Category Archives: Courses

In a vase on Monday – home grown?


Saturday saw me at the V&A attending a course by the delightfully creative Susie Beech from A Petal Unfolds, and this is the result.

Susie was wonderfully supportive and helpful with a room full of budding, mostly novice ‘paper florists’ (is that a thing?  I’ve just made that up) and we all came away with a beautiful crepe paper peony.

Some chose a Sarah Bernhardt pink, others more of a coral, but I went with the deep red.  Many of will know I’m not a big red fan but, having inherited a dark red Aga, I decided to go with and allow my bloom to grace the kitchen where, obvs (as the younglings say) the heat of the Aga won’t distress it.

We started with the centreIMG_4367 (2)

then cut out a very precise number of petals, both large and smallIMG_4368

and then stuck them on, petal by petal, around the central stamensIMG_4369

until all the petals were used up.IMG_4374

It was a delightful morning (we’ll gloss over the fact that I was feeling a little worse for wear after rather overdoing the daughter’s 21st birthday celebrations the night before!) and I’d love to attend another workshop.  I’m really tempted by this poppy one in August.  Perhaps I could meet you there?

So, apologies for my bloom not actually being home grown but I’m sure Cathy, who hosts our Monday vases, will forgive me for going off piste.  She’s very liberal like that 😉


Garden Museum – twice in a week!



I’ve been meaning to return to the Garden Museum for months after it reopened following its redevelopment earlier in the year.  And then, like London buses, two opportunities arose in a week.

Firstly, I went with some of my lovely Capel Manor friends (who I studied with for the last two years) to the Quiz Night (where we came an embarrassing last!) It was a very jolly evening despite, and great to catch up with my fellow Garden Designers, all of whom (except me) are now either already – or on the path to – earning their living via gardening and garden design.  I’m really so proud of them!

Aside from catching up, we also had a bit of a whistle stop tour around the exhibits and for me, one of the highlights was the exhibition of the winners of the NGS photography competition.

The one shown above was overall amateur winner:image

What’s so exciting for me about this is that apart from being a fabulous photo, it’s of the garden of a friend of mine on the Isle of Wight, and I too was there for the NGS opening this summer.  It really was the most beautiful summer’s day and the garden was looking magnificent.

The second visit involved these chaps:image

Before the Quiz Night had been arranged, I’d already booked to attend a “textiles workshop” with Debby Brown.  The session took place in the lovely, light new Clore Learning Space.

We drew round pattern pieces on plain calico and then painted them with acrylic paint.


Having cut them out, sewn them and stuffed them, adding legs along the way, we all ended up with one finished bird, and most of us had a second in progress.

I was quite chuffed with my chirpy chap!image

How lovely to see the museum open again – and also to sample the wonderful food in the cafe.  I’ll definitely be back.










Back to school again


After successfully completing my Plants and Planting Design course at Capel Manor College at Regents Park last year, I’ve recently enrolled on the ‘sister’ course, Level 3 Certificate in Garden Design.

Two of my lovely fellow students from last year have also continued to this course, and we’ve welcomed some new faces, but we’ve kept our super tutor John Gilbert.

I was a little concerned I wouldn’t enjoy this year as much as last year as it focuses on the design of the garden itself, rather than any planting within it, but I’ve already attended a couple of classes and, whilst definitely less flowery, it’s still been really interesting.

Roll on Assignment 1!

West Dean again :)


I was back at beautiful West Dean on Saturday attending a one day course on Propagation.  Whilst it was interesting, I’m not sure I learnt a massive amount, but it is always such a pleasure to visit.  The grounds are immaculate whatever the time of year, and so it was on Saturday.

The glasshouses were full of fabulously ordered rows of this and that.  Here tomaotes,


I took quite a shine to this beauty, ‘Monserrat’IMG_1524

and this enormous Snake Gourd.IMG_1522



The smell in this glass house was unbelievable!IMG_1519

In the walled garden the purple and yellow borders were still looking fabulous.IMG_1529

Just look at this planting combination.


I was particularly taken with this Verbena which was used repeatedly on the corners.  All of the plants were absolutely smothered in blooms.  I can’t help feel this would look a darn site more interesting in the front of my Swing Beds than the current geraniums with not a flower in sight!  (Note too the perfectly matched Penstemon)IMG_1531

Into the Cutting Garden and the colours are much hotter,IMG_1527

including a whole bed of stunning Zinnias.  Phwoar!


These three particularly caught my eye – ‘Coral Beauty’, ‘Oriole’ and ‘Cupcake Lime and Lime Red’ (together).

Another fabulous bed, this time of Dahlias.IMG_1500

Clockwise from top left ‘Dark Star’, ‘New Baby’, ‘Summer Night’ and, very similar to ‘Dark Star’ but with rounder petals, ‘Bishop of Auckland’.

And finally a picture of the two plants I took cuttings from as part of the course – Salvia ‘Ember Wishes’IMG_1533

and Fuschia thymifolia.IMG_1534

If  none of my cuttings take I really won’t mind.  I still met some lovely people and had a fabulous day at one of my very favourite gardens.  Thanks West Dean, I’ll be back.IMG_1492



Photography at Great Dixter


Monday found me at Great Dixter attending The Gardens Illustrated Garden Photography workshop with Jason Ingram.

Jason is a regular contributor to Gardens Illustrated, and his opening talk and slide show exhibited his talent with some stunning images.  A number demonstrated an approach where he shot into the very early, or even pre dawn, light to wonderful effect.  Clearly it was too late in the day to try the same at Great Dixter, and, probably also too late to become an early bird (when I’m not), but it was certainly an inspirational talk and we were then all let loose in the gardens to try our photographic hand.

To those of you unfamiliar with Great Dixter, it was bought in 1910 by Nathaniel and Daisy Lloyd who employed Edwin Lutyens to restore and remodel the house, including buying and moving a timber framed house from its original location nine miles away.

Development of the garden also had significant input from Lutyens and areas such as the High Garden, Rose Garden and Long Border which he envisaged, remain in place today.  Nathaniel enjoyed topiary and there are numerous examples in the garden still.  Indeed, the peacocks below are two of many in an entire area known as the peacock lawn.IMG_8992

However, the gardens at Great Dixter became really well known only once Christopher Lloyd, the Lloyd’s youngest child, became involved.  His first book ‘The Mixed Border in the Modern Garden’ (1957) described this new way of planting, and he used his experiences and experiments at Great Dixter to inform his writing through his entire life.

As time went on he became synonymous with both successional planting and also bold planting, and although Christopher Lloyd died in 2006, his style of planting continues under the stewardship of his head gardener Fergus Garrett and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

I was never in any doubt that the garden would still be looking good in October as it is well known not only for late colour (particularly from dahlias), but also, as mentioned above, successional planting. There was no way the garden would be allowed to ‘tail off’ this early in the year.  And even if the plants weren’t at their best, beautiful colour is provided in so many views by the warm, russet tones of the house itself.IMG_9281





There were magnificent pots, both large


and small.  (Coincidentally, this beautiful Nerine Sarniensis also featured on The Blooming Garden this week).


And as well as the flower gardens, there was bountiful vegIMG_8986

including astonishing squashes on 10 foot high compost heaps, requiring ladders to reach them!IMG_8980

and of course the nursery, where sadly, the thought of a taxi ride and four trains rather put me off any purchasing, but there was plenty to admire.

So, thank you Great Dixter.  As I’ve thought before, sometimes I find find your exuberance just a little too much, but boy, was there plenty to photograph.IMG_9109

Flower farming at Common Farm Flowers

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It was a funny week – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at work in the City, with Wednesday, a joyous interlude spent at Common Farm Flowers in Somerset.

I’ve already blogged about a talk I went to at the Garden Museum by Georgie Newbery here, but this was a whole day, and this time on Georgie’s home turf, Common Farm.   The subject was ‘Flower Farming for Beginners’ and although I don’t see myself chucking in the ‘proper’ job any time soon, within the wonderful group on the course with me, were a number clearly determined to do exactly that, and good luck to them!

And we couldn’t have had a better teacher than Georgie, who combines a wonderful warm personality with such generosity sharing her advice and knowledge.  She was also quite fierce about not losing sight of the business side of things!

The morning was spent with a general introduction and then a tour of the farm, roughly in the order in which the different areas have been brought into cultivation.  The farm covers 20 acres and the beds used for growing flowers have grown in size in line with the business.  The most recent ones above are massive – only about a metre wide but they must have been at least 30 metres long.  Georgie grows over 250 crops, which of course makes her life much more difficult, but in my view makes her arrangements so much more interesting.

At the moment, out in the beds, there are plenty of bulbs (I have to get some Tulip Queen of the Night next year!)2015-04-29 11.14.18

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together with blossom and other tree and shrub branches.

In the polytunnel, her first of four crops of sweet peas, together with many other annuals, were just starting to come in to bud.

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Back inside for a delicious lunch, with wine 2015-04-29 16.47.10

and then in the afternoon, a slightly more formal run through of a number of prepared sheets we were able to take away with us.

The information (and our questions) came thick and fast, and it was fascinating to hear both Georgie’s experiences and everyone else’s plans.  Some people wanted just to grow, to provide flowers for florists wholesale, others wanted to do the floristry too.  With a £2.2Bn cut flower market in this country, Georgie is convinced there is room for all of us – the ones that we all want to squeeze out are the imported flowers, which never smell and only have a long vase life because of the chemicals they’re been treated with.

We didn’t cover floristry in any detail, but there are plenty of other workshops scheduled during the year such as ‘Posy tying’ and ‘DIY Wedding Flowers’ which are tempting to sign up for.  Perhaps we would get to play with her vase collection:2015-04-29 16.47.36

Finally, after tea, we headed back to our budding flower farms around the country, replete with both knowledge and delicious home made flapjacks.

With enormous thanks to Georgie, and everyone at Common Farm for a delightful day, and also to Rosie, a fellow attendee, who very kindly gave me a lift back to the station.

2015-04-29 16.56.15

Willow Weaving at West Dean


Wednesday saw the OH and me back at wonderful West Dean together.  I’d promised to buy him some sort of course as a birthday present, and then (pre re-employment!) decided I’d go along too.

The course was ‘Willow Work for the Garden’, the instructor Dominic Parrette (see some of his work above) and we had an absolute ball.

Dominic couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive, and we came back with an absolute stash of willow goodies, to the point where we had two items strapped to the roof rack, as well as the seats down and the boot stuffed!

We started on Wednesday evening with a general chat regarding safety, materials and tools.  Dominic grows some of the willow himself, but he had also brought some in, so there was a range of lengths and colours.IMG_6245

The first evening we all made willow spheres just to get the ‘feel’ of the willow.IMG_6246

But on the Thursday we started on various individual projects.  I wanted two tall plant supports to replace a pair which had rotted after a number of years, and so the OH and I decided to make one each.


A certain degree of rivalry ensued, but I think they look pretty good.  Note the spirals travel in different directions as I’m left handed.  I’d like to say that this helps with the symmetry, but that’s rather ruined by the fact that mine’s definitely chubbier!


After the plant supports, we both went a little off piste.   The OH created a sculptural piece which then evolved into a rhubarb forcer.  (Or, as one of our fellow attendees suggested, a hobbit house),


and I decided to convert the two spheres we’d made the previous evening into some sort of flower sculpture:


After knocking up another tall plant support after dinner (which was even chubbier), on Friday I calmed down and made a more sensible woven panel.


The challenge then was getting them home – here they are admiring the West Dean view whilst waiting for their transport.


And here are some other lovely creations made by our jolly groupIMG_6370


And finally, here are a couple of our items in situ.



With enormous thanks to Dominic, West Dean and all our lovely group for a wonderfully creative couple of days.  Do take a look at the short courses at West Dean – and note Dominic will be back in both June and October if you’re inspired by our wobbly willow!

The Feast

IMG_0144 (3)Having managed to exclude my (very wonderful, very busy, headteacher) sister from my birthday celebrations last month by carelessly allowing my birthday to fall on a Wednesday, I needed to atone.

And to the rescue came Sarah Raven with her first ever ‘Perch Hill Summer Feast’.  The event was to be held over the 12th/13th July  at Perch Hill Farm, Sarah Raven’s base in East Sussex, and the programme was a mix of flowers and food – what  more could one want?  I signed us up.

I picked my sister up from the local station and so we arrived together at the farm.  Having had our bags wheelbarrowed to our accommodation by the charming Adam Nicholson (Sarah Raven’s husband, 5th Baron Carnock and grandson of the writers Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson) we arrived at our……tent.  


Now whilst we were aware we were ‘glamping’ and the bunting and flowers were very pretty, I think the lack of power in our tent and the hike to the toilet and shower block, did come as a bit of a shock.  However, all was forgiven as we downed our welcome drink and listened to one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi, speak about the evening’s dinner.  The meal was fabulous – tasty, colourful mezze starters followed by gorgeous lamb and zingy salads – tomato with pomegranate was a revelation.  And for pudding a walnut, blackcurrant and rhubarb crumble. Yum.

After a slightly fitful night (!) but a restorative breakfast, we headed to the marquee to listen to Sarah talking about the Perch Hill garden and also demonstrating a hand tied bunch.  

I have actually been to Perch Hill before, at least fifteen years ago (maybe twenty) in the very early days, when I attended a one day course with my mum about growing flowers for cutting and making a hand tied bunch, so Sarah’s three elements of foliage and three flowers (the bride, bridesmaid and gatecrasher) were familiar to me. It was still interesting seeing her creating a magnificent bunch from the arrayed buckets of flowers – not least because I’m growing almost everything she used!


IMG_0131 (3)The flowers were followed by a demo from the lovely Yotam, and then lunch.  After lunch Sarah demonstrated her ‘perfect’ salad (with five separate ingredients of lettuce, salad leaves, salad herbs, salad veg and edible flowers).  We also tried a number of tisanes (herbal infusions) including Lemon verbena with basil, Black peppermint and a number of scented leaf pelargoniums – ‘Mabel Grey’ and ‘Attar of roses’.  

By this stage the sun had come out and my sister, ever the Girl Guide, headed back to the tent to to air it.  On the way we wandered through Sarah’s Cutting Garden, which was lovely and very abundant, but actually smaller than I remembered.



We also admired some good looking veg


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On the Saturday evening we had another cookery demo, this time by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gill Meller from the River Cottage, and after the demo we ate a menu they had put together.

The starter of lambs liver with Merguez spices, was gorgeous, but the main, a tasty mackerel fillet with gooseberry and mint salsa, I felt was rather confused by three different salads including strawberries, raspberries and beetroot.  But the gooseberry posset and compote with lemon verbena shortbread was a lovely finale – although to repeat a fruit already used in the main, seemed strange.

Sunday saw me in the greenhouse with the girls from the Flower Appreciation Society making a floral headress,IMG_0191 (2)and my sister back in the marquee attending a talk about breadmaking by Elizabeth Weisberg from the Lighthouse Bakery.  

We were both then entertained by the last cookery demo, this time by Valentine Warner.  Whilst maybe not the slickest of the demonstrators, he has a lovely, approachable manner, and certainly generated quite a lot of laughs (possibly not all intentional).

Prior to this was a Q&A session with all the main speakers.

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I wasn’t sure how interesting this would be, but there were some fabulous questions from the floor, with topics including GM crops, teaching cookery in schools (“we should call it fire and knives” Valentine Warner) the nutritional content of flowers and what is your fallback meal (“I’m more of a ready meal man myself” Adam Nicholson).  

However my favourite was the first, regarding how each of the individuals had retained their authenticity in the face of celebrity, and how they continued to ‘follow their bliss’.  This phrase, introduced by the questioner, was enthusiastically adopted by the speakers, who all genuinely seemed to be managing to ‘follow their bliss’ despite competing demands and busy lifestyles.  

It’s an interesting concept and one we should all bear in mind.  After all, you’re the only one who knows what your ‘bliss’ is, so it’s definitely up to you to follow it.

But before I get too deep and philosophical, I think I’ll cut to a picture of jelly, as that was the finale, before we headed home.

IMG_0194Oh and apologies for the quality of the photos – in my excitement I forgot to bring my camera!



Spring springs (or is sprung, depending on the year) at West Dean

Almost exactly a year ago I attended a course at the inspirational West Dean Gardens.  The event was a weekend course, ‘Dig your blog’ with Jane Perrone and Jacqui Hurst teaching a group how to (garden) blog.  And, although it took eight months and redundancy for me to actually post my first post, I would definitely say the foundation stones were laid a year ago at West Dean.

The photos above and below were taken during that course.
Pastoral 2

By sheer coincidence I was back at West Dean yesterday and the difference in plant progress from last year to this is astonishing.  The fruit trees are in leaf, (and some in bloom),


the peonies which last year were just shoots, are now in bud,

and many tulips are out.

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And yet there was a chill in the air and a rather cruel breeze whistling round my (ill judged) bare ankles, making an in depth investigation of the thirteen (thirteen!) glasshouses rather more appealing than the 2 1/2 mile Parkland Walk.

And what a show!  I’ve been to West Dean at least half a dozen times over the years but I’ve never spent much time in the glasshouses, but just look:

Acres of Auriculas,


populous pots,


(Echeveria Runyonii ‘Topsy Turvey’, Crassula nealeana, and Echeveria shaviana)

legion lettuces (the size of dinner plates),

sumptuous strawbs

a fecund fig

and lastly, (in the glasshouses), Nepenthes x mixta x maxima, the Pitcher Plant.  This was seriously maxima. According to Wiki answers, in addition to insects, they can also ‘eat’ mice.  I reckon this one would have given a rat a run for its money.

IMG_1887And then back outside to the 300 foot long pergola, designed by Harold Peto in 1911 and one of the longest in the country.




And finally, something which (in addition to everything above) sums up West Dean to me – a wonderful structure (flint wall), covered in an imaginatively trained and beautifully grown flowering currant (Ribes speciousum).  Now how many times have you seen that?

IMG_1948West Dean, near Chichester, has free entry for RHS members until the end of April.  Just go, you won’t regret it.


Don’t f-stop me now


Yesterday I was back at the Ventnor Botanic Garden to attend a photography course entitled “Get off Auto”.

Modern digital SLR cameras are so easy and effective on Auto mode that it is tempting to never stray, and just click away, rejecting any photos that don’t work.  And indeed that’s what I’ve done to date with the photos on this blog.  However, having had a father who was photography obsessed (pre digital, of course), I’ve always known there was a ‘non Auto’ world out there, and yesterday I took some baby steps to discover it, with the help of my two lovely course tutors Julian Winslow and Simon Wells.

We learnt about composition, aperture, depth of field and shutter speed.  And then, after a tasty lunch, got into even more detail with exposure (exposure level increments are measured in f-stops, hence the title) as well as light metering, white balance and ‘chimping’.


The two photos above of magnolia, both flower and bud, taken at VBG yesterday, were an exercise in the use of a relatively short depth of field, where the background was made deliberately blurry.  Conversely, the picture below taken at home this morning of the ‘Gentleman Bather’ sculpture by Denis Fairweather looking at my Prunus persica Mesembrine was all about exposure compensation, where I manually increased the exposure to ensure the Gentleman’s features could be seen.  I think I’ve rather overdone it as the peach blossom looks a little bleached, but I actually quite like the effect and it is heartening to realise I couldn’t have got a shot anything like it by leaving the camera on Auto, so I must have learnt something!


This particular tree is a nectarine with doughtnut shaped fruit (which I think I chose because I’d read that they ripen more easily than the larger spherical ones).  It grows in a large pot under a glass canopy, and not only does the canopy offer some protection against the dreaded ‘peach leaf curl’, but the glass warms the surroundings and thus helps to ripen the fruit.  Last year (year 2) we harvested just three fruits, but the flavour was stunning – unrecognisable from the bullet like nectarines we are offered by the supermarkets.  I think one of the reasons for the lack of fruit last year was some rather erratic watering, so I need to be more careful this year.  Also, I will need to tickle the blossom with a soft paint brush to ensure pollination of these beautiful flowers, as the bees are currently rather thin on the ground (or indeed the air).

And the last plant pictures are a mystery one from Ventnor (do you know what it is yet?) as well as a continued celebration of my Melianthus Major.  This has never previously got through the winter without being ‘frosted’.  I continue to cross my fingers.

Now whether the course will make any noticeable difference to the quality of my pictures  I don’t know.  What I do know however is that today I’ve been wandering round and round the garden taking the same picture over and over again using different settings and then uploading and critiquing, and then starting again.  Which is all very interesting and enjoyable, but it doesn’t get the seeds planted: