Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why do we love to hate conifers?

What is it about conifers? Is it just that everyone overdid them back in the Seventies, and now we're all sick of the sight of the things? Has the world had one Leylandii hedge too many? Have we all inherited a monster that starves out everything within a square mile? Whatever the reason, mention the word 'conifer' to your average modern gardener and they'll look at you as if you just said a dirty word. This is a shame, because in my experience, conifers can be incredibly useful and reliable garden plants, not to mention tactile, drought-tolerant, aromatic and suitable for container-growing. In other words, they tick all the modern gardening boxes - yet we still hate them.
The plant that attracts the most attention and admiration in my garden is not a rose, or a canna, or a spectacular tree fern, but a pine tree. It's Pinus montezumae (the Montezuma pine, above and below), which boasts needles that are about eight inches long. Its nickname is the Shih Tsu tree, which must be because the ends of the branches, with their rosettes of new needles, look a bit like a small shaggy Shih Tsu dog, complete with topknot. When people see it, they tend to say: "I usually hate conifers, but ..."
The Montezuma pine comes from Mexico, so it can take heat and a certain amount of drought. It's a big tree, with an eventual height of 90ft, and it grows fast. But I have one in a pot, which has restricted its growth, and it's one of my favourite plants. It's impossible to walk past without stroking it, and one of the few consolations of the filthy weather we're having in the UK at the moment is that its piny fragrance is held captive in the moist air.
My Montezuma led me to look at other pines with fresh eyes (before, I'd just walked straight past the conifer section) and I discovered that Pinus strobus minima, a dwarf version of the American Eastern white pine, also does well in a pot and has become invaluable in my garden for providing textural contrast that lasts all year. These pines have soft shaggy needles which makes them very tactile, like a lot of small dogs in among the scented geraniums.
I find junipers invaluable too. They're also good in containers: look for the dwarf varieties and remember that the more prickly they are, the more drought-tolerant they'll be. Juniperus procumbens 'Nana' is hardly a rare plant, but it's one of my favourites. And I like the columnar ones, such as 'Stricta'. Just don't expect me to enthuse about anything whose name begins with Chamaecyparis. I'm afraid even I can't overcome my conifer prejudice when it comes to those.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bondage for roses

I was reading an article about climbers in the RHS journal, The Garden, the other day, that described the various techniques used by plants to achieve height. It was fascinating, particularly the bit about vines, whose tendrils react to pressure and then send out a hormone that makes them grow faster on one side than the other, so the tendril curls round whatever it's resting against. (Think of rowing in a boat: when you want to turn round, one oar has to work harder than the other.)
It was the bit about roses that really made me think, though. I'd never really considered whether roses use their thorns for any other purpose than to deter predators, but it seems that the thorns, which face downwards, act a bit like crampons. As each stem reaches up, it uses the thorns to hook onto things. If it fails, it flops over, whereupon new shoots break out along its length. These then use the old stem to get a leg-up, whereupon the same process begins again.
Ages ago, I read an article by Vita Sackville-West, in which she recommended bending over the stems of shrub roses and pegging the ends to the ground in order to make them break out. The idea was to make the plant more bushy rather than have flowers only at the top and a mass of stems below, as is so common with roses. What I hadn't worked out until now, being a bear of little brain, is that she was exploiting the rose's natural growth habit in order to do this.

The gardening writer Mary Keen is also a fan of this technique, so I know it's been tried and tested. However, according to Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses, you can use the same technique not only to grow shrub roses but to turn a large floppy shrub rose into a climber. If you train the stems laterally - along a trellis, for example - they also send out new shoots along the length and the whole thing is supported by the framework against which it is growing rather than flopping about in the border, gouging holes in your fingers or legs as you unsuspectingly potter about nearby.
I don't really do roses, having a fairly jungly garden. But I do have a couple of David Austin 'Golden Celebration' roses (above) which the company were giving away on Chelsea press day a couple of years ago and they seem to survive OK in my steamy plot. They do get quite leggy and floppy, though, so I've decided to train one against the fence and try the Vita technique on the other. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cloak(room) and bagger stories

I spent the final afternoon of the Chelsea flower show helping out in the cloakroom, which was being run by volunteers from the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens. Every year, the Royal Horticultural Society hands over the cloakroom to a charity each year, which means they save money on the operation, and the charity takes home all the proceeds.
The NCCPG's mission statement is "to conserve, document, promote and make available Britain and Ireland's rich biodiversity of garden plants for the benefit of everyone". Check out their website, which explains their aims and activities far better than I can (see link on the right). It's only £20 a year to join, and they run lots of tours and visits and plant sales, as well as organising the national collections of plants.
Helping in the cloakroom was a fascinating experience. Lots of people had prepared for their Chelsea trip with military efficiency, bringing picnic baskets (there are picnic areas in the woodland bit behind Eastern Avenue) and shopping trolleys with which to carry home their bargains from Sell-Off. You can't buy plants at Chelsea (though you can place orders), but on the final day, a lot of the nurseries and show gardens sell off their plants incredibly cheaply. A bell rings at 4pm, which is the signal for something that resembles a cross between a rugby scrum and the Harrods sale.
The shopping trolley de choix was a thing that Lakeland sells under the name of the Funky Trundle: basically a plastic crate on wheels with an extending handle. When folded up, it's the size of a briefcase - Lakeland sell it for £14.99.
The final day of Chelsea was a lovely sunny day, so there was a constant flow of people wanting to leave coats. About 30 minutes before the bell rang, we were very busy handing back bags and Funky Trundles to bargain-hunters. After the bell went, volunteers would occasionally dart off into the melée, returning triumphantly with three clematis for £15 (Raymond Evison's finest, no less) or a carrier bag full of lavender for £3. I wasn't really bothered about Sell-Off, but even I got the bug and managed to grab myself a white clematis from Raymond Evison for a fiver and some sort of exotic bedding that looks like a bit like a spider plant, but is greener and glossier. Whatever it was, I got four for £1.
The trouble with having a group of plant enthusiasts running the cloakroom is that we got rather distracted by the parade of interesting things going past the entrance. Sell-Off always reminds me of the bit in Macbeth when Burnham Wood comes to Dunsinane: an army of flowers sets off along the Embankment or through Sloane Square on the march to the tube or bus or taxi, with the spikes of foxgloves, or astilbes, or eremurus, waving like the banners of medieval knights.
Customers were treated to a running commentary from behind the cloakroom counter: "He's never going to get those delphiniums home on the tube in one piece"; "Ooh, look at those orchids!"; "Wow, that variegated bougainvillea is an amazing colour combination"; "Is that a colocasia, do you think? Fabulous leaves" etc etc. People started to arrive laden like Arabian camel trains, bearing anything from roses to standard fuchsias. Even the thought of getting it all home couldn't dent their air of pink-in-the-face triumph.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The mystery of the uprooted grevillea

I've just been replanting my front garden (I find front gardens so much more challenging than back gardens, but that's a subject for another post). The main reason for this was that I had a lot of rosemary that had suffered from a mass attack of rosemary beetle. I don't like using pesticides, especially on something people might eat, so I decided to take the rosemary out. It was getting a bit old and leggy anyway.
I liked the contrast of the rosemary foliage with the phormiums in the front garden, however, so I decided to include a grevillea in the new planting scheme. I chose Grevillea alpina 'Olympic Flame' as I didn't want anything too big. It grows to about 5-6ft, unlike 'Canberra Gem', another cultivar commonly available here, which can get up to 8-10ft.
I like grevilleas. The ones that are hardy in the UK seem to be as tough as old boots, although their spidery red flowers and bright green needles make them look rather exotic. I planted my new acquisition, stood back to admire the effect, and didn't give it another thought until yesterday, when I noticed that it had been uprooted.
My first thought was that a fox (there are dozens round here) or a dog had been digging there. But there wasn't too much mess around, which you usually get when an animal has been excavating. The plant was sitting rather neatly on top of the soil. My second thought was that someone had tried to nick it, but been disturbed before they could make off with their ill-gotten grevillea. But that seemed strange too; why that particular plant, when there are lots of plants in the front garden in pots, which are far more easily nickable?
My final theory was that someone had tried to break off a bit, thinking it was rosemary. My neighbours used to take bits of rosemary for the barbecue or their Sunday roast lamb and perhaps they hadn't noticed that the rosemary was gone and this strange new 'rosemary', with red flowers, had taken its place. If so, they must have given it a hell of a yank, as I'd planted it quite firmly. Grevillea is a lot more prickly than rosemary, so if that's the case, I hope it bit them back.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Love at first begonia

Love at first sight can turn a girl's head. Your heart beats faster, you have eyes only for the object of your desire and any sensible thoughts (such as taking out your notebook to write things down, or finding some more batteries for your digital camera) fly out of the window.
I'm in love with a begonia. It's nothing like the multiflora begonias you get in window boxes or bedding displays, or those astonishing tuberous double begonias that look as if they're made of tissue paper. It's big and butch and gorgeous, with pale green leaves.
This is a jungly, macho type, the sort of begonia that knows how to talk to wine waiters, and can manage to hail a taxi in the pouring rain; the sort that can put shelves up and fix leaking taps. I saw it across the Great Pavilion at Chelsea and though I don't even know its name (in the excitement I forgot to take a note), I know we were Meant For Each Other.
Because I don't know its name, and didn't take a photograph, I can't show you my beloved. But I've ordered two from lovely David Rhodes of the Essex nursery Rhodes and Rockcliffe, and we have our first date when I pick them up from Chelsea tomorrow.
I know what you're thinking. I've fallen for a pretty face, with no thought for the future. Don't worry, this won't be a one-night stand. This begonia is hardy, but dies down in the winter, sending up new foliage each spring that can reach about a metre in one season. This is the real thing. This is love.
PS: Emma has taken pity on me and sent me her picture, so you can all see it. And its name is Begonia grandis, subsp sinensis.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In the pinks

One of the flowers that caught my eye (and nose) at Chelsea were the pinks, or dianthus, on the Whetman Pinks stand. I used to grow pinks in my last garden, which was more of a traditional English plot. However, my new garden is much more jungly and there didn't really seem to be a place for them. I love pinks. They look so pretty, like little girls in starched cotton frocks, and they smell gorgeous with that clovey, spicy fragrance. They're very undemanding: all they need is a well-drained site, with lots of sun, and they'll grow happily in a pot too. It's a good idea to add a bit of fine grit or sand if you're growing them in a pot to make sure they don't sit in the damp for too long. Carolyn Whetman, who breeds and propagates them, is keen to bring them to a wider audience and I have to say she revived my interest. She had them in modern, shiny black pots, which looked terrific, and it made me realise that, while my back garden isn't really suitable, the front garden is ideal, as it has gravel and is fairly sunny. What could be nicer than a fringe of pinks to greet visitors with that knock-out scent?
Add them to a herb patch, or as a border to an allotment (dianthus is a traditional herbal remedy for heart trouble, thought I don't advise self-medication!) or just put some in a pot on a patio or balcony. Carolyn also advises deadheading regularly to keep the flowers coming. The only trouble is this: which one to choose? I loved 'Starlight' (right) and I've grown 'India Star' (above) in pots. But there are so many others...
For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chelsea: How Henrietta the chicken met Her Majesty the Queen

Ten, 15 years ago, you hardly saw a vegetable at Chelsea. Today, there are usually at least two show gardens devoted to vegetables and displays in the Great Pavilion as well. Even better, there is a conscious effort to get children involved not just in gardening but in growing their own, as the Dorset Cereals 'Edible Garden' (right) demonstrates. It's designed for a primary school, complete with watering rota scribbled on a blackboard.
Notcutts Nurseries have designed their stand in the pavilion as a family garden, complete with vegetable plot with raised beds so that both young and old can get involved. Notcutts also decided they would like some chickens on their stand, to reflect the growing interest in smallholding and sustainable living. (Apparently they even sell chickens in some of their garden centres, such as Oxford and St Albans.)
There was just one problem. Chickens, indeed animals of any kind, are Not Allowed at Chelsea. Sir Terence Conran wanted to have chickens on his Dig For Victory VE day anniversary garden a few years ago and the request was firmly denied. (There was enough fuss over the ladies' bloomers that he wanted to have hanging on the washing line.)
But Notcutts persevered with their chicken idea. They had to plough through about half a ton of paperwork involving risk assessments and health and safety checks. Would the chickens have avian flu? Would they give it to Alan Titchmarsh, or, even worse, Her Majesty? In the end, the Royal Horticultural Society agreed, on the strict understanding that the chickens could be there for press day only, and had to be out before Her Maj came round on her Monday afternoon Royal tour.
Then came a message from the Palace. A Royal equerry let it be known that the Queen would rather like to see the chickens on the Notcutts stand. Arrangements to remove the offending poultry were quickly altered so they would be present for the Royal scrutiny.
Here's a picture of them below. The cockerel is called Ernie (the stand is sponsored by NS&I, so they named him after the Premium Bonds computer). I was allowed to choose the name for his partner, who is Henrietta. Hen for short.

Monday, May 19, 2008

FYI: a guide for Chelsea virgins

Don't feel for one minute you have to look smart. People witter on about Chelsea being the start of the London Season, but that's only when the Queen goes on Monday afternoon. Be comfortable (in any case, everyone's looking at the plants, not at each other). Personally, I favour Birkenstocks or trainers when it comes to footwear (depending on the weather).
Get a map of the showground (there's one in the catalogue, which costs £5, but then you have all the details of all the exhibitors as well). It's very easy to end up going round in ever-decreasing circles, even with a map.
Don't miss the small gardens 'round the back', along the Serpentine Walk. They're really sweet and often have ideas you can recreate at home. And if the weather's hot, it's cool and shady along there.
When exiting, the Garden Gate is the one nearest Sloane Square and the Tube. The Bullring Gate is the one on the Embankment.
Highlights among the show gardens are the Marshalls' children's garden (if you have kids), Daylesford Organic's show garden (for veg and herbs), Cleve West's garden for Bupa, and Diarmuid Gavin's coffee shop garden, which left me unmoved first time I saw it, but it really grew on me.
In the Great Pavilion, the biggest, snazziest stands tend to be the big nurseries such as Hillier's or the foreign exhibits such as Kirstenbosch or the Cayman Islands, so concentrate on the small ones, which tend to be the specialist growers, especially if there's something you want to ask advice about (such as pruning clematis or splitting perennials). You may well have to queue to talk to them, but be patient, they'll get round to you. If they look a bit grumpy and tired, tell them how fabulous their stand looks.

Chelsea: the REAL flower show

The show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show may be spectacular, but for lots of people (including me) the really mouth-watering part of the whole extravaganza is inside the Great Pavilion (what used to be the marquee). This is where you'll find the nurserymen and women who represent absolutely the finest Britain has to offer in terms of horticulture.
Whether you're in search of bulb specialists, such as Avon, Broadleigh or Blom, or herb experts, such as Jekka McVicar, or roses or grasses, it is worth looking through the list of exhibitors (see link). Unfortunately, the RHS doesn't take you to their websites, but at least if you know the name, you can Google them. These guys really know their stuff and, thanks to the internet, most of them now sell online which makes wonderful plants available to all of us.
The trouble with a gardening blog is that, until someone invents the Scenternet, one can't really do justice to the smell of a wonderful flower show: that mixture of roses and sweetpeas and lilies and damp grass and earth. So you'll have to use your imagination when it comes to fragrance. But I've posted some pictures below that hopefully give you some idea of the sort of thing that is on show.
From the top, they are: alliums and eremurus from Devine Nurseries, Hollym, East Yorkshire; lupins from Westcountry Nurseries, Bideford, Devon; herbs from Jekka's Herb Farm, Alveston, Bristol; clematis from Sheila Chapman Clematis, Romford, Essex

I have to admit, when confronted with displays like these, I wish I'd studied photography, as the combination of me and a digital camera fails to do justice to their gorgeousness. But here are three more, just to show I tried. From the top, grasses from Knoll Gardens, Wimborne, Dorset; hostas from Bowden Hostas, Okehampton, Devon; alpines from D'Arcy and Everest, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday morning at Chelsea with Mr T

For once, the weather has smiled on the Chelsea Flower Show. We had a hot spell a week ago, which brought everything on nicely. Then cool, wet weather arrived just as everyone was beginning to wonder whether they'd have to water like crazy. And today dawned cool but bright, which is perfect.
It was the usual chaos at Chelsea this morning, with some gardens seemingly only half-built. The real pros, people like Cleve West and Tom Stuart-Smith, who are veteran Chelsea show garden designers, were finished, bar the odd bit of last-minute fine-tuning, their gardens serene in the sunshine. Both designs had that special sense of place that you get with gardens that really work: a sense of being transported into another world far away from the roar of traffic and wail of sirens that wafted over the showground from the Chelsea Embankment.

Cleve's design, above, was sponsored by Bupa, and is going to be transplanted to a nursing home just down the road from me in Battersea. The residents there are mainly Parkinson's or Alzheimer's patients, so there were various restrictions that Cleve had to bear in mind. He couldn't use mirrors, for example, or too many busy patterns, as these might be confusing. And the hard landscaping had to be wheelchair-friendly, of course. The end result is fabulous: so tranquil, and yet with such strong lines that help promote a feeling of permanence.
I think that Best in Show will be between him and Tom Stuart-Smith's design for Laurent-Perrier, with its gorgeous cloud-pruned hornbeams (below). I've never seen cloud-pruning used on anything other than box or privet, and I loved them. (I'm rooting for Cleve, though, because he's a mate.)

Amid the chaos, the Royal Horticultural Society judging teams were going about their business; quiet, tweed-clad types clutching clipboards, and casting an eye over the planting. It looks very casual, but they don't miss a thing. There's a show of hands when they reach their decision, then they politely thank the staff working on each garden and move on to the next. It's all very British and very proper.

As a counterpoint to this, the journalists get together and gossip and decide what they think works and doesn't work. There was a lot of admiration for Andy Sturgeon's jungly garden for Cancer Research (right), and Arabella Lennox Boyd's design for the Daily Telegraph was also much discussed, thanks to her decision to go for an enormous pool, inspired, apparently, by Japanese landscapes and gardens. Arabella, another Chelsea veteran, usually goes for a much frothier, floriferous look, and this was very different (see below).

Because so many gardens were still being worked on, I didn't manage to get that many pictures. Any garden that didn't have people still working had judging teams or film crews. I was about to take a picture of Norfolk-based designer Clare Agnew's garden for Ruffer LLP, the investment specialists, only to find that yet another figure loomed into view. My lips framed an unprintable word, and then I looked up and saw it was Alan Titchmarsh. I swear he knew what I was thinking, because he smiled ruefully at me, so I asked him if I could take a picture of him for the blog. He's such a sweetie: a major television and gardening star, yet never seems to get flustered or harassed and always has time to be nice to members of the public.

It's not all sweetness and light at the show though. The guys building the Cadogan Garden, designed by Robert Myers for Cadogan Estates, who own half of Chelsea, told me they usually have a different plot, but had been moved this year so that Andy Sturgeon would not have to go next to Diarmuid Gavin. (The two designers had a spectacular falling-out after Gavin once accused Sturgeon of plagiarising his design.) I don't know how true this was, but all I can say is if the Cadogan Garden (below) is the Royal Horticultural Society's idea of a Berlin Wall, it's a darned sight more attractive.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chelsea: A very sneaky preview

I snuck into the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday for a very sneaky preview. Actually, 'snuck' is not quite the right word, I did have to meet someone, be given a pass and wear a hi-viz vest etc. I love going to Chelsea during Build-Up, as it's called. It's an appropriate term as the place is like a building site, and so full of vans and lorries, it's like being in the middle of some kind of truck race. Very exciting.
I was there to look at examples of vertical gardening as research for a piece I'm writing for The Independent. Quite a few gardeners are incorporating living walls, and I'd been invited by the Children's Society to see the garden Mark Gregory is building for them. Mark's design includes two living walls (see picture above), either side of a wall-mounted water feature, and they're basically like bookshelves, built of wood, with the plants in sections inside. Drought-tolerant varieties such as sedums and sempervivums go at the top, where it is driest, and plants that like damp, such as ferns, go at the bottom, with things like heuchera in between. The effect is lovely: very textural and with the rich colours of a tapestry. I wasn't completely convinced about how easy they would be to water, but the plants had been in for a few weeks and they seemed happy enough.

On my way to the Children's Society garden, I stopped off at Ishihara Kazuyuki's roof garden design, which also uses living walls, but built in a different way (see right and below). His are planted in framework of chicken wire, filled with spaghnum moss. I couldn't see if there was any soil beneath, but I suspect not. Ishihara built a beautiful garden at Chelsea last year with moss walls that were much admired, but also much criticised, as many people thought they would be unsustainable. In Japan, where the concept of living walls has really taken off, it's a lot more humid, so they would probably survive much more easily than here in the UK. But they were so gorgeous, one is tempted to say: 'Who cares!' His garden is called 'Midori No Tobira', which means 'The Green Door'.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thank you ...

Could I please say a huge thank you to all the Blotanical people who sent me such lovely welcoming messages. I will post more pix soon, just as soon as I unchain myself from the office. I'm working non-stop this week in order to spend more time at the Chelsea Flower Show next week. I'll post pictures of that, too

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Chelsea Chop

Hurray! Hot, hot, hot beats wet, wet,wet in my view. After a long cold spring, it's now 24C in London (that's mid-70s Fahrenheit to you Americans). So now it's time to chop, chop, chop.
Every year I try to summon up the courage to do the Chelsea Chop and every year I wimp out. This, in case you're wondering, is the method by which you cut down perennials such as Sedum spectabile in late spring, so that they will regrow more thickly and not start to flop by mid-summer. It works for lots of perennials, and it's called the Chelsea Chop because you do it at the time of the Chelsea Flower Show, which is always held in late May. (This year, Chelsea opens on 20 May.)
Trouble is, my sedum always looks so fresh and optimistic around mid-May, it seems a pity to hack it back. A halfway measure, if you're a coward like me, is to take some of the plant back and leave the other stems. This is what I did last year, only to find that the stems I had cut back produced a new crop of stems which were still looking fabulous in August, while the ones I left flopped as usual.
So this year I'm going to screw my courage to the sticking place, as Lady Macbeth advises, and get on with it. I'll just try to think of all the little sedum plants I'll be able to give to friends (it roots really easily).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hello, Jack Sparrow

I saw a house sparrow in my garden today! This may seem like no big deal to some of you, but I haven't seen a sparrow in my garden for, ooh, 15 years. Recently, I've seen a couple on Wandsworth Common and hoped that the feeders in my garden and my neighbour's might attract them. The one I saw today was a male, but he had a friend with him who was hidden in the bamboo, so perhaps they'll both spread the word.
Three houses ago, I used to get crowds of sparrows in the garden, but in those days I lived in a big Victorian house with lots of ivy growing up the back wall. Next door had lots of ivy as well, which acted as a kind of sparrow tenement block. I'm convinced the fashion for ripping climbers off walls and stripping gardens of all vegetation in the attempt to turn them into "outside rooms" is partly to blame for the demise of the London sparrow population. People say climbers like ivy are bad for walls. I say bare walls are bad for sparrows.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Good intentions

Driven mainly by a sense of mounting panic, I've managed to get out and begin on the long list of spring chores, renovations and refurbishments. I may not be getting through them very fast but at least I've made a start.
One of the main problems is not having any muscle. My husband could always be relied upon for heavy work, such as excavating planting holes or digging things up that had outstayed their welcome. At the moment, he's still convalescing following chemotherapy, so it's up to me to shift stuff that needs to go to the tip, or haul home supplies of cobbles or horse manure or whatever. He waves encouragement to me from the safety of the living room, but sometimes it's twice as difficult to motivate yourself if you're on your own.
Anyway, that's enough self-pity. Onwards and upwards, that's what gardening is all about, particularly if you're a Clematis armandii, which is supposed to be adorning the fence on the north side of my garden, but is in fact sticking out its tongue at me from the safety of next door's garden. Or the holboellia at the end of the garden, which is inflicting a policy of lebensraum on its neighbours. Keeping these two plants in check requires a stepladder and a ruthless attitude with secateurs. (I find it's best to put myself in a bad mood first: try watering the garden with a kinked hose, or trying to open a bag of compost with a pair of blunt scissors.)
One of the main tasks this year has been to sort out the area around the pond. When we first built the pond, we simply turfed round it until someone had a better idea. The turf was fine, but proved less than practical, as the pond is one of the places everyone wants to sit or stand, so the grass would get very muddy.
The answer seemed to be some sort of hard surface, but what? Matching paving to the terrace outside the living room would be nice, but expensive. A boardwalk? Too slippery. In the end I decided on cobbles mixed with pebbles, laid on a surface of sharp sand. This would allow the stones to bed in, and find their own level. And the pebbles would be too big and heavy to get flicked up onto the lawn in the way that gravel would. The final flourish would be box balls, to match the box balls outside the living room doors. I thought I'd use smaller ones, so that perspective would make them look further away (and thus make the garden look larger), and the balls themselves would soften the hard angles of the pond.
All I had to do was take the turf off with a spade, plant the box, put down the sand and arrange the cobbles and pebbles. When you write these things down, they sound so simple, don't they? And in fact the job didn't really take any skill, just effort, but by the time I'd finished, it had taken me three weeks and a knackered knee. Still, it's done now and the whole area looks a lot better. (I used the discarded turf to patch up other bits of the lawn that needed repairs. It also makes fantastic compost: just chuck it grass-side down in a corner and it rots down in no time.)
Another back-breaking task was laying stepping stones along a shady bit of lawn that leads to the shed. I used plain concrete slabs from B&Q that cost about £3 each, and laid them on yet more sharp sand. They took days of levelling, wiggling and stamping to get them anything like straight. Oh, yeah, and I knackered the other knee in the process ...


I think building this blog has been harder work than creating the garden. Anyway, here it is. At last. I hope.

An introduction to the garden

This is the garden as it looked last summer (for about five minutes, on a rare sunny day). We opened the garden for the first

time last August for the National Gardens Scheme, which raises money for a variety of charities, but mainly those offering care and support to cancer patients. In November, by a cruel coincidence, my husband Craig was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. We did think about cancelling the garden opening this year, but decided that our experience made us even more determined to help provide support for other people. Craig is now in full remission, and at last we can look forward to enjoying the garden this summer. So if you're in Wandsworth on 31 August, please do come along. I'll post full details nearer the time