Saturday, January 22, 2011

Don't you just love Carol Klein?

Is anyone else loving Life in a Cottage Garden with Carol Klein? I'm enjoying it immensely.
It's just the sort of gardening programme I like: it's presented by someone who knows every inch of their garden; there's no hysterical rush or self-imposed deadline to get anything done; it just follows the seasons and, at this time of year, when it's so difficult to get on with anything in one's own garden, it's a glorious escape.
Klein talks about her garden the way we all do - there are descriptions of plants, advice on what to do with them, memories of gardening with her mother, why various roses remind her of her daughters. It's all twined together in a narrative that takes you through the gardening year.
It's the sort of series where television comes into its own. You can see the garden bloom and fade as the year progresses, with the odd reminder of how it looked a few weeks ago. But that's as tricksy as the camerawork gets.
I'm prepared to have an open mind about the new series of Gardeners' World. But to be honest, I'd be quite happy to watch Carol Klein in her garden all year round.
Apologies to American readers: Carol Klein is a British gardening author and television presenter. She runs her own nursery, Glebe Cottage, in Devon, and this is where the series is set.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Box of delights

Here's a picture to cheer you up. It's of some sprigs of Christmas box - Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna - from my gardening club friend Celia's garden. She also brought along this fabulous Arum italicum leaf.
Most people I know grow Sarcococca confusa, which makes a more compact and graceful arching shrub with pure white flowers. But they both have the same wonderful scent.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cognitive behavioural gardening

At my gardening club the other night, we went round the table in turn, saying why we liked a particular plant or would recommend it to others. One of the group, Suzanne, said she liked ivy - any ivy. She couldn't walk past ivy in a garden centre without feeling the urge to buy a new one, especially if she saw a new variety.
Ivy is by no means popular with all gardeners, particularly in small London gardens. Some people absolutely loathe it. So we were intrigued to know where Suzanne's passion for ivy came from.
She said she saw it as a backdrop for her garden, in the way that an artist will wash in a background colour before starting to paint the detail in the foreground. (Suzanne is a graphic artist.) She just couldn't imagine a garden without a glossy, green background of ivy.
I was very impressed that Suzanne could articulate so clearly why she liked ivy. Perhaps, I said, this was cognitive behavioural gardening.
I meant it as a joke, and everyone laughed, but on the way home I started thinking that perhaps cognitive behavioural therapy offered techniques that could be useful to gardeners.
For those who don't know, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is, to quote the Royal College of Psychiatrists, "a way of talking about how you think about yourself, the world and other people; and how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings. CBT can help you change how you think (cognitive) and what you do (behaviour)."
Many of us have old habits or rules that we have set for ourselves as a defence against particular situations or emotions. These particular situations or emotions may no longer exist, or may not now be relevant, or may even need to be challenged, but we still cling to our defences because we're too scared to let go of them.
CBT is a talking therapy, which means you talk (to a psychologist) about why a situation makes you feel anxious or unhappy. You don't have to delve deep into your past (although that can be helpful): all you have to do is to think about how you feel in that situation, and try to analyse precisely what it is that bothers you and why it is making you react in a particular way.
The reverse works just as well: if a situation makes you feel particularly happy or calm, stop and think about why that might be so. Ask yourself what it is about that activity or place that makes you feel good. Anyway, that, put very crudely, is the theory behind CBT.
As gardeners, we all feel that gardening makes us feel better in some way or else we wouldn't do it. There may be some chores we dislike more than others, but basically the garden is a good place to be.
However, within that good place, there can be difficult moments. For some of us, it might be getting rid of a shrub or tree that has outgrown its space, or is diseased. It could be that we just hate the sight of the thing. There is every reason in the world to bin it, yet we feel guilty about ripping it out. This is where Cognitive Behavioural Gardening (CBG) can be useful.
Don't think about how guilty you feel, or whether friends might disapprove. Think about how much happier you're going to feel when it's gone, and about what you might plant in its place.
I have a personal quirk which means that before I embark on some project in the garden, whether it is mowing the lawn or replanting a border, I have to go and buy a plant. Thanks to CBG, I've just worked out that the plant is my "reward" for doing the work. When I've finished whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing - and only then - I can plant the new addition.
Now I've worked out why I do this, I find don't need to do it any more. This is good, because it can work out quite expensive. It is cheaper to stay in the garden, and more productive to spend the time I would otherwise spend wandering around the nursery or garden centre actually getting the job done.
Another example might be seed sowing. If you get a huge kick out of seeing microscopic things sprout, and love the idea of nurturing them to maturity, then by all means sow seeds. But if you do it because you think that's what "real" gardeners ought to do, and then feel resentful about watering dozens of seedlings for the next three months, why bother?
If you're anything like me, you probably note down the names of plants you come across. I'm going to try also to note down how they make me feel. Anything that makes my heart beat faster will go to the top of the list. Anything that someone's recommended but which leaves me unmoved will be left on the shelf, no matter how floriferous, fruitful or magnificent in every way it is alleged to be. Who knows? CBG could end up saving me a lot of money.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The stage is set, the seeds are sown

Now all I need to do is wait for spring to show up. I'm very proud of myself - I'm not normally this organised. However, I wanted to try growing coleus (Solenostemon) this year and I thought if I invested in the right equipment, I might actually achieve that ambition.
This rather smart propagator is from Harrod Horticultural and is ideal for an urban gardener like me as it fits on a windowsill, and the seed trays aren't too big. You can grow lots of different things, instead of one huge batch of one thing.

It's self-watering, in that it has a capillary mat on which the seed trays sit, and this takes up water from the reservoir in the base. It's very simple, very low tech, and it cost £20.
That may seem like a lot of money, but I worked out that by the time I faffed around trying to find small seed trays, and plastic tops for them, and something for them to drain into, and blah blah blah, I'd probably have spent £20 AND about three hours doing it.
I thought about getting the heated version, but the windowsill I like to grow seeds on has a radiator beneath it, and it faces south, so I think the soil will keep quite warm.
If you've never used Harrod Horticultural, I recommend them (and no, the propagator wasn't a freebie). They're very efficient - I ordered my propagator Wednesday evening and it arrived yesterday, Friday. I can spend hours drooling over their catalogue, dreaming of the day when I have a kitchen garden and fruit cages.
I'm ashamed to say this, but I'm not a great one for sowing seeds. I always end up with too many plants and not enough gardening friends to give them to. I suppose I could sell them at my garden open day, but since it's at the end of August, it's quite a long time to keep things in pots, and nobody wants to buy tender plants at the end of the summer anyway.
I'm also terribly picky about colours. I don't like mixtures, and, oddly enough, I like the flowers to turn out exactly like the picture on the front of the packet. This doesn't always happen, in my experience.
With coleus, though, I don't care. They can turn out any colour they jolly well like - I will love them all. If I had to state a preference, it would be for the ones that are orange, or gold, or lime green, but I really don't mind.

The packet of seeds shows a rather gorgeous array of coleus in orange, copper and gold. It also says Very Easy To Grow. We shall see. If they turn out looking like the picture, I shall be delighted. Heck, if they turn out looking like the picture, I shall probably fall on the floor in a dead faint with shock. (No, I won't - I'll post a picture of them here.)

On the subject of coleus, the world seems to be divided on how to take cuttings. Some people say root them in water, which you should change regularly; other people say root them straight into potting soil. I've never had much luck rooting cuttings straight into potting soil - I seem to do better in water. Why is this, do you think? Do some of us have more of an affinity with water than with earth? And does that explain why I love ponds?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Have garden blog, will travel

I don't really do resolutions, but if I did, my resolution this year would be to make the effort to travel more.
I have a terrible tendency to be a bit of a stay-at-home - partly, I suppose, because I work, so I never get to spend quite as much time in my house (or under my duvet) as I would ideally like.
However, 2010 was a great year for going places and meeting people and it reminded me that yanking myself out of my comfort zone, suitcase and passport in hand, is actually very enjoyable, not to say therapeutic.
I've just had a tweet from Zoe asking me if I'm going to the Malvern Spring Show this year. Consider it booked, Zoe - and congratulations on the new blog.
The American bloggers are having a get-together in Seattle this year. I was encouraging Pam to go, when she quite rightly turned round and asked me why I didn't take my own advice. I'm already looking up flights, Pam.
And I've just read Will's account of a visit to the wonderful St Rose Nursery in Grenada while he was lecturing along with Matt Biggs on a Caribbean cruise. I'd love to go on one of those too, but I think it may have to wait. Disappearing in term time is difficult - but when my daughter goes to university next year, just try stopping me!
I think as Gail and Frances proved, when they came to the UK spring fling in May, travelling is really a state of mind. You have to be open to adventure, to new faces, to new ideas. And that's a great attitude with which to start the new year.

I don't usually listen to music while I'm blogging. But this evening my daughter recommended Sleep by Eric Whitacre, from the album Light and Gold. I recommend it too.