Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rach gets a VIB (Very Important Blogger) tour

I must remember to arrange visitors at frequent intervals next year, because there's nothing like an impending guest to make one scurry round the garden and tidy up. Today, the guest was Rach, of The Big Sofa blog, who lives down the road from me (give or take a few roads) in Tooting. For some reason, probably because her blog is called The Big Sofa, I'd expected someone built along Wagnerian lines, dressed in floral chintz or damask, but in fact Rach is a petite brunette.
She bears absolutely no resemblance to a guinea pig either, but she willingly offered her services as taster for my husband Craig's tablet, a traditional Scottish sweet that tastes a bit like fudge. (Craig is making it to sell at the garden opening.)
It was lovely to meet Rach, not least because she works for Radio Four, to which I am addicted, but also because it is always so nice to have an intelligent conversation with someone about gardening. Let's face it, that's why we all blog, isn't it?
I showed her the garden, and encouraged her to have a pond ("All you need is a half-barrel, Rach!") As if to assist me in my efforts, the frog that lives in my second pond, a huge glazed bowl nearly a yard in diameter, dutifully posed on the edge. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at that point, which is a shame because he's an extremely helpful frog. Goodness knows why he prefers that bowl to the big pond, but he does, and he always has at least one froggy friend in there with him. Last year, when the garden was open, he sat all afternoon by the side of his pond, much to the delight of all the children who came.
Rach and I, on the other hand, sat at the garden table, and drank our tea and chatted, and sampled the tablet, and the sun came out, and for a brief moment it seemed as if it really was summer. So thank you, Rach, for a lovely afternoon.

Hidden amongst all this is the frog pond. It's difficult to photograph, which probably means that I should rearrange the planting in some way. Next year...

Yucca gloriosa variegata looking extremely glorious. In front is a flourish of Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'George Davison'

Canna x generalis 'Durban' steps into the spotlight in the early evening sun. The cannas don't need staking; the canes are to stop greedy pigeons landing on them, because they're quite near the bird feeders. I must remember to remove the canes when people come round

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An introduction to Pushkin

It's really rather rude of me not to have introduced you to my cat. He's a Russian Blue, a breed characterised by their grey fur and green eyes, so naturally we thought it was a frightfully witty, original idea to give him a Russian name. He is called Pushkin, after the great Russian writer and poet, Alexandr Sergeyevich Pushkin. Pushkin, pusskin, geddit? A quick trawl on the internet will show you that practically every other Russian Blue in the world is called Pushkin. So much for witty and original.
I did suggest other names, but these were shouted down by my children as being ridiculous or pretentious. I thought we could call him Dusty, short for Dostoevsky, which would be particularly suitable as he is the colour of those dust rabbits that lurk under the sofa. Or Khat, short for Khatchaturian. I was quite proud of this one, but it provoked particularly violent, pretend-sick, finger-down-the-throat reactions from the offspring. (Probably just as well: Khachaturian was born in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, so although he is considered a Soviet composer, he isn't Russian. Especially at the moment.)
The children came up with suggestions of their own. Elvis was one, I seem to recall. However, I thought I might feel a bit of a prat going out into the garden of an evening and shouting: "Elvis!" One has to consider these things.
Pushkin is quite an intelligent cat, and can sit on command and beg for food like a dog. (Actually, let's be honest here, he will sit on command and beg if there is guaranteed food on offer, that he can clearly see. No reward, no tricks: that's his motto. I told you he was smart.)
He has only two bad habits: he likes hiding under cars (as in automobiles) and he has a very loud yowl, like a Siamese. His favourite trick is to run out of the house and disappear under the car just as you're about to drive somewhere. This is nothing to do with not wanting us to go away. He just seems to like winding us up.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Open garden, right now, right here

I've been so busy obsessing about my own garden (and myself, basically) that I omitted to say that there is a wonderful garden online that you can all visit, right now, right here until 21 September. It belongs to VP, the ever-inventive brain behind Veg Plotting. You can take a virtual tour of her garden, and even the allotment, and there are cakes too (you bake them, she provides the recipe). It's all for a very good cause: WaterAid, which helps provide supplies of safe water for communities in developing countries. Do go have a look (and make a donation) as I can't think of a better use for blogging than to raise money for, and awareness of, a good cause.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Apple cake and Anna Pavord

Anna Pavord came to see the garden yesterday. I've known Anna for quite a while: we worked together when I was editing The Independent Magazine, for which Anna writes a column every Saturday, and we were also colleagues on The Observer Magazine. It's always lovely to see her. She's a very warm, charming person who manages to seem very interested in everything, not just gardens. There is absolutely nothing of the grande dame about her, despite the fact that in terms of garden writing, she is a very grande dame indeed.
She had very kindly offered to write an article about my garden in advance of our NGS opening, which was brilliant as I knew it would be good publicity. However, it meant that although I was looking forward to seeing her, the anticipation was tinged with apprehension. What if she hated the garden? She would be too polite to say so, of course, but you can always tell...
She arrived early, which was good as I didn't have time to start fretting. On the other hand, I didn't have time to do all the things I'd promised myself I'd whizz round and do before she came, like sweep up bamboo droppings or the ash leaves and eucalyptus bark that seems to litter our lawn every day. We sat her down and plied her with coffee and home-made apple cake, and her initial impressions, both of the garden and the apple cake, seemed to be very favourable.
The things she seemed to like most were the textures, and the oddities. We have a big tree fern and I told her how my son had taken a frond to draw for an art project at school. He'd left it on the windowsill (it was a bit smaller then), and a couple of days later, picked it up and found the spores had left behind an almost perfect impression of the leaf. Anna told me how she'd been involved in a poetry project in which one of the writers had written about this 'ghost' leaf effect.
She liked the Montezuma pine, too, though she thought its long needles looked more like the manes of shaggy ponies than little dogs. She loved the rust-coloured new leaves of the Tetrapanax, and their softness, like a mouse's fur.
She even seemed to like my new potted herb garden, which was rather a relief. I was quite pleased with it, but I'd thrown it together in such a hurry, I couldn't really tell if it worked, or if I was merely relieved to have finished it.
The lack of pictures on this blog is rapidly becoming an embarrassment. It was glorious sunshine when Anna was here this morning, but of course I was so busy telling her all about the garden, I forgot to take a picture of her. As I write this, Declan, the photographer from The Independent Magazine, is trying to take pictures in torrential rain, with backing vocals from rolling thunder, to accompany Anna's article. At one point, it was raining so hard, he had to take refuge in the shed. However, he shamed me into going out with my camera, so here are a selection of pictures of a very wet garden, very wet leaves, the very wet new step/thingie and the very wet potted herb garden. The leaves look rather good, as if they've been polished, or varnished. Enjoy!
PS: Anna's article will be in The Independent Magazine on Saturday 30 August (I hope), the day before we open the garden.
PPS: It's stopped raining. But I'm still wearing my fleece. Inside the house. And it's August, for goodness' sake.

The new potted herb garden

The new step/thingie. Exciting, isn't it?

Raindrops on Pinus montezumae. The chain is for a bird feeder, which I took down to stop it banging the photographer on the head

Fig leaves in the rain

Euphorbia characias 'Portuguese Velvet'

Bergenia 'Ballawley' looking suitably tropical

A wet red banana

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The new presenter of Gardener's World

So, Toby Buckland is to be the new presenter of the BBC's Gardener's World, according to The Guardian. The bookies will be pleased, but how about everyone else? I liked the little garden he did on the programme a couple of weeks ago. And I liked the fact he seemed to be a fairly normal sort of bloke. But will he make Emmat's heart beat faster? And what will Garden Monkey make of it? I think we should be told.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Deadlines, deadlines...

I've been a staff journalist all my working life, and at least half of that (which is, erm, quite a long time) on evening papers, which as far as news is concerned, are the fastest things in the west. On a daily paper such as The Independent, where I've worked for the past eight years, you have all day (theoretically) to get the paper out. On an evening paper, such as the Evening Standard in London, where I worked for 10 years, you have around two hours. Then you tear it up and start again and two hours later, you have a new edition.
It's often struck me that lots of you bloggers would do very well on an evening paper, or on any newspaper, come to that. So many of you seem to be able to get your heads around an issue, research it, write a coherent post, and have an intelligent opinion on the subject, all in the space of a nanosecond.
There's just one problem with working to deadlines all the time, though. You tend to become a tiny bit of a last-minute merchant. Unless there is a pressing reason to find a solution to a problem, your brain doesn't quite see why it should make an effort. Now that the garden opening is in three weeks' time, however, it's been getting into gear. And when my colleague Anna Pavord, the Independent's gardening writer, rang me up and asked if she could come round next week and write a piece about the garden, my brain seemed finally to wake up and smell the decaf.
Take Thursday, which was my day off. I've been meaning all year (yes, eight months) to put a kind of step or bit of paving or something where the lawn meets the back of the garden. There's a shady bit under a purple cherry plum where I keep the compost bins, and the wheelbarrow, and spare pots, and all that stuff you tuck away somewhere out of sight. (Yes, I know the compost should be in a hotter, sunnier place, but the hotter, sunnier place is too valuable for plants to use it for compost bins.) There are some ferns there, and some bamboo, so it's quite civilised.
I 'd been thinking a bit of timber or paving would work, but how to make it look like it was meant to be there? Suddenly I had an idea: put some large cobbles either side of the plank, around the base of the bamboo. I half-buried them, so they'd look like they'd been there for a long time. It worked. (I'd like to thank AN at Garden Life for this idea because I'm sure it was looking at his fabulous garden in Japan and the other amazing pictures on his blog that inspired me.)
Next, what to do with the area in front of our plum tree (allegedly a fan-trained specimen on a small rootstock, but it thinks it's a giant redwood). I grow herbs there - oregano, thyme, mint, chives, the usual - but they tend to have small leaves, which look out of scale with the rest of the garden. It's always looked a mess, except in spring, when self-seeding forget-me-nots take over. I decided to try a half-barrel pond there, with a mini waterlily, and group pots of herbs around it. It's looking much better. Why didn't I think of that months ago?
Unfortunately, my brain was so busy coming up with solutions, it forgot to remind me to take 'before' photographs. Everything is still a bit of a work-in-progress, so I won't post any 'afters' until it's finished. Meanwhile, here's a picture of someone who does absolutely no work in the garden whatsoever.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: We can all do with a laugh

I don't what it is about gardeners and poetry. There seems to be some sort of natural attraction. When I first started my blog, I was enchanted by the idea of Musings, and Muse Days, and all the other diverse versification that goes on in the gardening blogosphere. Some people (yes, I mean you, Benjamin) don't need to wait for a special day but post poems on a regular basis. Fantastic poems, too. I love it: it's like someone passing an unexpected box of chocolates around the office. However, it also makes me ashamed because I read so little poetry, especially by new poets. This month I've chosen an old favourite. It's not a particularly original choice, but it always makes me smile. If you want to see what other people have chosen, hop on over to Sweet Home and Garden Chicago, where Carolyn has details of all the other GBMD participants.

Laughing song

When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;

When the meadows laugh with lively green,
And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene,
When Mary and Susan and Emily
With their sweet round mouths sing "Ha, ha he!"

When the painted birds laugh in the shade,
Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread:
Come live, and be merry, and join with me,
To sing the sweet chorus of "Ha, ha, he!"

From Songs of Innocence by William Blake