Monday, 22 February 2010

Herculean Annuals

Finally I have banished the giant stems of our long faded sunflowers from the borders, a hugely satisfying experience which went something like this. Heave out the erratically swaying monster dead plant (with banshee like wail), put a boot over the rootball, snap hollow stem away from the roots, revel in satisfying almighty crack, then chuck roots into wheelbarrow (ready for the base of the hedge), and stems on the burning pile. Repeat, seemingly ad infinitum.

Last year Archie (my 5 year old) and I grew a sunflower forest, planting 'Giant Single' and 'Velvet Queen' at the base of a sleeper retaining wall, their towering mightiness to inspire awe from the lower garden whilst easily enjoying the flower heads from the higher green oak deck above.

Never wanting to do things by halves, we planted dozens and dozens of home grown seedlings to give impact to the newly planted sparseness of the perennials growing at their feet, and to disguise the sleeper retaining wall behind them. And whilst their growth rate was astounding to both Arch, myself and all of our friends (they pumped skyward from the ground with such force and power you could almost watch them gain height in front of your eyes), keeping them upright through the gales of last summer was an 'interesting' challenge (much running around in blind panic at night, armed with canes, twine and a head torch). And though I should not have been surprised, the obvious fact that each 'Giant Single' only produced one, albeit huge, bloom which took an age to arrive, still left me feeling somehow cheated. Though Archie enjoyed his first success growing gargantuan plants, i revelled in the shorter, more generous, multi headed, deep wine red blooms of the sublime 'Velvet Queen', which Archie did not care for a jot.

Time gently passed in the way summers do, and the sunflowers passed over, turning from green leafy giants into wizened, bleached sticks marching through much of the bottom garden. However, though not much to look at in themselves, there's no doubting that my laziness prevailed in the end, and leaving them insitu through autumn and winter made our garden's bird population extremely happy (watching birds strip the heads of seed was a wonderful distraction whilst I washed dishes at the kitchen sink).

But being a firm believer that plants should deliver maximum interest to warrant inclusion, especially in a small garden, this year I shan't bother with the giant yellows, but will grow lesser numbers of glamourous Helianthus annuus 'Moulin Rouge' mixed with 'Chianti' instead.

I just hope Archie will forgive me......

Friday, 5 February 2010

Gardens are for people

It's brilliant when a day turns out so much better than expected, and Wednesday this week was a perfect example.

I hotfooted it up to the Royal Festival Hall in London for the launch of the National Garden Scheme's 2010 yellow book. If I'm honest, I thought this would be a small affair, full of candy floss haired ladies of a certain age, knitting through a rather laborious talk as I gently snoozed, whilst secretly anticipating the lunchtime canapes.
However, as I hurtled up to floor 5 in the lift, the laughter, hilarity and the general cacophony of joyous noise drifting down the shaft alerted me to the fact that I had got this lot completely wrong.

Now I've known about the NGS for all my gardening life, have visited a few open gardens and in my past capacity as roving TV reporter, I worked with a couple from Lincolnshire as they prepared their garden for the NGS's public. I really ought to have known better. This lot have more energy than I have witnessed in a long time.

After a swift cup of tea, a veritable celebration of the NGS's work ensued, delivered via the genuinely thrilled-to-be-newly appointed President Joe Swift and the efficacious and charming NGS Chairman Penny Snell. Following a slideshow revealing some surprisingly contemporary new garden additions, a delivery of cheques (all including more noughts than any I could ever hope to receive) handed out to the NGS beneficiary charities and some well deserved exceptional service awards, I was sold. This was inspirational stuff.

3700 gardens will open this year on behalf of the NGS. That's a lot of gardens and gardeners, industriously priming their private gardens for us to visit, garden owners which are keen to share ideas, experiences, successes (and failures) with us, whilst raising money for charity. Together through the NGS they hope to raise £3 million in 2010. And just a cursory flick through this years Yellow Book (which lists dates, entry fees and gardens open by area) reveals several gardens of appeal close to me. So I shall endeavour to do my bit for the NGS, whilst partaking of one of the joys of life, gardens. This year I am going to diary, then visit, as many NGS gardens I can.

The picture is of Great Dixter's produce table carrying the weight of some stunning dahlia varieties, taken in October of last year.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Head space

As a working mother it can be immensely difficult to find the time to garden for myself. The pottering of pre-children life is a thing of memory. More likely you'll see me bounding around my garden racing to get anything done, as the baby naps and my five year old bounces on the trampoline. These hastily stolen half hour slots are governed by (usually late) deadlines of seasonal jobs; autumn and spring bulb planting, seed sowing, re-potting and much neglected weeding are today's reality. I am immensely lucky that Jules, my long suffering partner is a gardener too, and though I truly feel that I should better pull my weight outdoors at home, he will sneak in and do those jobs that I simply don't have time (or energy) to accomplish.

Though the weeds are taking hold at home, the carcasses of snow crushed perennials are creeping across the deck, and one hundred Allium 'Purple Sensation' are now mouldy and withered, my family are worth this garden neglect and I know that my garden will have to wait.

Which is why I am lucky that at work, in the calm of my office, I can plan gardens for others. Here, I am industrious. Here a terrace can be laid in five different finishes through the course of an afternoon, ornament is changed with the turn of a page, maintenance free borders planted within the confines of my head can crash with infinite combinations of texture and flower, all almost satisfying my need for my own gardens change.

And though I'm not physically gardening; without the clock ticking, or guilt, I feel close to it; that the itch has been scratched. Then I'm off home again to cook the evenings supper and wallow in the chattering, giggly gorgeousness of my babes whilst my garden is tucked up patiently in its blanket of darkness. And in biding my time until my next half hour gardening slot, who knows what my garden will deliver.

Whatever it is, I bet its worth the wait.