Category Archives: Garden talks

Daily reminders to give thanks

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To ensure the ongoing joy (!) of access to work emails on my phone, I have to change my phone password monthly.  Having run through the birthdays of my immediate family, I’ve recently changed it to my mother’s birthday.

Mum died in 2006 but she was an awesome woman, a brilliant, knowledgeable gardener and teacher, and I still miss her.  I’ve mentioned her a couple of times on Duver Diary, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really given her the credit she deserves for making me the gardener (and woman)  I am today.  And as the garden here develops (alongside my increasing obsession with it) it makes me sad she’s not still around to see it.

So, already having multiple daily reminders of her, in the form of punching in my phone password, it was uncanny to open January’s ‘English Garden’ magazine to see the photo above.

I knew immediately that the building was a shell house, commissioned by Darina Allen, at Ballymaloe Cookery School as I took mum there in (I think) 2003 for a one day course about decorative vegetable potagers with Joy Larkcom.

And, whilst the talk was interesting, what was particularly memorable was the stay at Ballymaloe and its stunning grounds.  It really is a very special place, and whilst the courses are more focussed on cookery, they also run a number of gardening courses and, if my experience is anything to go by, they come highly recommended.

I was happily reminiscing about our trip whilst reading the article, when I turned the page and stopped in my tracks.

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Spot the snap?  This is the photo that sits on my bedside table.  Not the best photo, but a very special one because of all the happy memories it evokes.

Thanks for everything mum.

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In a vase on Monday – Common Farm Flowers

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I’m linking this post to Cathy’s ‘In a vase on Monday’ meme because so much of what Georgie Newbury, from Common Farm Flowers,  said during her talk reminded me of this meme and the joy we’ve all had from it.

Georgie is a flower farmer and now also author of the wonderful ‘The Flower Farmer’s Year’, a book I was so excited about I pre-ordered it.  Neither the book, nor Georgie in person, disappoint.  Her tone is that of a knowledgeable friend, bursting to share her knowledge and love of plants, growing and floristry, and I found her talk captivating.

Rather than flogging either her book or her beautiful bouquets, her talk was all about inspiring people to grow and arrange their own.  And at this time of year, going in the garden and searching out whatever might be available to cut, just as we all do for our Monday vases.2015-03-17 18.28.39

During her talk Georgie created a beautiful, informal hand tied bunch (which sadly I failed to photo as she gave it to her aunt who was in the audience!)

Her foliage was all from her farm, Poplar, Pussy Willow, Black Elder and Hawthorn.2015-03-17 19.49.25

However, the blooms were largely from her suppliers in Cornwall as she lives in a frost pocket and struggles to produce flowers before April.  Flowers included Narcissus (Soleil D’Or and Paperwhite) and lots of gorgeous Ranunculus.2015-03-17 19.55.30

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She shared numerous tips (don’t pick flowers when you can feel the sun on the back of your head, so early morning or after 7 at night, pull bulbs when picking to get a longer stem, always pick directly into water – no romantic wandering with a trug, keep everything scrupulously clean and change the container water regularly to prolong vase life…) as well as numerous supplier tips.   Interestingly many I already use – Chiltern and Higgledy Garden for seeds, David Austin for roses, Peter Nyssen and Avon for bulbs – but also others like Withypitts for dahlias and Hillhouse Nursery for shrubs.

Like Mark Diacono for vegetable growing, she encourages people to grow things that are unusual and unavailable in the shops.  She had a few suggestions of less well known plants including the bulb, Ornithogalum, the slatey purple flowered Delphinium D. requienii and she also loves the Iris below, Iris tuberosa.  It has a relatively short season but is so different to anything else.2015-03-17 19.54.44

I’m already booked on a course at Common Farm later in the year and hearing Georgie talk has just made me even more excited.

With thanks as ever to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting the lovely ‘In a vase on Monday’ meme.  I’m sure Georgie would approve!

 

 

 

Charles Dowding, the ‘no dig’ gardener

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As mentioned here, I’ve now gone back to weekly commuting, working three days in London. And whilst I’m definitely enjoying the work (so far!) I’m also enjoying having access to London gardening events, and attended my first on Tuesday.

The location was the Garden Museum, across the Thames from Westminster.  The museum was set up in 1977 to rescue the abandoned ancient church of St Mary’s (the burial place of John Tradescant c1570–1638), which was threatened with demolition.  The building now hosts exhibitions, talks, and holds “a permanent display of paintings, tools, ephemera and historic artefacts: a glimpse into the uniquely British love affair with gardens”.2015-03-10 20.04.55

I’d previously been to a couple of talks there, one by American lawyer, Barbara Paul Robinson, about her biography of Rosemary Verey, and another by a group of florists including the lovely Vic Brotherson from Scarlet and Violet.

Tuesday’s talk was a more hands on gardening talk, this time by Charles Dowding, who is well known in the UK for his ‘no dig’ approach to gardening.2015-03-10 18.37.08

What I hadn’t realised is that as well as writing numerous books and delivering many lectures and courses both around the country and at his home garden of Homeacres, he grows salad leaves commercially.

As with previous gardening talks I’ve posted about it’s frustrating not to be able to share more of the photos we were shown.  In Dowding’s case there must have been hundreds, which he moved through at an incredible pace, giving structure to his (no notes) speech of well over an hour.

Dowding is a passionate believer in ‘no dig’ gardening, feeding the soil not the plants.  He has undertaken numerous trials of different approaches and although the no dig approach doesn’t always produce the greatest harvest, it often does, and what harvest you receive is far less back breaking.

He showed photos of various beds he had transformed from ‘topped’ pasture to high yielding veg beds with his no dig approach.  The fundamental thing is to kill weeds by excluding light, whilst also feeding the soil.  Sometimes he uses cardboard, or even wool carpet, but mostly he just adds a compost layer.

When making the new beds from the pasture he added a 6″ layer the first year and then just a further 1-2″ per year after that.  For very difficult perennial weeds like brambles, ivy and hedge bindweed, it may take 18 months to ‘clean’ the soil and you have to be vigilant to weed them out as they reappear (he recommends a copper trowel for the task as the edges keep sharp), but he insists you can get rid of them.

With regard to his salad growing, he sows four times a year (early March, Early June, Mid July and early September I think he said) and this keeps him in salad leaves all year, albeit from November to April he is growing in an unheated polytunnel.  The varieties he grows also vary by season – Lettuce, pea shoots, sorrel and dill in the summer, with rocket, chicory and mustard in the winter.  He uses the ‘cut and come again’ approach where he harvests leaves rather than the entire plants and says this way it keeps the planst in ‘permanent adolesence’ and they just keep growing.  Also, by harvesting the outer leaves, it keeps the plants very clean and reduces the hiding places for slugs!

As well as trialling no dig versus dig vegetable gardening, he also showed photos of a trial he’d undertaken to see which medium seeds did best in.  It turned out in his trial that seeds sown in well rotted manure did better than John Innes number 1 or a Multi purpose compost.  You’d think seeds would struggle in something so ‘lumpy’ but perhaps his well rotted manure is rather more well rotted than mine!

And lastly, when you think you’ve made a decision, someone comes along and unmakes it for you.   Last year I wrote about planting by moon here, and how, having read Maria Thun’s book, I’d been impressed by the studies she’d done linking seed planting (and cutting taking, and grafting) to different phases on the moon.  Being back at work (and particulalry not even being at home three days a week) I decided that this was an approach I’d struggle to follow this year, and so decided to quietly forget about it.  Dowding however, is a fan, and of course, had done a trial.  And when I saw his two carrot harvests, the one planted by the moon 10% bigger than the others, it’s making me think again….

Do take a look at Dowding’s website, there’s an amazing amount of information there and also details of his books and courses.  He’s a very impressive man with a similarly impressive ‘back catalogue’ of trials and achievements.

 

James Wong – growing for flavour and talking for Britain!

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Wednesday saw me back at Ventnor Botanic Garden for a talk by James Wong,

The talk was entitled ‘Growing for flavour’ and, bearing in mind the two things I’ve grown following recommendations from him (Electric Daises and Cucamelons from his ‘Homegrown Revolution’ book) I’ve been less than Impressed with, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Well, suffice to say he is my new gardening crush.  Not only was his speech incredibly interesting and informative, but it was well delivered and laugh out loud funny too.

He has recently been writing a book in conjunction with the RHS about growing for flavour, and this talk was based on the research behind his writing.  As he made clear, he is not a hortculturalist, he is a botanist and his whole approach is science and evidence based.

To start with, he debunked the idea that taste is subjective – studies have shown for example that the range of sweetness or saltiness humans like is really very narrow (sugar percentage in the range 8-10%, with the salt percentage even narrower).  We may think we have a ‘sweet tooth’ but the variation really is quite limited.  He also mentioned that brain scans of people eating foods with the ‘holy grail’ 50/50 sugar/fat ratio show pleasure receptors lighting up in a similar fashion to heroin users.  Surely Krispy Kremes have to be safer than that?

Furthermore, something as fundamental as your liking for coriander turns out to be genetic, not ‘taste’.   People with a certain gene (up to 20% of the population depending on ethnicity) taste a mixture of soap and bleach when they eat coriander.  And there was me thinking my nephew was making a fuss!

So, to the growing.  I couldn’t possibly capture everything said, but here are a few points I noted

  • Choose the right varieties.  Genetics is key – however well grown, you cannot make a poor variety taste good, so choose carefully.
  • Leaving foods such as butternut squash, pumpkins, tomatoes and strawberries for a few days before eating (NOT in the fridge), substantially increases sweetness – for strawberries, for example, up to 700% in 4 days.
  • Using dissolved aspirin on plants to makes them think they’re under attack.  The plants produce tastier fruits in the hope they will be able to reproduce.  An example was watering tomatoes with 1/4 to 1/2 an aspirin tablet dissolved in a litre of water, three times during the growing season.  Other studies have suggested for different plants you just need to soak the seeds in the aspirin solution prior to planting, to enjoy the same beneficial effect.
  • Using Methyl jasminate (Jasmine water) to spray on buds has a similar effect
  • Mulching tomatoes and strawberries with red plastic, not black.  The science behind this is all to do with the colour of the reflected light.  Apparently the light reflected off red is actually green, which replicates the light reflected off competing (green) weeds.  Again, this tricks the plants to think they’re under attack when they are not.
  • Growing tomatoes as a single truss.  Apparently this was a method discovered in the UK, exported to Japan and then largely forgotten back in the UK.  Plants are ‘stopped’ after one truss has set fruit by removing all side shoots, as well as the growing tip.  Consequently the plant puts all its energy into ripening the one truss.  There are a number of advantages – you can cram in many more plants in the same area and therefore the yield is similar, but the plants need less attention as there is no staking/tying in/ side shoot pinching to worry about and instead, with all energy focussed on one truss, the flavour of that truss is significantly enhanced.
  • Watering with mollasses.  This has been found to dramatically increase beneficial soil bacteria.  The logic is that plants make their own sugar during photosynthesis, so if you water with a sugar solution early in a plant’s life, it will accelerate their establishment.  James suggested if you’re planting bare root trees, for example, you should dig a square hole, firm the plant in and water with a molasses solution – no stake, no mycorrhizal fungi, no fuss!

Modest chap that he is, James never mentioned the name of the book, nor its publication date, but I, for one, will be at the front of the queue.

And to finish, a few lovely blooms from a sunny, post talk stroll at VBG.

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Wonderful, wild, Wiley

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Photo above from http://www.desertusa.com

On Saturday I attended a talk by garden creator Keith Wiley.  I’ve mentioned Keith once before as he was head gardener/manager at the Garden House, near Yelverton in Devon, when I took my mother there for a magical 80th birthday outing over ten years ago.  I was stunned by what he had created; it was just so fresh and new.  Since then, I was aware he had moved on to creating his own garden, with his artist wife Ros, on an apple orchard site just down the road from the Garden House, and was fascinated to hear more about it.

Let me start by saying the word ‘enthusiast’ struggles to convey Keith’s incredible passion for nature, plants, flowers and gardens – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the amount of Latin he spoke in the space of one day before.  I could have done with a copy of all the slides and a recording of Keith’s talk so that I could have enjoyed all he had to offer more than just the once!

Clearly, I don’t have copies of his photos, so, very rarely for this blog, the photos are nearly all other peoples’.  I have included a few from a site he introduced us to (www.desertusa.com, all clearly marked) as well as one from Peter Korn (see below).  In addition, to see photos of Keith’s new garden, Wildside, there are some stunning photos taken by Andrew Lawson, to accompany an article by Stephen Lacey for the Telegraph,  here.

The day started with a number of views of plants growing in the wild.  Keith has travelled extensively, and we saw some gasp inducing wild flower vistas from South Africa, New England, Crete, the Swiss Alps, Lake District and Cornwall.  The unifying theme was one of a ‘community of flowers’.   What Keith has tried to move away from is ‘block’ type planting where plants are kept separate, and instead recreate what is seen in the wild, where plants interweave and encroach on each other, giving a completely different and far more naturalistic effect.

This made me think about the wild flowers on the Duver, and of course a recent shot I posted of the chamomile with the thrift demonstrates Keith’s point exactly:

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At the Garden House, Keith had adopted this approach and had planted plants to – his words – ‘drizzle and drift’.  To a large degree in the area he developed away from the main house, plants were allowed to self seed, but this did require very careful weeding to ensure the retained seedlings were the right ones.  He mentioned an incident when one of his ‘helpers’ had assiduously weeded out every plant of the Common Tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla) because she saw it as a weed.  Keith, conversely, saw it as a unifying plant ‘drizzled’ across an area, bringing cohesion and repetition.  He didn’t speak to her for two days.

He also introduced us to the idea of ‘Beauty when you look closely’ as well as ‘harmony at all levels’.  Not only should planting combinations look good very close to, but as you step back, that harmony should remain, right up to when you’re looking at a complete vista.  This is a bold ambition, but it certainly doesn’t make it a bad one.

And look how well it can happen in nature –  another photo from http://www.desertusa.com below:flower bloom

From here he discussed the approach of gardening in sand favoured by Peter Korn.  Peter gardens in Sweden and, looking at his website, has created an absolutely stunning garden, with an incredible diversity of flora. The photo below is from his website www.peterkornstradgard.se

At the Garden House Keith had established some areas with a sandy ‘top layer’ and is keen to do the same at Wildside when funds permit.

Moving onto Wildside,  the garden he moved to in 2004, Keith showed us first the south facing field, with views towards attractive Devon countryside in the distance, that was his starting point.  He recognised that the garden would need some protection but was loathe to plant hedges or larger trees as he didn’t want to lose the view.  Instead he took the approach to landscape the site significantly to achieve the protection he was looking for, without forsaking the borrowed landscape.  At the same time he also created areas of shade where his man made gradients created shadow.

Whilst this conveys what Keith was trying to achieve, what it doesn’t convey is the scale.  And the scale of these earthworks is massive – in some areas he has created “canyons” of over 45ft. Overall he believes that by contouring the land he has turned the surface planting area from four acres to six.  So much more room to play in!

The rest of the talk was spent showing the different  areas of planting and explaining how, by his landscaping works, he has been able to create very varied habitats, not only light and shade, but also different levels of top soil over the shillet (shale) base, depending on the size and preference of the plants he wants to use in the different areas.  He has, for example, created one particular bank with his favourite plant, Erythroniums, in mind, as well as another one for Amaryllis and Nerines.  He has also created what he thinks is a world first, a ‘Wisteria wood’ which was absolutely extraordinary.  He has planted a number (may be as many as a dozen) of different species of wisteria grown as trees (ie not as lollipops!) in a gentle valley area and then underplanted them with hundreds of different bulbs.

I could go on and on but think I’ll leave it there.  Without relevant photos I really can’t convey adequately everything Keith has achieved or indeed the emotional effect his planting has on people.  This is something I first felt at the Garden House all those years ago,  but I certainly felt it again looking at photos of Wildside.  Keith thinks it may be because of the closer link to nature than in many gardens,  but whatever it is, it certainly got to me!

Suffice to say I’ve come away with pages and pages of notes and plant names, as well as a definite idea of a spot in my garden where I’d really like to try this approach out.  I’ll be putting in my order for Keith’s book “On the Wild Side: Experiments in New Naturalism” as soon as I’ve posted this post.

To finish another stunning wild flower view from DesertUSA:

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Magical Monty

 

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On Friday, as part of the Isle of Arts Festival, I went to see Monty Don speak.

Monty (can I call him that?) was as relaxed and charming as he appears on television and spoke, without any notes, for over an hour.  He told the story of his arrival at Longmeadow and some of the significant events in the creation of the garden we are now familiar with from Gardeners World.  And, although some of the stories were familiar from his books, the delivery was so warm and his enthusiasm (apparently) so genuine, it was a lovely evening.

Of course I forgot to take any kind of notebook, so a couple of snippets I thoughts were interesting have, of course been forgotten, but one thing which did stick was his comment about evoking a ‘feel’ with a planting area.  He commented that while some people will buy a plant and then try to work out where it should go, he tends to have a ‘feel’ in mind, and then selects plants accordingly.

I thought this was really interesting as I think I probably do a bit of both, and yet think I should be doing more of the latter.  In his example he was talking about his new ‘writing garden’ where he wanted to evoke the effect of cow parsley in late spring.  To achieve this he has planted a very limited variety of plants to achieve a simple, ‘airy’ look.  He’s stuck largely to white, although there is a little pink early in the year which picks up on the tree blossom.

This has got me thinking about what I’m trying to evoke with my different beds, and although some are fairly clear (the shady bed, being largely white flowered and including classic shady plants like ferns and hostas), other beds, like the ones in front of the greenhouse, are much harder to define, and (probably consequently) less successful.  So, definitely food for thought.

At the end were some questions but my favourite –

Q:  Is it true Nigel gets more fan mail than you?  A:  Nigel gets more fan mail than everyone

To finish, a terrible photo taken on my phone, showing Monty, with Nigel in the photo on the slide.  And if you’re wondering why there was a drum kit, Clint Eastwood’s son, Kyle, was playing on the same stage later that evening, but I didn’t think he had much to offer my garden, so I left.

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