Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The 'I got one of these' guide to the Hampton Court Show

They say that taking up gardening is a sign of encroaching middle age. So what does an increasing interest in garden tools signify? Senility? Too many male hormones?
I think I've probably bored you all before about the pleasure of using tools that are well-made as opposed to using things that are cheap. So it will come as no surprise that the purchase that excited me most yesterday was my new hose. Sad, isn't it?
I should explain that this is no ordinary hose. Well, actually, it is an ordinary hose, but it's made by a Dutch company called De Wiltfang who were exhibiting in the UK for the first time in the Gardens Illustrated pavilion. It comes already supplied with brass tap fittings, it's a tasteful dark green and it's absolutely beautiful.
I've been trying to persuade myself to buy a new hose for seven years. I inherited my current one from the previous owners and it drives me mad. You only have to look at it and it kinks. (And it very often kinks when you're not looking at it.) But I'd go to the garden centre, look at the price tags on the hoses and instantly find something more interesting to spend the money on.
This time, though, I was confronted with the sales technique of the charming Annetje de Jong. She pointed out, very sensibly, that the price of the hose was less than the price of a pair of new shoes and would last far, far longer. Sold!

The purchases in full. On the left are Heuchera 'Electra' from Heucheraholics. Next to them is Lilium formosanum var. pricei, to which I am slightly addicted, thanks to Martyn Cox (see below). The monster in the trolley is a Canna 'Pretoria' from Hart Canna who were exhibiting in the Plant Heritage marquee.
The trolley is one of those box things on wheels that I had to buy in order to get everything back to the car. Thank goodness I was with VP. She may not have wheels but she's very good at giving moral support.
On top of the hose is a lance with a spray attachment for watering, also from De Wiltfang. It's such a beautiful object, I'm tempted to hang it on the wall instead. And the long copper thing is a De Wiltfang border spray, with a ground spike. You connect the hose to the attachment at the base, just above the spike, then plonk it in the ground in the middle of a thirsty border. Because it's high, the water rains down on the plants and you can adjust the spray from a sort of heavy downpour to more of a misting effect.

I should add that just about everything I bought at the show received the seal of disapproval from James Alexander-Sinclair. He first spotted me with my trolley, and gave me the sort of look that is normally reserved for an extrovert porn star trying to gain entry to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Admittedly, trolleys are annoying - they make a hell of a racket on the metal walkways and I managed to trip James Wong up with it - but they are useful.
The next time I saw him I had the trolley and the variegated canna. This time I got a look that would have punctured the porn star's surgically enhanced embonpoint. (James HATES variegated cannas.)
The last time I ran into him, I was about to buy these mushrooms (above). Why??? asked James. Because I like them, and that's what matters.

James doesn't know about the L. formosanum but he'd probably hate that too, because it's a dwarf lily. I'm normally not keen on dwarf lilies myself, but instead of looking squat and stunted, this one has rather lovely, delicate dark green foliage. The flowers are normal size and have a dramatic maroon stripe on the reverse.
They look fantastic with dark-leaved plants. I have them planted up with dark-leaved, white-flowered Begonia semperflorens and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' (black lily turf) but I think they'd look even better with dark heucheras.
I first saw L. formosanum in Martyn Cox's book, Big Gardens in Small Spaces which I think is a really good buy if you have a small urban garden and/or like to experiment with something a bit different. I like Martyn's discursive writing style - it's a bit like being taken on a tour of his garden in person - but it's also a good book to dip into for ideas. And as far as I know, Martyn has nothing against trolleys.