Sunday, 31 May 2015

Under attack!

All is not well in my trellis bed! About two weeks ago I noticed my previously vigorously growing penstemon was starting to look all sad and droopy, with previously green and luscious leaves turning purple and curling over. After a few days hoping it would get better by itself I carefully pulled about the tips of each shoots to discover a blacked, winged, insect firmly ensconsed in each one surrounded by little blobs. I scraped out as many of these freeloaders as I could find and crossed my fingers.

Soon after the penstemon's next door neighbour, my phlox, began to shrivelling and curling over. Gently unfurling the leaves I again discovered little black winged beasties surrounded by either poo or eggs, on leaves that were papery dry to touch. Again I scraped out the little blighters, but a week on the poor thing looks no better. Could these be aphids? A quick google reveals that none of the pictures of black aphids look like the critters I scraped out, but further googling on small black winged insects has turned up nothing. What could be causing this? I'm investigating and will report back...

Elsewhere in the garden, things are looking promising. My garden on a roll is starting to fill out nicely, and I've planted out more bedding plants in the trellis bed. Hopefully by the end of summer it will be a wafting sea of colour. Starting and current pictures below!

Garden on a roll bed: At planting 7 weeks ago, and now!

Trellis bed - Planted up three weeks ago, with some additions last week!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Chelsea Flower Show: Part 2. Tips for newbies

So it's been a few days, and i've been reflecting on my first Chelsea experience; There were good things, bad things, and things i'd definitely do differently next time around! As a novice's gardening blog i'd like to hand along a few tips, beyond what you usually find online, for the benefit any other newbies thinking of making the journey next year. hopefully the sections below will help you have a good one!

Where to stay
If you're not local to London or nearby it's probably tempting to find a hotel as close as possible to the show grounds. Don't do this. Chelsea happens to be one of the most expensive areas of london and hotels are therefore unlikely to be the cheapest. There are literally hundreds of hotels elsewhere that will be better value, and will only be a matter of minutes away when you hop on the tube to Sloane Square (the stop nearest the show grounds). If, like many of my relatives, the thought of tackling the London Underground fills you with dread, then fear not. Simply make sure your hotel is near a stop on the District line (the green line), as you will then be on a direct train to Sloane Square, and will not need to negotiate any complicated interchanges. Good places to base yourself would be around Earls Court, Hammersmith or Parson's Green to the West, or anywhere between Victoria and Aldgate to the East, which will whizz you to your stop in minutes ( will give you the journey times from these stops to Sl Sq).

Is it easy to find the show ground from Sloane Square?
Ridiculously simple. It's a 10-15 minute walk max(at leisurely pace), and everyone is headed in the same direction. There are taxis and rickshaws hovering around the tube that will happily take you for a few quid, aswell as a bus - though you are likely to take longer to get there if you have to wait for the bus to fill up.

When to buy tickets
Tickets come out around January, so make a note in your diary for the first two months of the year to make your decision, then get the cheapest possible prices - I paid £59 for tickets that were later increased to £100 closer to the show.

Show programme
This year the programme cost £8, and i've hardly looked at mine. Whilst the map in the back is somewhat useful, you can easily make do without by taking out your phone and snapping a shot of the large showground map pinned to the railings outside the gates and using that instead. There are also signposts at most large junctions inside, and lots people to ask around the grounds, so unless a costly list of exhibitor addresses really appeals, save yourself the funds and take a notebook.

What to take
No 1 most useful item was my pen. Stood by every garden is someone with a list of all the flowers in that particular garden, so you can simply ask about whichever catches your eye and underline it in the flower list that will have been thrust into your hands. You can also use these to take down any other notes about stalls/vendors of interest.
Also take a picnic. There are quite a few picnic areas scattered around, which do get busy, but from what I could see also turn over quite quickly, so a little bit of hovering should see you getting a spot to sit in a relatively short space of time. Food at the ground is expensive (drink even more so) so on your way from your hotel/home, stop at a sandwich shop (Pret A Manger highly recommended for non-londoners) to grab a sandwich and a snack bar. A hip flask is also recommended to liven up a relatively cheap coke purchased at the show.
Don't forget your camera (obvs) or rain poncho (though these do get given out by the show sponsors near the entrance), and plenty of snacks.

How to tackle the show
Little by little. It can be quite draining getting your butt out of bed early, travelling there, negotiating the crowds (more on that later), and concentrating on what there is to see. As the gardens are generally grouped together it's wise to get out your map before entering and plot your route. Plan on doing one section, take a break, the next, take a break etc etc. For this year I would have done the artisan gardens in one, rested, done one side of the show gardens avenue, rested, done the other side, rested, whizzed around the fresh gardens then headed to the Pavilion (a plan outlined roughly on the map below). Bear in mind that like any other exhibition, museum fatigue (or should that be plant fatigue) does set in after a while, so i'd recommend going first to what you want to see the most.

I cant hold out all day there, how should I decide what to see?
As someone looking for plant ideas for a very new garden, I found the Artisan Gardens and Show Gardens the most useful/enjoyable areas, very closely followed by the Pavilion. Between the gardens and the pavilion I wasted some time roaming aimlessly around the trade stalls, which is pretty pointless given you can buy just about everything there over the internet at a far cheaper prices - I was AMAZED to see the hoards gathering round various stalls examining such things as ceramic ladybirds for £15 a pop, pricey wind chimes and various other fripperies. Personally I take the view that the plants and planting is the main attraction, and found myself running short of time (and patience) once I reached the main pavilion, so next year I will be passing these by until i've finished my other must sees, then taking note of any items I see and sourcing them cheaper online.

The crowds
"Give me strength and patience!" cried my mum at one point, and understandably - the crowds were overwhelming! We arrived at 11am on the Saturday, and around each show garden was a large scrum of people, and some of the pathways were full so I had to thread my way through (and in some cases come to a complete stop and wait where bottlenecks had built up). I had prepared myself for this and was ok waiting patiently for my turn to get to the front in each garden crowd, but was still surpised how many people seemed to have very little consideration for others around them and would barge, swing large bags, block pathways, and generally behave as though they were the only people there. Next year i'm planning to join the RHS as a member as i've been told that the crowds are somewhat better on members day, and will be at the gates at 8am sharp. If you can't do this, then make sure you're as early as you can be, have a zen-like state of acceptance of the crowd, and a broad sense of humour. That way you should be able to keep frustrations with others to a minimum and maximise your focus on what you're really there to see.

What were the loos like?
An important question! The toilet facilities are pretty ok, I didn't queue at all for the first part of the day, and only waited about 30 seconds or so at the end of the day. All were stocked with paper and had soap and water (this is not Glastonbury!)

Making a weekend of it
If you're from out of town, you'll be too tired to do anything much that night. But why not take in a few sights the following day. Ignore ugly tourist traps like Leicester Square and Oxford Street and take a boat down to Greenwich for a stroll around the beautiful streets, large park, and observatory. Closer in, spending a few hours sampling the delights of the fabulous wines at Vinopolis is always fun, then dinner nearby on Butlers' Wharf , or (St Catherine's Dock on the other side) is a must, with a grandstand seat of Tower Bridge while the sun goes down. As the sky darkens the lights come on, and is a sight that never fails to thrill me, even after so many years in living london! Views from the brasserie in the Oxo tower and the bar at the top of the Tate Modern are also worthwhile.

So will I enjoy Chelsea or not?
I've left this until last as it's a tricky questions. People who cant abide crowds shouldn't bother as they'll hate it, and its true that you actually get a better overall view of the gardens on TV. In terms of ideas, Chelsea probably doesn't offer a great deal more than other large RHS flower shows, however for me the theater of the whole event, seeing how the gardens i'd seen on TV translated into real life viewing, as well as examining the detail of how they were created and generally being part of the most famous flower show in the world, made it worthwhile. Treat it as a fun day out with some garden entertainment, where you get to meet a few glorious Chelsea Pensioners and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of excitement. You can't go wrong :)

So there we have it! My top tips for making your Chelsea experience a good one. Have any questions? Let me know!


Monday, 25 May 2015

My Chelsea Flower Show Experience, Part 1

So i've been, seen and lapped it all up! There was so much to take in that i'm splitting my review into two parts; this post will be my newbie's view on the gardens and plants on show, and my next post will be passing on tips and advice for any rookie gardeners thinking of making the trip in 2016.

I'd caught some of the BBC coverage during the week and read several reviews in the papers, but was still unsure if i'd get much out of the show - Would I really learn much there? Most reports were full of superlatives, with virtually no criticisms of any gardens there. Is it not the done thing in horticulture for reviewers to say what they think was great and what sucked?

Upon arrival the first thing I noticed was that, like any other creative industry, horticulture has fashions, and this year the trend was wild flower meadows, so the same look and plants kept cropping up in garden after garden ("oh look, Selinum Wallicianum, purple lupin, and irisis yet AGAIN!"). The second was that it's easy to become overwhelmed by the crowds and lose focus on looking for your own ideas. I was determined to avoid this and stick to my brief of finding year round colour plants with textural foliage for my garden, as well as any individual plants that stood out.  

So what worked? For me there were two standout moments. The first was the Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities garden, which gave me my first Wowza moment. Up until then i'd found the gardens nice, in a rather distant and un-relateable way, but this one immediately inspired me to copy the planting scheme for my own patch! The same group of plants had been used through the entire space, but arranged differently in each area, bringing colour but harmony to the whole thing, and making me realise that planting a select few plant types was just as effective of buying masses of different types. This hadn't come across when I watched on TV, but standing there the real life impact made me immediately want to take the purpley bluey scheme interspersed with orange pops back to my own space.

The second was the plants in the grand pavilion itself. By the time i'd reached it garden fatigue was beginning to set in, and I was wondering if we should skip it and head home. I'm glad I didn't, as here I found plants which fitted my brief of searching for finding year round colour and textural foliage, and I was able to get a close up look and chat to the stallholders about the plants. Because of this a Heucera is definitely heading to my garden along with some others. I also found a plant called Streptocarpus ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ which was too cute for words, and also an Iris Bientot L'Ete, in gorgeous purple and yellow. Sadly we were due to leave before I had finished the pavilion, I wish i'd come here sooner.

So on to the controversial bit. What didn't work for me? The winner of the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge had not wowed me on TV, and wowed me even less in person. The overwhelming impression was of concrete and grass. In the drizzle and grey of Saturday afternoon the garden looked pretty dismal, and wasn't helped by its position next to more eye catching gardens nearby. Still, there was large enthusiastic crowd in front of it so what do I know? The second disappointment for was the Fresh Gardens, as it hard to distinguish these from the trade gardens interspersed between them. They also looked more suited to Mediterranean climates, and with some I was having trouble deciding whether the small brown plants were meant to look like that, or whether they were actually dead.

So what does a newbie make of the show in general? On the day I went the crowds were insane, and manners were often forgotten. I was also struck by how white the crowd was, and similar the exhibitors were- why no schools gardens? Small community efforts or regions displays? Would I recommend it. That's a toughie. One lady I got chatting to at the picnic tables told me she wished she hadn't bothered as she'd have had a better view of the gardens on TV and this is true, added to this the crowds and expense why would anyone bother? I'd say the show is best approached as an entertaining day out with friends & family, where everyone can find one or two ideas to take home to their own garden. At £59 it's about the same price as a cheaper london theatre ticket, but the atmosphere of excitement, the drama of such different gardens laid out so closely together, and the experience of seeing the spaces in real life was huge fun. Two days later my head is still full of planting ideas to follow up in the coming weeks. Will I go back next year? Definitely!

If you're keen to go next year, stay tuned for my next post on tips and advice for Chelsea newbies, along with what I will be doing differently next time round to make the experience even better!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Pest Control

Well, it seems the critters have lulled me into a false sense of security. After a relatively pest free few weeks my new plants are suddenly sprouting munch holes right, left and centre! My previously pristine Monarda has all sorts of damage on its leaves, from knife like cuts along the sides to whole large sections of leaf just vanished. Its stems are still quite weak at this stage so it cannot be anything too large inflicting such injuries, but my hunt for evidence as to which beastie is responsible has been fruitless. No bugs, no silvery trails, nothing! At the moment I’m resorting to sprinkling slug pellets around each plant at the first sign of damage, but I fear some other nefarious bug is to blame!

On the subject of pellets I’ve been using the little bluies to successfully keep down the munching, and it has been working pretty well up to now. However i’m only too aware that these evil things are probably not the most humane way to kill slugs, and that birds or animals eating the remains afterwards may also be affected. But my plants are still so small and my slug pubs only catching the odd small fry, so its hard to know what else to do. Priority no 1 once my garden is a bit more robust will be to find more environmentally friendly killing methods!

But on to other matters. On Saturday I’m attending my first Chelsea Flower Show! Am hugely excited, and hoping for some good inspiration on plant ideas and design to take home. Chelsea seems to be quite a divisive event amongst gardeners who either love the creativity on show or hate the large crowds and high prices. Personally I feel that getting huffy about such things misses the point of being there – yes there will be lots of people and it will be frustrating at times, but getting distracted by all that will stop me from concentrating on what l can learn from all the gardens and really taking in the what, why and how of the unique planting and design. So in addition to a notepad I will be attempting a zen-like state of acceptance of the crowds, hassle and fuss, and hope to really get a lot out of the day

Sunday, 17 May 2015

6 weeks in

So my Garden on a Roll has been in approximately 6 weeks now, and things are extremely good. Contrary to my expectations nothing has died, and many are growing fiercely, including the Lavatera, Monarda (now the cats have stopped digging it up) and the Lychnis (now the slugs have stopped eating it). A couple, like the Agapanthus and Potentilla, are doing OK and are growing, albeit at a slower and less spectacular rate. The only real disappointment is the Aster. As avid readers will know this was almost eaten to death when I planted it, and I was placing a home made cloche over it every night. Now it seems to have recovered but doesn't seem to be much bigger than when I first got it.

 And now!

You can just see where the paper roll is poking through. But this doesn't bother me in the slightest as it's keeping the bed largely free of weeds. Result!

That's more than can be said for my second bed, planted up 2 weeks ago. Everything there is getting established so there's nothing much to report on, except for the poor Jasmine, which has sitting doing nothing, and this morning was snapped in half. Oh well, what can you expect for a £1.50 plant from Morrisons?

 I'm still keeping the three Delphiniums I bought in pots, having been sufficiently unnerved by the warnings of other gardeners to not risk planting them out just yet. Maybe in a week or two they (or rather I) will be ready. Think i'll prepare some cloches and slug pubs in preparation.

Speaking of which next week is Chelsea Flower Show week - and i'm going!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Planting up take two!

So what did I have in my box of goodies? I treated myself to several Geraniums, a Clematis, an Alchemilla Ladies Mantle, Echinacea Purpurea, Rudbeckia, Phlox, a Hydrangea and three Delphiniums! I also picked up at Hebe and climbing Jasmine randomly from a local supermarket (as an impulse buy!). All lovely plants, but i've no idea whether they're suitable for beginner gardeners. Certainly the Delphiniums raised a few eyebrows when I mentioned them to a few more experienced gardeners I know (they are apparently slug magnets and not easy to get established).

This afternoon I finally introduced my new arrivals into their new pad. As before, we conditioned the soil with fresh topsoil and did double digging accross the bed. Without the planting guide I had beforehand it was tough knowing what to put where, but I stuck to the basic tall things at the back and small things at the front. I also planted Nigella and Limnanthes seeds accross the base of the bed.

All in all i'm pleased with the plants but not sure I have enough, or even if they'll all make it! Lets see if they all make it through the next week...

Saturday, 2 May 2015

More plants!

There's nothing more exciting than arriving home and finding a large box on your doorstep! In my case it arrived after a night out on the town, leading to some late night stumbling from the front door to the garden moving all the plants in, and slightly drunken watering - they couldn't stay there despite my desire to collapse bed!

This morning I was out examining them. They were ordered from, and delivered really quickly (3 days after order). In comparison with the delivery from GardenonaRoll the quality of one or two of the plants were slightly disappointing, with a few brown leaves here and there. More frustratingly the plug plants were not in pots, and I was late for work the following morning as I ran about trying to find pots and compost for them (luckily I had kept a few from the delivery a few weeks ago). Maybe they don't realise that we don't all have time to put them in the ground immediately?

So all plants are not potted up and getting a daily watering before I put them in my newly emptied trellis bed tomorrow. Cant wait! (plant list to follow).