Those of you wondering where The Frustrated Gardener has got to need not worry. I am alive and kicking in China, having just been to a magnificent Japanese teppanyaki restaurant with Taiwanese hosts. Consequently I am feeling thoroughly indulged and very international. There has been no let up in the schedule so, alas, no botanising, which grieves me greatly. Lacking any photographs of Chinese gardens to share with you, I am following tonight’s cuisine and reminding myself of the beautiful work of Japanese designer Kazuyuki Ishihara. His garden at Chelsea this year, entitled ‘Paradise on Earth’, demonstrated typical mastery of the art, capturing a perfect, tranquil scene in a space just a few metres square. I feel rested, peaceful and at one with nature just looking at it again. I hope you feel the same. よく眠る (I Sleep Well).
If you’ve ever passed a gorse bush on a cliff top or heath and wondered why it’s covered in something resembling a blanket woven from strawberry bootlaces, then you’ve encountered one of Britain’s most curious plants, Cuscuta epithymum, otherwise known as dodder.
Dodder begins its annual lifecycle in spring when it germinates and twines around a host plant, preferably a gorse bush (Ulex europaeus), heather (Calluna vulgaris) or clover (Trifolium spp). Once the dodder has become established its lower stems wither, effectively leaving the young plant high and dry. All is not lost, because suckers on the dodder’s wandering, chlorophyll-free threads penetrate the stem of the host, allowing the dodder to live as a parasite. It then spreads rapidly, often completely smothering its unwitting victim.
The whispy, red-pigmented strands are not designed to photosynthesise and become even more interesting when spangled with clusters of tiny pinkish-white flowers in summer. Dodder is one of life’s survivors, a unique energy-sapping oddity which occupies a unique place in our island’s flora.
These photographs taken in Zennor, West Cornwall, in September 2014.
These juicy shots are principally for the delight and delectation of my Aussie friend Helen, who is a great proponent of all sorts of heritage fruit and vegetables. For the first time in many years we have grown tomatoes outside in London, planted in raised beds. They have kept us in petite red and gold fruits since August, with lots more to come. We have room for double the number of plants next year, so I can be more adventurous with my choice of varieties. Spurring me on is this super assortment of fruits purchased at Broadstairs Food Festival at the weekend. They were grown locally at Thanet Earth, the UK’s largest greenhouse complex, and taste as good as they look. Him Indoors has been making soups and pasta sauces with them, but they’re amazing simply sliced and sprinkled with salt, balanced on lightly grilled, olive oil-drizzled Italian bread. Heaven!
More sweet and savoury goings on tomorrow when I visit the RHS London Harvest Festival Show in the Lindley Hall.
I’ve just come in from the garden, where the temperature has dropped dramatically since lunchtime. A brisk, rain-laden breeze has whipped up, carrying away summer’s last whispers. I fear autumn is finally here. This means one thing – it’s time to prepare the garden for winter and spring.
Stoic dahlias are plodding on, albeit with slightly smaller flowers now, and my late planted lilies are going strong. Fat buds of Lilium ‘Tarrango’ are about to burst open to reveal shocking pink flowers – something to look forward to next weekend before I head off to China. Lilium ‘Kushi Maya’ is making great friends with Dahlia ‘Twyning’s After Eight’ and Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ in a threesome I hadn’t planned, but which works well. The blooms of Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ have been tragically short-lived; they flopped and turned brown after a warm week and won’t be seen again until next September. Following on is the lovely single crocus, C. speciosus ‘Conqueror’ which has graceful, violet-blue flowers. I think I prefer the crocus to the colchicum, although the corms need more light and greater freedom than I can offer them. On the kitchen worktop, Fuchsia arborescens is doing a great impression of a lilac, forming a 1m high shrub covered in big heads of clear pink blossom.
I had expected Ipomoea indica to drop down a gear as the nights drew in and cooled, but not a bit of it. Ultramarine trumpets are now coming thick and fast as this vigorous climber rails against the ageing year. Likewise, Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ seems to be throwing up gigantic new leaves with abandon. It’s not known as ‘elephant ear’ for nothing. The merest sniff of frost will reduce the leaves to pulp, but I shall enjoy their water repellent darkness while they last.
A dry day tomorrow should allow for some bulb planting. A box containing Fritillaria ‘William Rex’ is stinking out our entrance hall, permeating every corner with its special blend of fox and marajuna. I can’t see Tom Ford releasing this particular fragrance any time soon. Narcissi won’t wait much longer either and need planting now. No time to waste as the winds of change blow winter ever closer.
‘Lilies in October!?’ I hear you exclaim. Maybe in the southern hemisphere, but not in England, surely? Well yes actually, these wonderful, fragrant flowers are in full bloom in our coastal garden now. The reason? The bulbs were purchased at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in early July and have taken until now to grow and flower. And very welcome they are too with their fabulous scent, mingling with Cestrum nocturnum (also, rather suggestively, known as ‘Lady of the night’), filling these balmy autumn evenings with a heady concoction of sweetness and spice.
Lilium ‘Kushi Maya’ is a ground-breaking hybrid created by Dutch breeders using cutting-edge embryo recovery techniques. A flower of shy but beautiful Lilium nepalense was pollinated with pollen from an Oriental hybrid and the resulting embryos nurtured in a test tube to prevent them being aborted. All a little unromantic, but what remarkable offspring. L. ‘Kushi Maya’ retains its species parent’s fabulous apple and blackberry colouring, but gains strength and stamina from its hybrid genes. Given an acidic soil (or compost) and a year or so to get going, the bulbs produce stems up to 1.5m tall, each adorned with a number of gently nodding, backswept flowers. Planted late it makes a great companion for damson-coloured dahlias such as D. ‘Arabian Night’ or Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’. Alternatively, set against a background of plummy foliage this special lily is guaranteed to create a little bit of autumn ecstasy.
These flowers may faintly resemble those of a Nymphaea, but here the resemblance of Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ to an aquatic plant ends. Like other colchicums, the flowers of C. ‘Waterlily’ emerge naked, buxom and blushing from fecund, cinnamon-coloured bulbs each autumn. They prefer a well-drained soil, which remains moist rather than wet in summer, and full sun or light shade. Introduced in 1928 C. ‘Waterlily’ is unusual in that it has fully double petals. This makes the flowers rather top-heavy, so it’s best to grow them through ground cover plants, such as vinca, so that the blooms don’t collapse onto the ground and get spoilt.
I like to grow these luscious beauties in a terracotta pot, which allows me to display them in a prominent position when flowering and hide them away in spring as soon as the ungainly leaves emerge. A top-dressing of horticultural grit gives a modicum of protection from slugs, and prevents any compost splashing onto the petals. Like other colchicums, a faint chequerboard pattern can be seen in the petals when the light is behind them. The freshness and vitality of C. ‘Waterlily’, at a time when all else is waning, is very welcome and provides a wonderful contrast to crisp, fallen, autumn leaves.
On the steep sides of the Helford River in Cornwall lie two famous gardens, as similar in style as the two halves of a 1920’s semi. The likeness is not so surprising when you discover that both were influenced by the same family at a crucial point in their development. The Foxes, a large, wealthy quaker dynasty, created at least six of Cornwall’s finest gardens. Being shipping agents, they were well placed to organise the transportation of thousands of new species to England. Their neighbouring gardens offered ideal conditions for plants from warm temperate regions of the world, with fine houses at their heads, warm valleys sheltered valleys in their midst and waves lapping at their feet. Their names were Glendurgan and Trebah.
When Trebah first opened to the public in 1987 it put the National Trust’s Glendurgan in the shade. Here was a ‘new’ garden being bravely rescued from an uncertain fate. There was no visitor centre, no smart guide book and little in the way of interpretation. Trebah was The Lost Gardens of Heligan before Tim Smit had even set his sights on rescuing them. It was an exciting and brave development on an otherwise established garden scene. Back then I was still in my teens and I loved Trebah for not being as stuffy as Glendurgan, which had been open to paying visitors for many years.
Fast forward to 2014 and Trebah has in many ways become as prim and proper as its neighbour. It is still a fine garden, full of fine plants, but has somehow lost its magic. It is not my style to be critical of gardens, the pleasure in which is such a personal thing, but in this instance I confess to being disappointed. The visitor centre, comprising a very good cafe and less praise-worthy gift shop, feels overly extravagant for a garden of this scale. Named the Hibbert Centre after Major Tony Hibbert, who donated the house and garden to the Trebah Garden Trust, the building cost over £1M to construct. However it’s Trebah’s branding that offends me the most. The garden’s logo, fashioned in an unpleasant combination of bright purple and emerald green, has been devised in a style I could only describe as ‘provincial leisure centre chic’. It is entirely at odds with the garden and one can only imagine that the designer must have been asked to come up with something ‘trendy’. Adding insult to injury, it is repeated continually on too many irrelevant and repetitive pieces of signage and interpretation. The National Trust must be wondering what drove their neighbour to put up the graphical equivalent of stone cladding.
Sadly, and I will be kind shortly, the garden trust’s latest project, a lofty amphitheatre, smacks of well-intentioned folly. Stark, hard-edged and miles from the carpark, one wonders how well this feature will be used and if the money might not have been more wisely employed elsewhere in the garden, or on a rebranding exercise. One hopes that appropriate planting, moss and lichen will quickly soften the granite blocks, but I still question the appeal of such a monument for the vast majority of regular visitors.
At this point I will get back to the plants, which is what this blog is all about. Entering the garden at the foot of the top terrace, visitors are greeted by a fine collection of mediterranean shrubs, agaves, aeoniums, echiums and other tender exotics. Notable among these are Kniphofia rooperi and Grevillea victoriae. These foreign imports appreciate the more open, well drained conditions found in this part of the garden and flourish outside all year round. The path winds up, past lush clumps of hydrangea and hedychium, to a crystal-clear koi pond fed by spring water and fringed with tree ferns.
The pond flows over into a narrow channel which feeds Trebah’s water garden, completed in 2010. This is an altogether more appropriate feature which blazes with primulas, zantedeschia and lysichiton in spring , mellowing to shady green as the year progresses. Pops of colour are introduced for autumn in the form of golden rudbeckias and Lobelia tupa. Venerable tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) are everywhere at Trebah, some having been planted as long ago as 1880 when Charles Fox took delivery of no less that 300 trunks shipped over from New South Wales.
From the water garden a path meanders through dense thickets of tree fern, giant rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) and bamboos to what must be one of the greatest swathes of mop-head hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) in the country. Again, I have to admit this feature is not particularly to my taste, the bumpy landscape created by the dumpy bushes adding up to a rather ill-defined and crude scene. Most visitors appear to love it, and during late summer it’s one of Trebah’s biggest attractions. I will temper my dismissiveness of the hydrangeas by praising another new feature, a Monet-style bridge over the Mallard Pond, which greatly improves the view of the garden from where it meets the sea at The Didi, back up to the house.
Trebah’s diminutive beach, affectionately know as ‘Yankee Beach’, has seen more action than most. During World War II, it was used by the 29th US Infantry Division, comprising some 7,500 men, to launch an assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy. The back of the beach remains concreted over from that time, but the views out into the Helford River and to the sea beyond are beautiful at any time of year.
I have been hard on Trebah, but I mean well and would still encourage you to visit. Here is a garden which has a remarkable history and a bright future, but which needs something other than expensive amphitheatres to recapture the raw magic it possessed 25 years ago. It’s time to take the stone cladding down and invest in a can or two of Farrow and Ball … you just need to look next door to see that I’m right.
Click here to visit Trebah’s website and experience that lovely logo first hand!
It’s always nice to be noticed, and even nicer to be appreciated. Today I am walking tall and smiling like the Cheshire Cat as not one, not two, but three organisations have good things to say about The Frustrated Gardener.
First off, my company magazine ‘The Gazette’ has written a lovely profile about me and my hobby and passion, gardening. This involved a two hour photoshoot in our London garden which was terrific fun and the nearest I’ll come to being a supermodel. David Gandy need not watch his back!
Secondly, the team at Notcutts Garden Centres have nominated The Frustrated Gardener for their 2014 ‘Notcutts Loves’ blog awards in the category ‘urban gardening’. I hadn’t really considered myself an urban gardener before, but I guess it’s fitting for someone who tends two town gardens. If you’d like to cast a vote in my favour, or eye up the competition, click here.
And, last but not least, the website UK Doors Direct has included The Frustrated Gardener in their Top 10 gardening blogs. I had no idea about the accolade until I started to spot visitors coming from their website, but I am delighted to find myself in the company of so many great blogs. If you are a new visitor and like what you find, why not follow me?
The Big Time? Maybe not, but it makes for one very happy Frustrated Gardener.
Before the Second World War kniphofias, better known as red hot pokers, were one of Britain’s most popular garden plants. They sustained gardeners’ Victorian fascination with the exotic, whilst enduring our less than alluring weather. The Dig for Victory campaign saw flower gardens ploughed up from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, making way for vegetable plots. With them went many old varieties which were never returned to cultivation.
One of the most impressive red hot pokers, and one which survived the war years, is Kniphofia rooperi. Flowering through the autumn, it is much less less widely grown than common-or-garden summer flowering cultivars. This is a pity, as K. rooperi has sufficient charm, stature and staying-power to make it a garden mainstay.
To begin with K. rooperi is evergreen, with robust, arching, dark green leaves that build into a dense, architectural clump. Then there are the flowers – chunky, bottle-brushes that start out a soft tangerine and eventually fade to lemon yellow at the tips. In low autumn light they glow and fizz like Roman candles, rising 4ft or more above the ground in close succession.
A native of South Africa, K. rooperi was was once considered doubtfully hardy, however experience now reassures garderners that it can survive unscathed in pretty much any garden in the country. Of course, like most garden plants this red hot poker likes a well drained soil and consistent moisture, plus protection from the worst of the elements. Drought may inhibit flowering. These simple conditions satisfied, feel free to light the blue touch paper and stand back for an explosive autumn display.
Photographs taken at Trebah Gardens and Trengwainton, Cornwall, in mid September.
Rarely do I find myself lost for words but tonight, as I consider my return to work and the inevitability of autumn, I feel a little subdued. This is a far cry from my elation earlier today when Ipomoea indica AGM (blue dawn flower) finally deigned to produce a pair of its short-lived flowers on a day when we were in residence. This rampant tropical rambler has been producing enormous ultramarine trumpets for the last six weeks, unfurling from buds as tight as a gent’s umbrella, teasing us at weekends when we return home to find spent blooms littering the front doorstep. It was worth the wait …. the snapshots say it all.