Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The Crocus survival guide
In a moment of madness, I considered sneaking down to Windlesham first thing in the morning, but luckily sanity prevailed. Bad enough to have to change clothes twice in one day (smart casual for prizegiving, long black for concert) without having to climb out of grotty gardening gear as well.
I can't really complain - I've been to two Crocus open days this year. If you haven't yet been, here's what I hope will prove an informal but useful guide.
1. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. The site is much larger than it looks, and in any case, you're going to be walking up and down rows of plants, not just going once round the whole site. If it's sunny, wear a hat. All that stooping over things and peering at plant labels will give you sunburn on your neck. I know this from personal experience.
2 Learn how to be a trolley-stalker. Everyone else will seem to have a trolley except you. The trick is to nobble someone as they come out of the paying area and ask them if you can have their trolley when they've unloaded. You then have to walk with them back to their car, and it's a nice generous gesture to help them unload (if they want you to). On the way to their car, and upon your triumphant return to the payment point, you will be accosted by other "trolley stalkers".
3. Remember that Crocus is not a retail operation. This is not Sainsbury's or Tesco - they can't just open up another 10 tills if it gets busy. If you have to queue for a bit, it will all be worth it when you get to the till and find the bill is at least £20 less than you thought it would be. And while you're waiting, you can admire your plants. And have a nose at other people's choices.
4. If you think you're going to buy loads and loads of things, ask for two sets of stickers. You'll be given these stickers, which have a number on them, at the start of your visit. The system is that you put a sticker on the plant you want, and it is then collected up by the many trailers touring the nursery and returned to your crate at the payment point. Your crate(s) will have the same number(s). It's very frustrating to be in the farthest reaches of the nursery looking at grasses, say, and find you've got to walk all the way back to the entrance for more stickers.
5. There are limited catering facilities (a van selling burgers etc, and drinks), and limited seating. There's a cafe at Hillier's next door, but on a sunny day, when it's likely to be busy, it's best to take a snack and a drink with you.
Happy plant shopping!
*Mozart, Mass in C K317
Britten, Rejoice in the Lamb
George Dyson, Hierusalem
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Why you might like to think about talking to plants
The subject always reminds me irresistibly of the scene in the Richard Curtis comedy, Notting Hill, when the Hugh Grant character, William Thacker, is being set up by his friends with a rather earnest girl called Keziah, who tells him she is a fruitarian.
William: And, ahm, what exactly is a fruitarian?
Keziah: We believe that fruits and vegetables have feelings, so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush - that are, in fact, dead already.
William: Right. Right. Interesting stuff. So, these carrots ...
Keziah: Have been murdered.
William: Murdered? Poor carrots. How beastly!
However, a new book by Dr Matthew Hall, of the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, seeks to challenge this attitude. It's called Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany and it explores the relationships between humans and the plant world.
The proposition, to put it as simply as I can, is that we tend to see the world in zoocentric or anthropocentric terms, which means we do not consider plant life to require the same sort of moral consideration as humans or animals.
Because of this, we are often more destructive and callous in our attitudes to plant life than we might be towards what we consider "higher" forms of life, such as mammals (and goodness knows we are pretty careless about those).
This hierarchical view of the natural world is something that has developed over millennia, both from the ancient Greeks and the teachings of Aristotle, and from the Old Testament, which teaches that man has "dominion" over the world.
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." Genesis, 1:26
Indeed, I have to admit that I am so deeply steeped in this tradition that I personally find it very difficult to get my head around the idea that there may one day be a "plant liberation" movement in the way that we have an "animal liberation" movement.
Dr Hall says: "In the ‘West’ (wherever that is) we don’t include plants within our moral sphere, a situation which most people think is ‘normal’. I basically wrote the book to try and find out why that was our default position, and to see if there were other ways of looking at plants, both from other cultures and from within plant science writings about the 'intelligence' of plants.
"The first three chapters look at this ‘exclusion’ of plants from the moral sphere and my argument is that this exclusion has been a deliberate process aimed at distancing humans from any sense of kinship with plants, something which we did once have.
"This is done by humans deciding that the faculties which humans or animals possess are somehow radically different and better than those plants possess. This has led to the idea that plants are a lesser form of life with lesser faculties, lacking in sensation, movement and intelligence.
"It’s really difficult to say why we’ve done this, but it always seems to be connected with a need to claim the natural world purely as a passive human ‘resource’ (as happens in Plato, Aristotle, the Bible) rather than as an equally valid, and related, place of life and being.
"For me, this process only really became clear when I looked at other cultures where plants are related to as proper persons (as well as being resources) because they are related to humans as creatures that come from the Earth, and because (as anyone who looks closely at plants sees) they obviously actively live their lives. Most interestingly, this way of looking at plants is backed up by lots of recent scientific evidence on plant behaviour."
So which cultures DO regard plants as worthy of the same care and consideration? What about Buddhists?
Dr Hall says: "Interestingly, Buddhism is actually split on whether plants are sentient or not. In Tibetan Buddhism for example, plants are not one of the six realms of sentient life. Tibetan Buddhists can’t be reborn as plants and therefore eating plants doesn’t involve ‘proper’ killing.
"It’s thought that this is a reversal from an earlier position where plants were thought to be sentient, but similar processes of exclusion rendered the situation similar to the one we have in the West.
"However, in East Asian Buddhism (traditions such as Zen), there has been a tradition of regarding plants as sentient, and some thinkers have even regarded them as enlightened(!), because they show the hallmarks of enlightenment e.g. not accruing any karma, wisdom, patience…
"Plants have been regarded as ‘sentient’ in early Hindu texts and very strongly in the Jain tradition. In Indigenous cultures and in Paganism, people tend not to use the word ‘sentient’ but speak of kinship with plants which are actually related to as proper family (for example, my uncle’s uncle is a kurrajong tree – and with all the respect that deserves) and as proper persons. Amazing really!"
Amazing, indeed - it's the sort of subject that leads you on and on into further investigation and inquiry. I'd always thought, for example, that Jainism was a branch of Hinduism until I looked it up. I now realise that despite superficial similarities, they are actually quite different.
I won't pretend to you that this is anything other than an academic book, but I think the ideas in it are fascinating. I know that, for some years, the Catholic church has been moving towards the idea of "stewardship" rather than "dominion" over the natural world, and for many Christians in general, the ethical issues involved in conservation are beginning to supplant the old belief that the planet was ours to do with as we liked.
However, for us to think differently about the world often requires a really radical shift. Dr Hall ruefully admits that a lot of his scientific colleagues "run a mile at even the mention of the word religion".
He himself takes up no particular religious position, merely asking where these beliefs come from and the effects they have had.
So, are you still guffawing? Or are you feeling rather thoughtful? If it's the latter, and you want to find out more, go here
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Mini garden makeover!
Every year, in late spring, it has spectacular flower sprays, which the bees love. It has always looked a bit odd, sticking up in the middle of the lawn, but I'm fond of it. However, since I've gravelled the area around the pond, this has created a long straight line along the right-hand side of the garden, which I don't like. Apart from anything, it makes the cordyline look even odder.
She got me to move a big pot with a huge hosta in it to the left of the tree. She said this would help tie the tree to the garden. Then, she said, I should deturf a rectangle around the tree, and gravel it, as I had done with the area around the pond. She said I should plant low-growing plants there, such as the Mexican daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, which grows all over the garden.
Goodness, I hate deturfing! It's a backbreaking, knee-aching job.
Oops, there's a light here, which illuminates the cordyline at night. I went round it very carefully, so as not to sever the cable or electrocute myself.
All I did when I put the gravel down round the pond was to lay a thick layer of sharp sand before putting down the stones. The sand is soft, so it's easy to level, and to bed the bigger stones in. You have to be sure where you want to put your plants as well - there's nothing more irritating than trying to dig a hole in the middle of a lot of small stones.
In the end, I used my hosta pot, plus a phormium that I had lying around (as you do). This is 'Sundowner' which will look fabulous with the afternoon sun shining through its leaves.
As every woman knows, you should always check the back view, too...
This is the view from behind the new bit. I love the way the view of the garden is now framed.
Monday, June 13, 2011
The rose gardens at Mottisfont Abbey
A short stroll from the house leads up past the stable block to the rose gardens, where the historic collection of old shrub roses amassed by Graham Stuart Thomas is held. As advisor to the National Trust for 30 years, Stuart Thomas was responsible for restoring some of the most beautiful gardens in Britain. You can read more about his work at Mottisfont here.
The planting is cleverly balanced so that the roses, although they have a starring role, do not completely overshadow the herbaceous perennials. You're still aware of contrasts in colour and texture and shape. The result is very harmonious, which makes the garden a lovely place just to be.
This is the classic view of Mottisfont, the rose walk - planted with the climber Adelaide d'Orleans. It's a very pale pink, with darker buds.
There are two rose gardens at Mottisfont - the historic old roses garden and the new rose garden, below.
The climbing rose on the pergola is 'Debutante', a Wichurana rambler (below)
I love the eremurus erupting from this border like a flowery firework.
Even the propagation area is as pretty as a picture
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Coming soon: The Kittens
This is Mario, who is a chocolate Abyssinian.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
What taking home a piece of Chelsea looks like
I went to the Crocus Chelsea sell-off sale on Saturday. I'd been to one of their open day/sales before and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to going back. This sale had been much more widely publicised, and anyone within 100 miles who had seen something they coveted at the Chelsea Flower Show was determined to pitch up and snag a bargain.
Crocus were the contractors on two Chelsea gardens, Luciano Giubbilei's Laurent-Perrier Garden, which won a gold medal, and Cleve West's design for the Daily Telegraph, above, which won Best in Show. They also supplied some of the plants for Robert Myers' Cancer Research Garden, so they knew exactly which plants each designer had used.
All around the nursery, plants bore labels stating in which garden they had had a starring role. The only major omission was the gorgeous dark red Dianthus cruentus used by Cleve West, below, which had been a sensation at Chelsea and had sold out days and days ago.
Saturday was a hot summer day, and Crocus was busy. Really busy. It was like the opening day of Harrods sale. As I arrived, at 10.15am (thanks to roadworks, I was held up for 45 minutes coming off the M3), there were already queues to pay and tractorloads full of plants waiting to be unloaded. One innovation was the presence of plant experts in blue jackets, who were available to answer queries.
Here's another little mini "Chelsea" garden, below. What's interesting about these plants is that they belong to different buyers. At Crocus sales, you go round with a sheet of stickers and label the plants you want to buy, which are then picked up and taken to the central payment point.
Luckily - and no offence to Cleve - I didn't actually want Chelsea plants, but was hoping to grab some Canna striatus at a reasonable price instead of the normal exorbitant one. I very rarely see it on sale for less than a tenner a pot (come to that, I very rarely see it on sale full stop), but the special open day price at Crocus was £5. I bought four.
I am half-sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The moveable feast
I’ve never been a great vegetable grower, more for lack of time and space than anything else. However, I do like home-grown tomatoes and this year I found the perfect way to plant them.
I bought an EarthBox, which sounds a bit like something a cat might use to relieve itself, but which in fact is a sort of windowbox on wheels.
You could be forgiven for thinking it was a solid gold windowbox on wheels, because I thought it was quite expensive considering that it is basically a plastic box.
I have to admit, the price really put me off, and I dithered for ages about whether to buy the plant support system that went with it too. The box was £35 and the staking system cost £25. I bought mine at Wisley, but you can buy them on Amazon.
Those of you who have allotments are probably rolling about on the floor laughing at my extravagance by now, but a, I bought the EarthBox with some gift vouchers that my family gave me for Christmas and b, I am now growing tomatoes and lettuce for the first time for years.
What’s wrong with a growbag, I hear you ask. Well, growbags are great (I used one to fill my EarthBox), but they are also static. And heavy. So you can’t whisk them out of the way if you suddenly decide you want that space for something else.
The EarthBox on the other hand, rolls gently across the patio out of the way if you have, say, people round for drinks and need more room for seats. You can also turn it round to follow the sun. And of course it is reusable.
I have lost the odd lettuce leaf to slugs and snails, but nothing major, which is pretty good considering I've done nothing to deter them.
The EarthBox is also self-watering. I think I have topped up the tank once since I assembled it, which given that this has been the hottest, driest spring for centuries, is pretty good.
Basically, there is a big reservoir in the bottom, which you fill via a plastic tube. You give the whole thing a good watering before you plant and from then on, the water is drawn up through the compost.
The cleverest bit, as far as I'm concerned, is what the manufacturers call a mulch cover. This is like a plastic shower cap that fits over the top of the box, which stops the water evaporating. The manufacturers are proud of the fact that it keeps weeds down, thus eliminating the need for herbicide. I must say, I laughed when I read this - the idea that you might need to resort to weedkiller in a space this small was hilarious. No, make that tragic.
I'm glad I bought the staking system, as it is very sturdy. It comes with a net for climbing plants, but I've tied in a couple of canes to support my tomatoes.
The manufacturers claim that the assembly instructions are foolproof, which is true, up to a point. However, if you've bought the staking system, you cannot assemble it after you have filled and planted the EarthBox. Again, if you have the staking system, the wheels from the basic EarthBox are used in a different way. I think the EarthBox instructions should make this clear.
The only other quibble I have is with the name. Rather than EarthBox, with its connotations of kitty litter, I think I would rechristen it The Moveable Feast.