undoubtedly missing soil moisture. Primroses are profuse but the flowers are short-stemmed and leaves are small. Some trees, particularly the prunus are struggling to produce leaves and their display of flowers has been sparse and fleeting.  Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ has been particularly poor and ‘Accolade’ has produced a particularly miserable display. However at least we've enjoyed the magnolias - so far just about unscathed by frost.
I have had a number of reports of daffodils failing to bloom, or at least producing few flowers.  I think that’s due to the exceptionally warm, dry April last year which made the foliage die down quickly. This means the bulbs did not build up their reserves sufficiently to flower well this year.  We might see the same gain next season.
I’ve been out round some of our Garden Centres talking Chelsea Inspirations, in other words talking about how we put plants together on the exhibit and how to do it in the garden.  Lovely audiences, and so much enthusiasm and passion for plants and gardens.  Talking gardens and advising customers is definitely my favourite part of my job.  Most popular plants at the talks: Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’, Digitalis ‘Serendipity’, and the Japanese Maples.  I have to say the plants of Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ that we have this year are cracking! Lovely strong stems with hose dark red leaves just unfurling –pretty hard to resist.
I planted Acer ‘Katsura’ in 2 pots on my terrace.  This is another favourite of mine with lovely golden-olive green leaves tinged with orange-apricot at the tips of the shoots. It looks particularly good in one of those caramel-toffee glazed oriental pots on the edge of the rill around the terrace.
I made a concerted effort to get some decent pictures of Sophora ‘Sun King’. I must say it is spectacular in flower – even as a very young plant. Grown as free standing shrub it’s a sprawling individual. Should be promoted more as an excellent evergreen wall shrub. Underplant with Muscari armeniacum – that blue transforms the rather strong yellow of the sophora into a simply blue sky and sunshine combination.

It has been wonderful seeing the garden in the light after work – in the winter months I only get to see it at weekends.  Arriving home to the scent of Clematis armandii (first year I’ve been convinced that it does smell of almonds) has been a delight.  Even this early in the year strong midday sunshine does bleach the colour out of everything and makes those pale flowers kook hard and glaring.  The soft light of late afternoon and early evening is so much nicer – maybe because it’s that much close to wine time!
Out of action this weekend – knee op yesterday. A bit frustrating when there's so much to do - grass to cut, veggies to sow, weeds to cull and still a couple of empty areas that need planting. Still that’s my chance to sit in the garden and soak up the sun – get a few rays before ‘The Only way is Chelsea’. One problem: cloudy skies and cool temperatures – just my luck!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Ups and downs

Well Llanover Garden School, Wales was great. Had a lovely day with a super crowd talking shrubs. Not surprising I suppose - Skimmia 'Kew Green' was a favourite - but then it does have the advantage of a delicious scent.  Anna Pavord was taking the afternoon session - would have loved to stay but needed to wend our way home.  Elizabeth Murray was a great hostess and really hope to be back at Llanover one day. 

This week I have been talking Chelsea Inspirations on the centres, along with other members of the Chelsea team.  Primarily about plants the talk seems to have gone down well ,and people have loved hearing about Chelsea favourites like acers and cornus, and also what's new.  Of the new (er) plants Digitalis 'Serendipity' has been favourite. 

On the centres new aromatics - as we call them - arrived this week. Wonderful thymes, sages lavenders and rosemaries.  These made some lovely "Chelsea" combinations with various dianthus hybrids such as the fimbriated (good word) sugary pink 'Fizzy'.

On wednesday evening I was at Bath University Gardening Club - BUG as it's known. As I was at Uni at Bath the whole thing was rather a nostalgia trip so I was glad to have a very lively audience that filled the lecture theatre.  It was a great night taling 'Losing the Plot'.

Thursday I was at The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens - a glorious sunny day running a course on Guiding a Garden for the Institute of Tourist Guiding.  I had around 25-30 Blue Badge guides for a lecture in the morning and then a tour of the gardens in the afternoon.  I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it and it revved up my enthusiasm for leading garden tours.  Told the guys at the gym I was running a course for Club Reps - I think their vision of the day was very different from the reality!

After all the excitement of being out and about it's been back to reality with a bang!  Catching up on progress with Chelsea plans and sorting out materials. Apparently the BBC are not giving us any pre-filming this year (once again). The Olympics is not a theme they are following - why would you? In 2012? Anyway lets hope we get some coverage at the show - although I must say I'm not holding my breath.  When we worked with Skandia and The British Sailing team it was one of our best blockbuster exhibits and it got nothing in the way of TV coverage. We are however going to be allowed to have some fencing demos on the exhibit when the show is open - so that's a relief.  Having an exhibit celebrating the sport of fencing without any fencers would be a pity!
School reunion this weekend - apprehensive - will I recognise anyone?  Not sure I can even remember who I went to school with anyway!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Spring Sunshine

After a dismal wet day last Sunday this weekend has been divine (so far!). Lovely and warm in the garden yesterday working on the veg. patch. - Yes I did say veg. patch - hope all are impressed that I'm digging for victory - Is it good to be self-sufficient in bindweed.  I even got round to spreading some of my homemade compost on an area where I've taken out some mature gorse bushes.  The compost isn't bed - but it does have rather a lot of those hideous fat chafer grubs in it - they look suspiciously like a bush-tucker trial. Don't worry I won't include a picture.

I have quite a few divine dwarf irises out in pots. They were planted really late but seem to have performed very well, despite rather random positioning.  I think the variety is 'Katherine' but I really can't remember.  I suppose if you have one of those rather absurd Gardener's Logs (that I am always so rude about) you write that sort of thing down - needless to say I don't. 

Had a great week talking gardening. Alan Titchmarsh show on Tuesday with Alex (Chelsea Show Manager) and 3 great girls from Essex. The only way is...... Then on thursday evening I was at Arundel talking 'Losing the Plot' - a really good night.  Friday fitted in another recording session for My Garden School.  You now watch a video of the lecturer delivering the lecture.  I wanted to get the Shrubs and Trees courses up and running in this format for this week's promotion.  Tuesday and wednesday this week I am at Sunningdale Cash and Carry talking 'Planting with Trees' and we have a great offer for all who come along to enable them to do the Trees course at a bargain price. Come along if you can - its always a great event. Tuesday is Garden Re-leaf day too so we are having a Tweet-in beween 2 and 4. Tweet in your gardening questions and we'll tweet back the answers.  I'm loving it!
Then Thursday - Llanover Gardening School in Wales - Really looking forward to this one! With this warm sunshine magnolias should be out on the estate and I'm expecting the gardens to be beautiful.  This is the first time I've been to Llanover and I feel very honoured to be invited.  I'm talking shrubs and Elizabeth says I have 90 minutes so plenty of time to show lots of shrubs. as you know that's a dangerous thing to say to me.
And Chelsea? Well - have talked about it a bit - Just planted some pots for a client - shining black with acid green heucheras and ophiopogon - I must stop leaning towards the contemporary - its not in my brief.  No wonder I've avoided doing a show garden!