Storm and Pestilence

Early rays - raindrops embellish Dahlia 'American Dawn'

I should have known better than to mention either of the words in the title of tonight’s post as, lo and behold, we were delivered a month’s rain on Friday and there’s been more of the same today. Both times the wet stuff was accompanied by gale-forced winds, first from the north (noisy, but not too troublesome) and then from the south (my worst nightmare). I was up at 2am, 4am and 6am on Saturday morning checking that nothing had been toppled by the monsoon. I then overslept and awoke to a garden strewn with leaves and looking rather tousled, but with no major damage done. Most plants appeared to have enjoyed the soaking, with the exception of the lilies which were hanging their pollen-smudged heads in shame.

Lilium 'African Queen' holds court in her jungle kingdom

Lilium ‘African Queen’ holds court in her rainy jungle kingdom

Cautleya, hedychium and roscoea don’t mind the rain and have so far avoided the attentions of snails. The foliage looks splendid for the lack of chomping, although I don’t take this for granted. Meanwhile vine weevils and caterpillars are doing a good job of wreaking pestilence, nibbling fuchsia leaves and disfiguring dahlia flowers nightly. The best form of control is a midnight patrol, complete with torch and paper in which to squash the ugly bugs. I have tried sprays and soil drenches, but nothing frees me from these two persistent pests like nocturnal hunting.

Cautleya spicata, one of the toughest tropicals I know

Cautleya spicata, one of the toughest tropicals I know

Driven inside by the rain I watched the garden get a good buffeting and wondered why I even bothered trying to sweep the terrace. I neatly organised all the NGS paraphernalia on the dining table in readiness for next weekend before returning to the fray to stake lilies, cannas and salvias. The weather was taking no prisoners and I ended the afternoon soaked through. With luck the weather will mellow though the week and reward us and our visitors with sunshine during our open weekend.

Did you manage to get anything done in the garden this weekend, or did you choose to snuggle up with a cup of tea and a good book instead?

A view of The Watch House garden from the passageway

A view of The Watch House garden from the passageway

All Systems Go!

The garden was thronged with visitors on both days

Here at The Watch House we are steadily building up to our second annual National Gardens Scheme open weekend on August 1st and 2nd. Unlike last year, when the whole exercise was an unknown, we are approaching this year’s event with a certain amount of surety. The posters are up and the plants are in; our helpers have ‘volunteered’ and we have a growing list of supplies to shop for. The only thing we can’t predict is the weather, the single factor that will either deliver us hoards of visitors to enjoy our plants in full bloom, or cast us into a lonely, leafy shadow. In 2014 we were blessed with superb weather and welcomed 220 garden lovers from near and far, way beyond our wildest expectations.

After last weekend's heavy rain

After last weekend’s heavy rain

There have been a few changes since last year. An especially jungly corner has been cleared and replanted, and some of the trees have had their crowns lifted and canopies thinned. These tweaks have allowed more light into the main raised bed, although some of the newer plants are still establishing themselves. I am hopeful that my ‘Golden Splendour’ lilies will still be in bloom for open weekend, but coaxing the hedychiums and cannas to do their thing could be harder. Last year they came into flower on the first day we opened and attracted a lot of attention. Currently they no more that a promising mass of foliage. Our echiums have re-grouped in the ‘jungly’ corner and are less visible than last year, but the bees are still managing to find them. I am torn about removing the spectacular seed heads of Melianthus major (above, centre) which are such an unusual sight yet blocking circulation around the garden.

Digitalis sceptrum and Digitalis canariensis putting on a spectacular double act

Digitalis sceptrum and Digitalis canariensis putting on a spectacular double act this week

I reminded myself last night that I must update the plant list and garden ‘handout’ that we printed last year. It will be fascinating to reflect on the plants that have arrived and departed over the last twelve months, something I probably wouldn’t make time for otherwise. I have increased the number of gingers, adding in Hedychium coccineum ‘Tara’ and Hedychium densiflorum ‘Sorung’. I have also been lulled into a false sense of security by two mild winters and have increased the number of Geranium maderense in pink and white. If they survive the cold months, many will flower next spring.

New garden furniture arrived this June, a reclaimed teak table surrounded by 'Air' chairs by Magis.

The Watch House garden from above in 2014

The big debate between the two of is where to serve refreshments and what to make. I’d like to give visitors a glimpse of our new garden and lay on teas there. It’s not a garden I am especially proud of at the moment, but one day it will be. It could be fun to share the start of our journey. As I write, the kitchen is a hive of activity as Him Indoors experiments with new cake recipes. It is such a hardship having to try them all out! What we can be sure of is that we’ll meet lots of lovely people who are interested enough in gardens and gardening to pay a visit to this far corner of Kent. We promise to make you very welcome. For those of you who can’t make it, I’ll attempt to recreate the occasion on The Frustrated Gardener. You’ll miss out on the cake though ;-)

Welcome to our jungle!

Welcome to our jungle!

Open Weekend Practicalities

The garden will be open on Saturday August 1st and Sunday August 2nd from 12-4. Entrance £3. Well behaved adults, children and dogs are very welcome. Please be mindful of the garden’s size and that at times it may become quite cramped. There will be refreshments in the garden, but in a town like Broadstairs there are lots of options from fine dining to fish and chips so perhaps combine your visit with a stroll along the seafront and a nice lunch. There is no car parking immediately outside the house. The carpark off the High Street is your best bet: turn in between Cooke and Co. Estate Agents and The Fireplace Company. On Sunday there is unrestricted parking on some of the surrounding streets. From the station, The Watch House is about a 7 minute walk straight down the hill towards the sea. The address of the Watch House is 7, Thanet Road, Broadstairs, CT10 1LF. It is immediately next door to Elite Fitness Studio which is well signposted around the town.

This year I've chosen trailing white begonias and Fuchsia 'Tom West' to adorn the outdoor kitchen shelves

This year I’ve chosen trailing white begonias and Fuchsia ‘Tom West’ to adorn the outdoor kitchen shelves

Jolly Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks and foxgloves, The Botanic Nursery, Hampton Court, July 2015

Long standing followers of The Frustrated Gardener will know that I have something of a crush on hollyhocks (Alcea). So it was no surprise when my heart went all aflutter at the sight of The Botanic Nursery exhibit at Hampton Court last week. In previous years there have been a handful of hollyhocks incorporated into the Wiltshire nursery’s display. This time the objects of my affection took centre stage amongst other lime tolerant plants and the nursery’s speciality, foxgloves.

Red Hollyhock, Amsterdam, June 2014

My fondness for hollyhocks stems from my childhood. At my parents’ home near Bath they excelled, planted along a south facing verandah between lanky roses such as ‘Queen Elizabeth’, ‘Golden Showers’ and indestructible ‘Frensham’. Unlike the roses our hollyhocks were not named cultivars, just unplanned crosses and cheap seed strains. This didn’t diminish the allure of their crinkled petals in shades of lemon, hot pink and wine red. The colours drew me towards them like a bee to their plentiful pollen. I would always wait for the seed to ripen and collect it for sowing the following spring. Then the dreaded rust struck and our hollyhocks never quite regained their looks or vigour.

Hollyhock 'Halo Lavender', Hampton Court Flower Show, July 2015

Over the 500 or so years since hollyhocks were first introduced to England from South Western China, breeders have trawled the trial beds for varieties with sumptuous plain, bi-coloured and fully double flowers. Modern hybrids are more resistant to rust than the old, cottage garden strains that rapidly lost their lower leaves to fungal infection. There are even dwarf strains of hollyhock although these seem rather a contradiction to me.

Hollyhock 'Halo Blush', Hampton Court Flower Show, July 2015

Thankfully most modern hybrids have retained the hollyhock’s naturally lofty stature making the plant a perfect choice for growing against a wall or at the back of the border. Treated as biennial or briefly perennial plants (they tend to be short-lived), hollyhocks have such an innate sense of place that it’s rare to see one growing where it ought not to. Such is their screening appeal that the seed strain known as ‘Indian Spring’ was once dubbed the ‘outhouse hollyhock’ because the flower stems were tall enough to hide anything that the householder didn’t wish to be seen. Happy growing in a pocket of soil at the foot of a wall or between paving stones there is surely room for a hollyhock in every garden.

Apricot and yellow hollyhock, Amsterdam, June 2014

My Top Picks from the Botanic Nursery’s Hollyhock Collection:

1) Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’ – the classic black heritage hollyhock. Dark and velvety like Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’.

2) Alcea rosea ‘Spotlight Sunshine’ – a clear yellow cultivar which mingles well with whites, pinks and purples. The spotlight series of hollyhocks is the result of 18 years of German plant engineering and claims to be fully perennial.

3) Alcea rosea ‘Halo Apricot’ – this hollyhock made it into my Top 10 plants at Hampton Court back in 2012. The Halo series was introduced by seed merchants Thompson and Morgan. Each hybrid has attractively bi-coloured flowers. This is one, with it’s fig-like leaves, is of my favourites.Alcea "Halo Apricot" at Hampton Court Flower Show 2012

4) Alcea rosea ‘Appleblossom’ – developed by William Chater (1802-1885), Chater’s Doubles were the first reliably double hollyhocks available on the market and they are still going strong today. Appleblossom, as you might expect, is an attractive soft pink.

5) Alcea rosea ‘Créme de Cassis’ – another double, this time with ruffled flowers the colour of stewed blackcurrants rippled through cream. Delicious.

Other posts about Hollyhocks:

Afternoon Delight

Whitstable beach huts, July 2015

After a night of tumultuous storms, Saturday, the day of our friend Karen’s annual beach hut party, dawned bright and fresh. We made our way to Whitstable on the train and, by way of Regent Street, to the town centre. En route we passed a low brick wall adorned with hessian sacks crammed full of geraniums. The gardener had chosen varieties with gaily patterned leaves, such as ‘Mrs Pollock’, a zonal pelargonium.

Geranium in hessian sack, Whitstable, July 2015

I rather liked this rustic, inexpensive approach to garden decoration.

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In Harbour Street, the fluttering heart of this chichi seaside town, I always stop to admire the narrow plots in front of a row of weatherboarded holiday cottages. They’ve be laid out in the prairie style with grasses, heleniums, Verbena bonariensis and Cephalaria gigantea (in the foreground).

Holiday cottages, Whitstable, July 2015

Visiting this stretch of the Kent coast for the first time, Helen of Oz struggled with the concept of a pebbly beach. In Australia a beach is only a beach if it’s sandy. To add insult to injury there were ‘weeds’ on the foreshore: plants we consider to be wild flowers. Even my pointing out of a yellow horned poppy, Glaucium flavum, failed to impress.

Whitstable, July 2015

Whitstable’s beach is not backed by a fringe of palms or thick eucalyptus forest, but by beach huts and industrial buildings. I rather like this reminder that there’s something gritty behind Whitstable’s facade of fancy shops and restaurants. As the day drew longer I could sense a certain warmth developing between Whitstable and our friend from Oz.

Whitstable, July 2015

We strode out into the Thames estuary following a long gravel spit uncovered by the receding tide and admired the kind of sunset that Turner would have been glad to paint. The sky had the quality of marbled glass lit from behind. On one thing we were both agreed – it was a fitting end to a delightful afternoon.

Whitstable sunset, July 2015

“Some Like it Hot …

Garden of Paradise, Nilufer Danis, Hampton Court 2015

….. and others do not. I am one of the others.” The Frustrated Gardener, July 2015

Visiting Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 35 degrees of heat is not an experience I can recommend or would care to repeat. The trains out of London Waterloo were hotter than a bean tin on a camp fire, the marquees were as humid and airless as the Amazon and after the first day many of the gardens were already looking decidedly frazzled. Throughout the day the double avenues of lime trees parallel to the Long Water provided shelter for weary, sweaty, dust covered show-goers, overheating despite loose layers of linen and wide-brimmed summer hats. A walk across one of the pontoons offered just the remotest chance that one might be sprayed by water from the magnificent fountains. It was hot, damn hot.

Detail of Living Landscapes: Healing Urban Garden, Hampton Court 2015

Even making allowances for my own considerable discomfort, this year’s show gardens were the most disappointing I can recall. Quite how some of them even got off the drawing board I do not know. Funnily enough the gardens that shone were those that paid homage to hotter climes. The Turkish Ministry of Culture & Tourism’s ‘Garden of Paradise’ thoroughly deserved gold and Best World Garden. Designed by Nilufer Danis this garden’s delicious confection of scented roses and lilies was sweeter than anything Fry’s used to make. I loved it.

Garden of Paradise, Nilufer Danis, Hampton Court 2015

It was great to see the transformation of John Warland’s World Vision Garden from flooded rice paddy to ripening grain field. The design’s second incarnation was larger and lusher than the first, criss-crossed by narrow grass paths.

World Vision Garden, John Warland, Hampton Court 2015

World Vision Garden, John Warland, Hampton Court 2015

Equally suited to the searing heat and high humidity was the African Vision: Malawi Garden which was awarded a gold medal. The garden told the story of a nation striving to promote the practice of sustainable planting in order to build resilient communities and combat famine. A field of maize could be viewed inside a mirrored box, giving the impression that the field slid towards infinity.

Africa Vision: Malawi Garden, Gabrielle Evans, Hampton Court 2015

I was utterly transported by True Fair’s Sri Lanka Tranquility Garden designed by the level 2 students at Bicton College. This garden didn’t gain any medals, but was perfectly suited to the tropical heat and shone brilliantly in the hard summer light (unlike my photography).

True Fair: Sri Lanka Tranquility Garden, Hampton Court 2015

The re-configured show ground was muddled and confusing, underlining the show’s lamentable (hopefully not inevitable) transition from world class flower show to provincial country fair. There is a fine balance to be struck between commerciality and horticulture at Hampton Court and in my view the balance has tipped too far towards the former. The result of promoting trade stands to key locations was that many show gardens lacked an appropriate background. Those that floated in island sites really struggled to convince, with the notable exception of Hadlow College’s ‘Green Seam’, which was awarded best show garden.

As you might have deduced by now, I was not enamoured. Salvation came in the shape of Helen of Oz, more accustomed to the furnace-like conditions than I and fabulous company. Laurent Perrier and Belvoir cordials, each refreshing in their own way, were lifesavers. I’d take all of them to my desert island. The only aspect of the show that met my expectations was the floral marquee which was as glorious as ever, packed with remarkable plants and their talented growers. They each demonstrated their tenacity simply by enduring the stifling humidity all day long. Quite how many of the parched, wilting plants purchased yesterday will have made it safely to their new home I don’t know. I’m pleased to report that mine did, but they were overdue a good soak by the time they reached Highgate.

Garden of Paradise, Nilufer Danis, Hampton Court 2015

Having questioned whether Hampton Court Flower Show would be design heaven or style circus, I have to answer that it was neither. An average abberation perhaps. I sincerely hope that 2015, the show’s 25th year, was a case of trying just a little too hard and that we’ll see an improvement in the show gardens and layout next year. A bit of proper English weather wouldn’t go amiss either.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs until Sunday July 5th.

Detail of Living Landscapes: Healing Urban Garden, Hampton Court 2015

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2015: Design Heaven or Style Circus?

The McCarthy and Stone Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw, Hampton Court 2013

Just two days to go until the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show opens to the public and I’ve finally had five minutes to see what the world’s biggest flower show has in store. As with Chelsea, the jury is out for me on this year’s show gardens, with one notable exception, Paul Martin’s ‘Encore – A Music Lover’s Garden’. Hampton Court is unquestionably the more populist show, but this year I fear the RHS may have gone a little too far in attempting to make room for every anniversary, cause and style going. There are no fewer than five categories of show garden this year; Conceptual, Show, Summer, World and Historic, but will this simply be overload? The grounds of Hampton Court Palace certainly provide the backdrop for great design, but I wonder if the show is in danger of becoming something of a horticultural circus.

Essence of Australia celebrates the beauty and diversity Victoria and Northern Territory Flora

Essence of Australia was one of 2014’s showstopping gardens

Happily I can recall more red hot Hampton Court shows than soggy ones and this year looks set to be a scorcher. The forecast suggests we can expect temperatures in the 30s, so if we tire of the gardens we can always lounge by the Long Water sipping champagne. I will be accompanied by Helen of Oz who has timed a business trip to the UK specially so that she can take a day off for the show. With Helen beside me a good time is guaranteed. We will no doubt enjoy a robust exchange of views given that we garden on different sides of the planet. Agapanthus get me wildly excited: they make Helen yawn. I wilt if the mercury exceeds 25: Helen takes off her coat. On one thing we are both agreed: you can’t beat a good English lawn. It’s a pity neither of us can boast of one.

Vestra Wealth's Vista garden, Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2014

Paul Martin’s garden for Vestra Wealth at the 2014 show

Last year Paul Martin’s garden for Vestra Wealth was my personal favourite. This year the designer returns with a new garden in the ‘Show’ category which looks certain to grab my attention again. Working with the same sponsor, Paul’s latest creation is inspired by music, making a focal point of a sandstone amphitheatre where one might sit and enjoy a recital. The garden is inspired by a love of classical music and in particular Handel’s Water Music, which was commissioned by King George I and had its debut on the River Thames.

Paul Martin. Encore - a music lover's garden. Hampton Court 2015

The design for ‘Encore’ is inspired by Handel’s Water Music

Paul Martin. Encore - a music lover's garden. Hampton Court 2015

An sneak preview of Vestra Wealth’s 2015 garden (Photo: Paul Martin)

I can’t recall a time when a garden that was first shown at Chelsea was recreated at Hampton Court in the same year, but I shall not be sorry to see John Warland’s ‘World Vision Garden’ again. It will be fascinating to see if the design has been moved on and an opportunity to share the experience with Helen.

John Warland's World Vision Garden will be reprised at Hampton Court

John Warland’s World Vision Garden will be reprised at Hampton Court

When people think about coal mining in England their thoughts normally travel to County Durham or South Yorkshire, but rarely to East Kent. Hadlow College will be presenting a garden entitled ‘Green Seam’, celebrating the regeneration and revitalisation of Betteshanger, a village situated in the part of East Kent that suffered most following the closure of the Kent coalfields in 1989. Dark colliery spoil will be contrasted with the fresh greens and bright pinks of early summer, demonstrating the speed at which pioneer plant species will colonise hostile environments. I am imagining there will be birches, foxgloves and umbels aplenty.

Green Seam celebrates regeneration in the East Kent coal fields

Green Seam celebrates regeneration in the East Kent coal fields

Other gardens this year include a celebration of the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago, presented by Amnesty International; a garden inspired by A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh; a paradise garden created for the Turkish Ministry of Culture and two designs which will attempt to capture the essence of North America’s great gardens.

The selling of plants at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is both a blessing and curse. A blessing because many of the nation’s finest nurseries are present, a curse because I will buy too many, and so will everyone else. Bare ankles are vulnerable to injuries inflicted by plant trolleys dragged across your path by careless owners, giving all the more reason to use one of the many plant creches. I suppose such minor afflictions keep St John’s Ambulance busy, although this year they are more likely to be dealing with heat stroke.

Hampton Court 2012

Avon Bulbs at Hampton Court Flower Show in 2012

One thing we can be sure of is that there will be variety. Whether it’s pleasing or not we shall soon find out. For those of us in the UK there will be coverage on BBC2 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday (9.30pm) and Friday at 10pm. There are still tickets available on the RHS website. Personally, I am looking forward to a day in the sun, the company of a great friend, a champagne picnic on the grass and an abundance of flowers. What more could one wish for?

Nature takes hold in and around a ruined folly in this naturalistic garden

Nature takes hold in and around a ruined folly in this naturalistic garden (2014)

 

Finding Serenity in Stoke Newington

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For as long as I can recall my uncle has lived in Stoke Newington. Known affectionately as ‘Stokey’ by locals, this appealing enclave in north London began its existence as a small country village in the Middle Ages, before being absorbed into the expanding city during the 19th Century. The newly rich made Stoke Newington their home, building large houses and one of London’s finest cemeteries, Abney Park. But in common with many districts blighted by bombing during WWII, by the 1960s Stoke Newington had fallen from grace, attracting squatters, artists, bohemians, political radicals and ….. my uncle.

Nowadays Stoke Newington finds itself back where it was in the 1800’s. New Age, arty types have long been priced out of the market, releasing a stock of fine Victorian houses to affluent bankers and the comfortably off.  Church Street is home to Whole Foods Market, Jojo Maman Bebe, Foxtons and countless chichi vintage homewares stores, indicators of the ‘right’ kind of customer.

My uncle, an art teacher before he retired and latterly a psychotherapist, remained rooted in Stoke Newington as society shifted around him: an artist for sure, with bohemian leanings. He is one of those few people who will have gardened on the same spot for almost half a lifetime, still gaining the same pleasure and satisfaction from his tiny urban plot as he did when I was 2ft high.

With every passing year my uncle tends, observes and hones his garden, making little adjustments here, adding a plant there, moving another somewhere it might grow better. He displays all the discipline I lack, not wantonly cramming the garden with any plant that captures his imagination, but refining what he has, creating the perfect balance, taking his time. The result is a tranquil garden for all seasons, a space that feels composed and relaxing. Measuring approximately 16ft by 25ft there are many angles from which the garden can be appreciated and always something different to see. The constants are a fine Trachycarpus, a purple-leaved plum, a well cared for agave and a side passageway lushly planted with ferns. The leafy infill changes a little from year to year, but not enough to spoil the equilibrium.


I am not sure if it’s the Buddhist teachings he follows, the relative austerity of his younger life, his natural patience or his years of experience which incline my uncle to garden in this thoughtful manner. Perhaps his approach could be described as ‘slow gardening’. Judging by the results I think perhaps I could do with a change of pace.


 

A Year in the Vegetable Garden

Vegetable garden from across the pond, London, June 2015

We would not describe ourselves as vegetable gardeners, at least not yet, but since we completed a project to build raised beds in our London garden almost a year ago we have been experimenting with growing our own. Setting up a vegetable garden in June or July would not be described as best practice. Nevertheless in our first season we did well with tomatoes, Venetian beans, lettuce, oriental leaves and most commonly cultivated herbs. I was especially chuffed with the profusion of French tarragon, my favourite herb, which added incredible flavour to boiled potatoes, chicken and egg dishes. Despite Him Indoors accidentally yanking the plants out when I wasn’t looking in the autumn, fragments of root have quickly sent up new shoots and we are back in production again.

Thyme and Tulbaghia, London, June 2015

Tomatoes were super successful, just four plants trained against a brick wall providing all we needed for salads, cooking and chutney making. They were a little late, but not dramatically so. This year we have made room for eight plants of 4 different varieties (F1 ‘Elegance’, F1 ‘Giulietta’, ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Orange Paruche’), which means we should have plenty to give away later in the year.

It has not all been plain sailing. I thought courgettes would revel in the mounds of manure we incorporated into the soil, but the embryonic fruits kept rotting at the tips and no more than two or three found their way into the kitchen. Sweet corn was an unmitigated disaster, planted way too late and proving a complete waste of time and space. Broadbeans, planted by Him Indoors last autumn, have produced a modest crop this month, but to satisfy us for more than two or three meals we’d need to oust everything else. I like broadbeans, but not that much. The jury is out on leeks, which appear rather slow to do anything at all. If they don’t show promise soon they’ll be pulled out in favour of something I can’t readily buy at Waitrose.

And there’s the rub. If you are seriously restricted space-wise what is the point in growing fruit and veg that are easily bought in the shops? Yes, you know where they’ve been, but where’s the satisfaction? Instead of going down the obvious route we are experimenting with things we don’t find at the greengrocer – colourful tomato varieties, outdoor cucumbers, red-veined sorrel, purple French beans and asparagus peas. Of the regular stuff only gem lettuce, salad leaves and rocket remain, good crops for squeezing in between slower foods.

Vegetable garden from across the pond, London, June 2015

Where pests and diseases are concerned, so far, so good. Naturally we have slugs and snails (who doesn’t?) but other afflictions have been minimal. I tend to think this may be because none of our neighbours grow vegetables and therefore blights, root flies and mildews are taking longer to find our tender harvest. Crop rotation in a single bed of about 7m sq with a distinct sunny and shady side will be nigh on impossible. Next year I will move the tomatoes to the back of the bed, but any further and they’ll be next door amongst the buddleia.

I toyed with planting step-over apple trees against the mellow brick walls. I have not entirely abandoned this idea, but am discovering that seedlings at the end of a row nearest the wall develop twice as fast. I am guessing this is down to the warmth and shelter the wall provides. Now that I have a mini greenhouse I need to get very much better at growing on a few plants in modules so that no space is ever wasted.

Little Gem lettuce, London, June 2015

I have not been able to resist slipping in a few flowering plants, but the confines of our raised beds dictate they must be of the most upright, space-saving kind. Last year it was cosmos (too bushy according to Him Indoors) and this year I’ve planted lime green and burgundy gladioli. A vegetable garden without blooms is a worthy one, but not pretty enough when it’s the only thing you can see from the kitchen window. Our little vegetable garden may not be Villandry (click here for a superb post on that iconic garden at Jardin Design), but it might make kitchen gardeners of us yet.

Daily Flower Candy: Convolvulus sabatius

Convolvulus sabatius, The Watch House, June 2015

Mention the name bindweed and the first thing that springs to mind is one of gardeners’ greatest horrors, hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium). Undoubtedly beautiful in flower, hedge bindweed is a thug and is welcomed only into the wildest of gardens by the bravest of gardeners.

Altogether tamer, docile in fact, is blue rock bindweed, Convolvulus sabatius (also known as C. mauritanicus). An extremely polite customer, this small, scrambling plant stays in one place, flooding the ground around it with pools of delicately creased blue flowers. They start to unfurl at the end of May and often persist until November. I have grown Convolvulus sabatius in our coastal garden for many years now, giving each plant a haircut in autumn and then again in April. The trailing stems, cascading down our slate walls, tend to get tossed about like a bad comb-over during winter, so a trim keeps the plants tidy.

Convolvulus sabatius, The Watch House, June 2015

In the UK Convolvulus sabatius is commonly sold as a annual for hanging baskets and containers. This is often the cheapest way to obtain plants, but in the south of England you will find them perfectly hardy and reliable as perennials. Blue rock bindweed does not wander or set seed, simply making a stronger clump year after year. For best results plant somewhere that enjoys sunshine for at least half the day. Positioning at the top of a wall or slope gives the trailing stems a chance to show themselves off. Once established Convolvulus sabatius needs almost no maintenance and is very drought tolerant. If it does outgrow its allotted space then I give it a haircut and new shoots quickly appear – in a good season I might do this a couple of times. The flowers close in the evening and when they’re over they roll themselves up into tight twists like little Rizla papers before dropping. Their colour is an exceptionally pretty mauvish-blue, which works well with hotter pinks and yellows.

With its lens-shutter flowers and good manners Convolvulus sabatius is a bindweed I could never banish to the fringes of my garden.

Convolvulus sabatius, The Watch House, June 2015

GROW London 2015

Petersham Nurseries, Grow London, June 2015

A post about GROW London, the capital’s newest, freshest garden show, is one of the many that never found its way out of my drafts folder last summer. This is very remiss of me as GROW London really is worth shouting about. Coming a month after Chelsea, the show bookends the June Gap, providing Londoners with a timely opportunity to add blooms to their balconies, tart up their terraces or augment their allotments with the choicest gardening gear.

Eryngium 'Neptune's Gold', Grow London, June 2015

I snapped up tickets for the Charity Gala evening, which benefits the National Gardens Scheme. The weather tonight was perfect: warm and sunny with a refreshing breeze. The very essence of summer. The show ground, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, is perfect for attracting affluent north Londoners who arrived in their droves, decked in crisply pressed linen and floral shirts – oversized sunglasses compulsory.

Zinnias and cornflowers, Petersham Nurseries, Grow London, June 2015

The show runs from Friday 19th June until Sunday 21st June and is just the right size for a half day out including a spot of lunch. Drinks this evening were laid on by Nyetimber, the finest of English sparkling wines and a favourite of The Queen. I had to have a few glasses to be sure it was good enough for Her Majesty. This year sees the return of many exhibitors, suggesting last year was a commercial success. Top of my list to see were Crûg Farm Plants from North Wales, Evolution Plants from Somerset and Niwaki, the Japanese tool company. None disappointed.

Tools ny Niwaki, Grow London, June 2015

This year London garden centres, of which there are pitifully few, are better represented. W6 and N1 Garden centres created a lush display of creatively potted plants balanced on ladders and shelves. A visit is seriously overdue, something I must remedy. If their stand is anything to go by, I am in for a treat.

W6 and N1 Garden Centre, Grow London, June 2015

Petersham Nurseries, always in a league of its own, created a romantic bower, surrounded by frothy plants and heavily scented roses.

Petersham Nurseries, Grow London, June 2015

Website Gardenista hosted a mini market packed with artisan producers including 31 Chapel Lane, offering beautiful Irish linen gardening smocks and tea towels. I was encouraged to enter the Gardenista Considered Design Awards, which is a competition you might like to consider entering yourself. You’ll need to be quick as the closing date is Monday June 22nd.

Gardenista Market, Grow London, June 2015

If you are in London this weekend you should make a bee-line for GROW London. Just have the good sense to take a cab home with your purchases – 4ft scenicos are easily caught in train doors ;-).

The Damage

  1. Begonia luxurians x 2 – dazzling Brazilian begonia with long, finger-like leaves.
  2. Senecio christobalensis – an extraordinary, furry-leaved giant
  3. Tweedia caerulea – divine tender climber with turquoise flowers
  4. Saxifraga stolonifera – beautiful spreading saxifrage with dark leaves and pink flowers like tiny butterflies
  5. Ludisia discolor – jewel orchid. An indoor orchid with maroon, veined leaves and white flowers

A special shout out for Glendon Nursery, growers of the above, who’s stand was as exciting as finding a rich aunt’s jewellery box in the attic. Plants to die for.

Planted vintage teapot, Grow London, June 2015