Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Work, work, work (and Sir Elton John)

OMG, work!!! Just when I thought I'd got the work/life balance just about right, my job came storming back and elbowed my spare time out of the way.
So I haven't been in the garden, I haven't put my plants away for the winter (despite the fact that it is now snowing in London), and I certainly haven't been blogging on a regular basis. Gardening-wise (and work/balance-wise) I am A Complete Failure.
However, tomorrow I'm going to the Garden Media Guild Awards lunch and I'm hoping to catch up with lots of old friends.
And on Thursday I have a day off so who knows? I may even set foot in the garden. In daylight!
So what have I been doing with myself? Oh, you know, the usual. Going to work, running the newsdesk, attending editorial conference, chivvying reporters. By the way, we had a guest editor today. You may recognise him...

He was great - really, really good. Very clued-up about everything, very decisive. It was as if he'd been editing a newspaper for years.

Paula and Tracey, two of the picture desk staff, had been really excited about Elton coming in. But by the time they finished their shift, they hadn't really seen him, let alone had a chance to take a picture on their phones. So I asked him if he would mind having his photograph taken with the picture desk staff, and he said sure, get them all in. So here they all are, with their hero. I had to go too, because they were too shy to go into the conference room on their own. From left, it's Anna, me, Paula, Tracey and Gerry.
Afterwards, they all said thank you, and he said: "No, thank you, for all your hard work." Isn't that nice? As Gerry said, not a tantrum or a tiara in sight.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rules of (Royal) engagement

Got a bad cold, so I'm feeling a little grumpy and jaded.
I was quite interested in the royal engagement when it was first announced, and at work argued that we should cover the story in The Independent (which is famously a royal-free zone). By the end of day one, however, I was bored rigid with the whole affair.
It's nothing to do with the couple themselves, who as far as I can tell, seem very nice, but the yards of footage and newsprint that will be taken up over the coming months with inane speculation and chatter.
Indeed, the most interesting thing about the Sky News coverage of the announcement - which consisted of a helicopter hovering over Buckingham Palace for hours on end - was that you could see how big the Palace gardens really are, and how green the surrounding bit of London is, thanks to all the Royal parks. My republican colleagues were fascinated by this, bless them.
You probably know that the souvenir manufacturers are already churning out 'Wills and Kate' mugs and tea towels and so on as fast as they can. However, no one - as far as I know - has thought about the horrendous marketing possibilities this offers the horticultural trade.
So, I would like you all to look out for the following, who will be named and shamed on Victoria's Backyard, and presented with the naffest, most tasteless Royal wedding souvenir I can find (or can bring myself to buy).

The first grower to name a rose/sweet pea/whatever 'Kate Middleton'
The first grower to name a rose/sweet pea/whatever 'Royal Engagement'
The first garden centre to stock - or set up a dedicated display of - Wills and Kate souvenirs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jennifer Owen - a heroine for our times

I'm too busy organising other people to write things at the moment to have time to write anything myself. I guess you could say my role is more the late Dino De Laurentiis than the even later Orson Welles. However, I'd like to commend to you this piece in today's Independent by my colleague Jonathan Brown about the naturalist Jennifer Owen. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Autumn and its consolations

I've really enjoyed sweeping up the leaves this year. It's not a chore I look forward to with enthusiasm, but on a bright crisp morning it can be very therapeutic.
These are two of my Japanese maples - Acer palmatum var dissectum 'Seiryu' (in the pot, with the red, lacy leaves) and Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'. You never know with acers whether they're going to colour up or not. Sometimes, if it's been a hot dry August, the leaves have shrivelled before they've had time to take on their autumn tints.
This year, both 'Seiryu' and 'Osakazuki' are performing well. 'Seiryu', despite its rather fragile appearance, seems to be a real toughie.

There are other things going on in the garden too. The Fatshedera lizei is in flower, which looks fabulous against its big leaves. Whoever had the idea of crossing a fatsia with an ivy, I salute you. You get the best of both plants (big glossy leaves, flower heads) but without the downsides (tendency to take over the garden). The loquat is also in flower, but unfortunately I can't reproduce the scent, which is like frangipani.

In neighbouring gardens, we've been treated to the annual Shock and Awe display that is Guy Fawkes night in the UK - sometimes called Bonfire Night. I love the fact that this coincides almost exactly with the time of year when one wants to be burning leaves.
How thoughtful of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators to time the Gunpowder Plot - in which they planned to blow up the palace of Westminster, the House of Lords and King James I - at the beginning of November.
I haven't had time to buy fireworks, and bonfires are frowned upon (unless they're part of a public display). But with leaf colour like this, who needs flames?

Talking of Bonfire Night and the Gunpowder Plot, you may be interested in a story I covered for today's Independent, about the Tudor mansion of Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire, and its lost garden.
Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pssst, wanna see a big picture of Will Giles?

Well, you can if you buy The Independent tomorrow (Saturday 6 November). At this time of the year, all those people who have exotic and sub-tropical plants - which includes me, and Will at The Exotic Garden - are pushing and pulling things with large leaves into sheds, poly tunnels, garages and greenhouses for the winter.
So, I thought I'd write a piece about it for the The Independent Magazine. You'll be able to read it online too - but you'll miss the picture of Will. And you'll miss the picture of my garden, come to that (but you've probably seen enough of those.) Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A word of warning...

It's not quite the Christmas present-buying yet, so before you start compiling your lists, I'd just like to say a word of caution about Frances Hilary, the gardening accessories company.
I'm a fan of their products - I have their apron, which has a very useful split down the front which is great if you're bending down and lifting things. And I have their kneeling pad, which is very comfortable and comes in a nice discreet khaki.
I'm also keen to support small British companies who provide quality goods in the face of competition from huge conglomerates. So last spring, when my gardening bag began bursting at the seams, I thought I'd treat myself to one of theirs.
I went to the website, placed the order, and thought no more about it. That was on ... well, actually, it's so long ago, I have difficulty remembering. Luckily, the payment for the bag went through on the day I bought it, so I have a record that it was 31 July.
Anyway, a couple of weeks went by and nothing arrived. I emailed customer services: no reply. I waited a week and rang the number at the top of the website. I was told that head office dealt with internet orders. Could I have the number, I asked, and I could talk to them direct? "Sorry, no," was the answer, "we're not allowed to give it out."
At the end of August, I sent a slightly stroppy email to customer services. No reply.
I then rang the customer services number and was told that, yes, head office handled inquiries about orders. No, I couldn't have the number and, furthermore, everyone was on holiday. They'd be back in the first week of September.
The second week of September, I rang the customer services number again. It had been discontinued. I rang the Covent Garden branch. A very nice assistant said she'd investigate. She actually rang me back! To say that there had been a delay with the material for the bags which had resulted in a glitch in their manufacture. I would have one within two weeks.
Two weeks later, the bag had still not arrived. I waited until the end of September and rang again. The bag would be on its way in a couple of weeks, I was told.
Anyway, it's now November. Throughout this time, there has been nothing on the website to indicate that the bag is out of stock, or that there might be some delay in delivery.
Throughout all this time, no one from the company has voluntarily contacted me to tell me there was a problem with my order. They've been very polite and apologetic when I have rung, but you get to the stage where you don't want apologies. You just want YOUR STUFF!
I told Frances Hilary that I was writing about this on my blog because, as a journalist, I feel it's only fair to give them the right of reply. On the other hand, as a customer I felt I had every right to complain.
They came back to me and were deeply apologetic. They said they had indeed had great problems with the fabric supply but that was no excuse for the experience (or lack of it) I'd had. I think they're at that stage where business is taking off and they're about to expand but are still working out the logistics.