Thursday, March 19, 2009

Border Order

My very first blog (I think) was about a big new border at my new home. I had planted it in lines, one metre apart, basically as plants came out of the back of the van. I’ve moved plants around every year since, in particular to break up the obvious lines of the same thing, but I have kept the basic idea of the lines. It is only in the early spring that it is obvious that things are in lines – the rest of the year everything blurs in together.

Now, some three years later, the rows are still there, and I realise just how practical they are, but also a very good research and documentation tool. They make weed control easier, which is a great relief – you can hoe or spray off whatever comes up between the rows – allowing for some self-seeding and spreading.

In terms of documentation, the lines make for very easy recording – simply number each row with a low profile numbered peg, and then stretch a tape measure from the fence at the rear to note where everything is. The results can then be recorded on an Excel spreadsheet. In theory I’m going to redo this every year – in fact, this year, it didn’t take very long at all. Anything which self-seeds or spreads into the areas betweent the rows can be allowed to do so and recorded – a useful measure of spreading ability. I might also start planting some plugs of certain species as well in the gaps.

So, here is the ‘plan’ of a border which is still very much in the process of development.
The numbers along the top are metres from the fence at the rear (which is the left), indicated by the numbers of the rows, which also represent the number of metres from the other end (at the bottom). You can see in more detail by toggling the little rectangle symbol in the top right hand corner of the Scribd window.

I hope this makes sense! It took me a whole evening to work out how to turn an Excel file into something I could blog.

Big Border Data 2 Big Border Data 2 noelk57

Big Border Data 1 Big Border Data 1 noelk57

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Penelope Hobhouse at Vista.

    Penelope Hobhouse was our guest at Vista (London’s Garden Museum) last month. The podcast is now up on the Gardens Illustrated website:

    Penelope talked to us about her life and career, which has been a varied one. She has made several gardens (Hadspen and Bettescombe), written about colour, design, garden practice, garden history and Islamic gardens. The breadth of her knowledge and experience is huge, which makes her very interesting. She can also be irreverent and funny – which surprises people; just before we started she whispered to me that we should make some jokes to lighten the atmosphere up – I think Tim and I obliged, its remarkably how one can produce humour when the pressure is on. The Vista audience were a bit overawed – there is something about Penelope which pushes a “girl school headmistress” button in a lot of people which is shame, because she isn’t actually like that.
    The previous week I had spent a morning with her at her new home back at Hadspen, going over the ground for the Vista evening. So much of what she spoke about rather sent me off down memory lane – the height of her career was when I was just starting out running a nursery, doing some garden design and beginning  to write myself. Things have moved on so much though: garden history has had its moment (in Britain at least), and Americans are no longer interested in hanging on to every word from British gardeners (thank goodness). Penelope’s interest in the US garden scene in fact waned before they really declared independence though. Part of the reason for this is something I really warm to about Penelope, a distrust of clients with only money to spend – for her there has to be something deeper and more meaningful in garden making. From USA to Iran was an interesting change in loyalties, but the Islamic garden tradition (which is actually pre-Islamic) offers a spiritual/aesthetic exploration of space and a set of intellectual challenges.

Next month at Vista – James Hitchmough

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

On galanthophiles and perennials

A trip to Scotland to go to Cambo House, famous for its snowdrops, although I’m writing about the garden in September. The snowdrops are pretty spectacular, along with snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) and other woodland goodies. It feels like a pretty remote spot to me, but I guess there must be a lot of golf widows wending their way down from St. Andrews; and it’s only 1.5 hours from Edinburgh. The sales area, snowdrop gift shop etc. is all very understated and tastefully done.

Despite the reputation for snowdrops, I’m not sure Catherine Erskine of Cambo really wants to be known as a galanthophile. Over lunch she tells me about new varieties selling for what seem like absurd sums of money, then appearing on Ebay next year after having been split. And snowdrops from gardens disappearing. The truth is that any genetically varied population of snowdrops is going to show quite a lot of variation  in the flowers. BUT Brit snowdrops are genetically limited, as they are not natives, so we see little variation – any that does occur seems to cause a galanthophile rush. A colleague at the Ljubljana Botanic Garden did  a research project on wild populations in Slovenia – showing the level of variation. He should probably have split them all up and sold them to gullible galanthophiles over here for some easy research funding. Catherine’s opinion is that there is no point adding to the list of cultivars (apparently 1,000 and growing) unless something is really distinctive.

Meanwhile, the rest of the garden at Cambo.
Having been banging on about naturalistic planting for years (since about 1996 I reckon) I sometimes wonder just how much impact I, and other proponents of ecology-inspired planting have had. There is a terrible tendency for people to take things up in a very superficial way – plant a couple of miscanthus in their border and rename it a ‘prairie’ border. Wyevale garden centres are handing out a glossy leaflet which tells you how to plant up a prairie border too; it recommends planting in clumps. AAARRGH. They have clearly paid no attention.

So, pure joy to be at Cambo where head gardener Elliott Forsyth has clearly done his homework, and been to Germany to visit Westpark and Hermannshof, and is planting big borders with perennials and grasses, diffusing varieties through and trying lots of ways of combining and juxtaposing  varieties. His wife Sue is an artist, so he has been swotting up and putting into practice some art theory too. I long to see it all in summer, but winter was convincing enough, as they had left all the seedheads up for me to see. This spring a huge 90 species prairie is going in, with thousands of plants which have been grown from seed over the last year.
Wonderful that someone has been listening!
The article about Cambo will be in the September Gardens Illustrated.
Cambo House is open daily.

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A cue for Kew

    Quite a historic occasion at Kew last night. The first time in nearly a century that the directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Edinburgh  and the Irish National Botanic Garden are on the same public platform – along with the director of the new Welsh botanic gardens. And I’m chairing it, along with Denis Murphy, Professor of Biotechnology at Glamorgan University. The format evolved out of the series of evening public conversations that Tim Richardson and myself have been having with figures in the garden world at the Garden Museum in Lambeth.
    I was nervous about the event, a bit beyond the safety zone. That inferiority complex that gardeners have about botanists and botanic gardens. Denis and I probed them on a number of issues, such as the possibly negative impact of the Convention on Bio-diversity on research and plant exploration, how the gardens relate their mission to the public, and how they see their mission conserving plants in the face of climate change. Two hours were hardly long enough. Everyone seemed to enjoy the event and find it interesting.
     The ‘Vista Debates’ at the Garden Museum are great fun, a bit like running a private dining club. We have an onstage discussion with a guest/s (last month it was Penelope Hobhouse), followed by a jolly good meal cooked in the museum kitchen – often quite adventurous cooking  - I shall never forget the delicious cardamom-flavoured polystyrene noodles we had on the first night we did. A lot of the success of the evening centres on the rapport Tim and I have with each other, coming as we do from different ends of the spectrum of what makes people interested in gardens. Lila Das Gupta on her blog recently called us the “John Bird and John Fortune” of the gardening world. 
    You too can listen on a podcast, generously hosted by Gardens Illustrated.

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