Monday, June 14, 2010

Shows to go (or not to go)

It's that time of year when there seems to be a gardening show every weekend. Next weekend is Gardeners' World Live at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham (also the date of the Great Gardening Show at Loseley Park, in Surrey), the following weekend is the Cottesbrooke Plant Finders' Fair at Cottesbrooke in Northamptonshire, and the weekend after that is the Hampton Court Flower Show. At the end of July, there's the big RHS show at Tatton Park in Cheshire.
Have I got the energy to go to any of these?
I've never been to the Gardeners' World Live show and I think that situation might remain the same in 2010. It sounds great, but I'd probably go on the train, which means trailing any purchases halfway across London on the way home. Not an attractive proposition on a hot Saturday evening.
The Great Gardening Show at Loseley used to be good fun (and only 30 minutes from home by car) but it's under new management this year. The big attraction in previous years was that there were always quite a few nurseries selling later season stuff such as daylilies and cannas or even exotic plants.
Under new management, who knows? Looking through the list of exhibitors so far, it seems to be heavy on garden hardware and light on plants. Thank goodness for Horticulture Week, where I read about the change of management, because as far as I could see, it was being presented as exactly the same show. I may pass.
The idea of negotiating the North Circular and then driving two hours up the M1 (one of my least favourite motorways in Britain) puts me off going to Cottesbrooke. But I've heard so many people rave about it, I'm now quite tempted. I think I may pencil that one in.
Hampton Court is a must, rain or shine (and believe me, I've been in both). I get a press pass but unlike Chelsea, a media ticket is actually a bit of a drawback if you want to buy plants. Most of the exhibitors scuttle off as soon as they've set up. It's not worth their while to hang around all day on the off-chance that the odd hack might buy something.
Even if they haven't disappeared, the marquees tend to get roped off one by one while the judges go round. Far better to go on a normal day.
Have any of you got any thoughts on any of these shows? Is anyone planning to visit? Let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fat, funny little birds

I feed the birds all year round in my garden. When we first moved in, seven years ago, there didn't seem to be any birds in the garden at all, which seemed strange as there are lots of mature trees.
Now the garden is alive with birdsong and although there is the odd casualty (thanks to Pushkin), I think on balance it's better to feed than not, even if you have a cat.
The conventional thinking used to be that you fed the birds in winter, when food was scarce. These days, evidence suggests - and it certainly seems to me - that birds appreciate a constant supply and flourish accordingly. However, even I used to scale down on the amount and variety of food available once the weather got warmer. It was only because I got a free packet of suet, or fat, balls with my bird food order the other day that I thought of hanging out fat balls at this time of year.
Goodness, what a revelation! The blue tits and great tits absolutely love them. They've abandoned the normal seed feeders and spend all their time hanging upside down and stuffing themselves. (Why don't birds get indigestion?)
They all have fledgelings to feed so dining out is a family affair. The fledgelings are just old enough to feed themselves, but it's still common to see a line of young ones (usually three or four) on a branch having food shoved into their mouths by their busy parents.
Very often, they perch on the branch above the fat feeder, but this morning I saw a row of little ones lined up precariously along a phormium leaf, which was bending under their weight. When a parent arrived with the takeaway, the leaf collapsed altogether and they all slid off the end. So funny!

The great tit family having breakfast. Sorry about the quality of the pictures - I don't have a tripod (or an incredibly good camera, come to that). There is also a blue tit family, so meal times are usually a blur of little birds rushing about. Underneath, (not in the picture) a fat woodpigeon struts to and fro as if he is on patrol, hoovering up crumbs.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm in love with my libertia

It's always a surprise to me that libertia is so little known to gardeners. It's one of the least temperamental plants I know: it's evergreen, it has lovely flowers, it's tough, it will grow in shade or sun, it will grow in the ground or in a pot. And all without any effort on my part whatsoever. I have three varieties in my garden - Libertia grandiflora, Libertia ixioides 'Taupo Blaze' and Libertia ixioides 'Goldfinger'. The most free-flowering is L. grandiflora (seen left against a backdrop of Cotinus coggygria foliage), which as its name suggests is also the biggest plant, with the biggest leaves.
If you can imagine a small phormium (about 2ft high) with white, orchid-like flowers held on long stems, that's a pretty good description. With 'Taupo Blaze' and 'Goldfinger', the leaves are slimmer and grassier, and the flowers are smaller. 'Goldfinger', as the name suggests, has brilliant copper-gold foliage, while 'Taupo Blaze' has brownish leaves.

'Taupo Blaze' in flower around the frog pond

Libertia also pretty reliable as to flowering time. Normally it's in full froth by 14 May. Having said that, this year it only got going towards the end of the month thanks to the late spring.
So what's not to love about libertia? Well, L grandiflora seeds itself all over the place. It seems particularly to like seeding itself into the lawn. The leaves have a habit of looking rather tatty rather quickly, and while you're supposed to be able to divide it (like many other perennials), I've never had any success with this. Seedlings are a much more reliable way of propagating it.
L ixioides is much better behaved, but doesn't flower in the same exuberant way.

You can stop libertia seeding itself about by cutting off the seedheads, of course. But when you've got as much of it as I have, this is quite a time-consuming operation and it's impossible to catch them all.
Besides, when the flowers are newly shed, the seedheads are quite attractive, like a small bunch of green berries. I always think they look so nice, I'll leave them for a couple of weeks and then - oops! - two months later they've ripened and are busy finding new little homes for themselves. I still love them, though.