Garden Diary

Winter Inspiration at Painshill Park

As a gardener, i'm used to being outside every day, and despite the protestations of my 7 year old, we made the most of the sunshine and went for another walk today.

We are spoiled by great Scenery and landscapes locally in the Surrey Hills, but today's venue is a little more manufactured than the walks on the North Downs.


Painshill park was created as a romantic landscape by Charles Hamilton in the 18th Century. The trees and shrubs collected from all over the world, frame the wonderful lakes and valleys, and include a vineyard and a NCCPG heritage collection of plants.  It fell into ruin after the 2nd World War, but has been fully renovated in the last 30 years, including the follies and Towers, and is now a fantastic place for a walk, and inspiration.


This water wheel is used to raise water from the nearby river to fill the lakes and cascades, - but with the river in flood today, it was spinning but not raising water.

This Turkish tent which dominates the view down the valley is not actually a temporary structure like it looks, but a solid folly designed to be a place for vistors to have rest and tea, and look back over the valley.


If you'd like to visit Painshill during this month, they have a free entry offer every Wednesday in January

Whatever the weather

My lovely hubby doesn't get a mention very often on this blog, - but in 2011, he's got a lot more interested in gardening, - particularly community gardening with Grace and Flavour. This means that this year for Birthday and Christmas, the gadgets that he's bought can be much more garden related.


He's been eyeing up the weather station that my Mum and Dad have for months, - so we now have one of our own attached to our greenhouse.

The weather is always a topic for conversation amongst gardeners. I know that I don't have to get out of bed in the morning but just have to look at my twitter feed to see what early rising gardeners all over the country are making of the morning conditions and how they relate to what they'll be doing today. - Now we can join in and tell people what the wind speed is, - how much rain has fallen, the humidity and pressure plus what the temperature is. All without leaving the kitchen of course (benefits of wireless technology).

Now this morning for instance the temperature has risen to a balmy 5.9 degrees C, from frozen - so it's time for me to go and do some weeding.

Hampton Court flower show 2011- my show garden highlights

I spent a lovely day at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, with my friend Helen today. As we were unemcumbered by other halves, we were able to focus solely on plants and gardening, with no gadgets or time out for posh lunches needed, - so here are my thoughts about the gardens which we had time to look at in detail.

This is the Tudor Rose winning (best in show) I am, because of who we are, by Caroline Comber with Petra Horackova. I loved the planting, - not least because there would be something there all  year round with the Bergenia and Euphorbia. Not that those Digitalis would have room to seed for next year.

The rusty metal curves were very striking, and that material was used again in the Vesta Wealth's Gary's Garden by Paul Martin


The Blue agapanthus in this garden were stunning and the pathway, really led you round, although I wasn't that keen on the Pavilion.

This clear Blue was used again with a stunning yellow daylily in this small garden, - the name of which I completly missed, - if someone can let me know i'd be grateful. (Update, thanks to Michelle of Vegplotting, I now know that this is the Deptford Project Garden, An Urban Harvest)

I love that thyme path.

There were several more paths that I noticed. - This Hoggin style surface and planting would look great in a communal space, and I wanted to stroke that sculpture.


This path was also impressive, - even more so when you realise that instead of being raked gravel, it is a resin bound surface. I found out as I watched someone walking over the ridges, - and they didn't move. - Low maintenance design at its best, - just blow away any trimmings from the Buxus balls


I've watched Fiona Stephenson's WWF's garden being built, via Blog posts from Lisa Cox, and on Landscape Juice, so it was great to see the finished product with clear chalk stream - a very successful combination of wild without being too messy.

And from very clear water, to very black water

I wasn't the only person thinking "how would you cut that grass" - on the World Vision Garden.

Best bright colour award. Has to go to the Control the Uncontrollable garden.- Designer Jill Foxley - The 2nd time a pink tap has been shown at HC to highlight this cause.


And last but by no means least (although there is no photo for obvious reasons) was the Garden by night, which we walked past 2ce, before seeing the queue to go in. This Cube lighting sponsored display (designed by Kari Beardsell) is a light excluded marquee. It shows how lighting can make a garden usuable at night, and I was suitably impressed by the different styles of eco friendly LED lights highlighting shurbs, trees and scented bedding like Nicotiana. The entrance to this is opposite the Chalk Stream WWF garden, - and I would really advise a visit.

If you're visiting this week, I hope you have a great time, - My normal park and ride carpark (Tiffin's sport field) was closed this year, so I used the Kingston Grammar sports field (£6) and took the ferry across the river (£1.80 each way) - lovely and near to the gate, and we parked in the shade, so highly recommended.

Drought or Drowning

I'm sitting at my desk watching the rain hammering down outside. After no rain in March, April and May, now summer has started, we're really making up for it.


The plants in the ground are loving it. With sunshine between the showers, it is perfect growing weather for them. But if you have seedlings that you've taken outside to harden off, you now need to take them out of their drip trays, or you'll risk drowning them.

These lavenders needed to be rescued from a 2 inch well of water in their propagator tray. If the weather gets hot again though, i'll pop them back in the tray as small pots and plug trays can dry out very quickly.

Inspiration and wonderful views.

Surrey is still baking in the sun, and really it's too dry to do any planting at the moment. But now is a fantastic time to get inspiration and ideas about what planting combinations really work and stand up to drought.

With that in mind, I jumped at an invitation to visit RHS Hyde Hall

The Setting is an exposed hill top in Essex, in one of the driest areas of the country. The soil is underlying clay, so soggy in the winter, but bone hard in the summer.

Amazingly Hyde Hall has more land than Wisley (a fact I didn't know until today and a lovely tour by Ian Bull the Garden Manager), and has had a new visitor centre and entrance created in the last couple of years.

So here were some of my first impressions




Garden design tips learnt from a Surrey Bluebell wood

We've just been for a walk to our local bluebell wood at Hatchlands.


I've written about the Bluebells here in past years, - In 2009 I was pointing out that most bluebells in gardens rather than woodlands are imposters. in 2010 I was enthusing about living in the country near to nature (and I got them at exactly the right moment, so got some lovely pics)

This year, it's still April, but the Bluebells were slightly further over than last year, and it made me think about the following design points that can be taken from this kind of Nature spectacle

1) - Don't count on a particular variety of plant being out for an anniversary. - Last year it was the 11th May that the bluebells were in full bloom, - this year, it's the 24th April, and the hot dry weather has speeded up their flowering, by 3 weeks on last year. - If you take that into a garden border design you are unlikely to get the same Rose, Tulip,Geranium or Iris to be flowering at the same time every year. - A mixture of slightly different varieties of the same thing, will get you a wider flowering span.

But on the other hand

2) - One or 2 plants combined (in the bluebell woods, this was Hyacinthoides non scripta and Ferns) can look Stunning. - BUT only for a short space of time. - Think most Chelsea flower show gardens.

and to get a  stunning show

3) It takes time, to create a garden, or in this case a woodland. The most stunning displays are never in the first couple of years and a garden needs to develop. The more plants you put in, the quicker it will get there, but patience is a virtue in gardening.


Happy Easter


Family Sunday's - Cooking, Sowing seeds and coffee with friends


I love family Sunday's, - those days where you have nothing planned, and you get to slob around and do your favourite at home things.

Today was one of those days, - a lie in, a visit to a garden centre and farm shop, (Garson's in Esher since you wondered) Coffee with friends (and a chance to show off the new kitchen), then a whole afternoon in the greenhouse.

My new chickens are not fully part of my garden yet, as they still havn't fully figured out that the slugs I give them are a treat that they should run and grab from me, - but we gave them a good clean out in the hope that the two that are currently rather hen pecked (Rapunzel and Cinderella) will finally manage to beat the boss (Fiona - think Shrek movies) to the food, and have enough energy to lay us some eggs.

I'm growing lots of salads at the moment, - partly because for the 3rd year running I want to be self sufficient on the salad leaves front, and partly because of my Herbs and Salads Workshop in a couple of weeks. This afternoon, I gave all my overwintering salads a good water. Then I planted up into troughs or pots, or out into my veg beds all the salads which I sowed in mid October and were now bursting out of their seed trays. Tatsoi, Arctic King Lettuce, Chervil, Parsley, Rocket, Mizuna, Mustard and Coriander are all mini leaves now, but will be giving good harvests on a weekly basis by the middle of March.

I then started off the spring salad crops which I hope will start feeding me in 6-8 weeks time - the middle of the hungry gap. - (Mustard, Hearting lettuces, Salad Bowl lettuces, Mizuna Red Knight, mixed lettuce leaves, wild Rocket, Beetroot, mini Carrots Mignon, plus broad Beans and Kelvedon Wonder Peas)

I came in from the garden as it got dark, just in time to finish off the Sunday roast chicken, - the only shame being that the pigeons ate the calabrese in the snow, so it was shop bought veggies this week.

What's your ideal Sunday, - and does it involve cooking or gardening?

Planning for 2011 - Borders full of flowers without the full price cost

In February, (wow, nearly here already!) the garden is often looking at its drabest. No leaves remaining on the deciduous bushes or trees, seedheads that looked fantastic in the Autumn are now rather bedraggled, border perennials have been cut back, (and if they havn't been, look out for my post about winter border clearance soon) and although the bulbs are starting to poke through the ground, a lot of borders are empty of plants. But for me, February is a great playtime for making new plants. Seed sowing, division and cuttings can start off in earnest, and from this early season start there will be harvest of flowers this year.


So this week, ahead of a mammouth seed sowing and gardening weekend, my priorities will be

1) sort through my seed boxes, - work out all the vegetable and flower seeds that can be sown in February and set them aside

2) get together all the recycled containers that i'll be using for my sowings and divisions. This would normally mean a visit to the Squires recycling crate for pots and trays, - plus gathering together all the leftover loo rolls and fruit containers that make wonderful seed trays


3) and go back through my photos of my borders last summer. So that I can work out what was taking up too much room and could be split.


If you havn't taken photos, by this time of year, it is very hard to believe that your border will fill out in the summer


So as with all things in life, planning is the key, and i'll be burning the midnight oil, as I plan that my garden will be its best ever 2011


Tomato review 2010

it's over a month now since I harvested the last of my tomatoes, but those that were still green have been gradually ripening on the window sill, so i've been busy using them up.

Here's my review of what I liked and what worked well for me in 2010.


last year I grew 5 types of tomatoes, this year I went slightly over the top and grew 10.

My favourite for the year by far was new to me and was suggested at my Sarah Raven vegetable course earlier in the year. - Red Alert was easy to grow (pictured above), and produced medium sized red tomatoes with lots of flesh, - ideal for tomato soups and sauces. - I'd been told that a down side was that it tended to all ripen at the same time, but I had the first ones before I went on holiday in July, and harvested the last 4 green on the 27th September and they are still in the fridge (still looking healthy) ready to be used. The only problem that I found was that very few of the seeds that I germinated as Red Alert, actually turned out to be that variety, - the others were probably Gardeners delight and were a lot smaller,- don't know if it was miss labelling ( by me when sowing) or a dodgy lot of seeds.

Continue reading "Tomato review 2010" »

Community gardening at its best

I've had the most fantastic day full of gardening, and I only got 1/2 an hour of weeding done in my own garden. I've spent the rest of the day at Grace and Flavour.

Do you remember how empty the garden looked back in April?

Well now after 6 months of hard teamwork, the garden looks completely different, and full of crops


Continue reading "Community gardening at its best" »