Monday, 30 March 2009


With apologies to all for substandard photographs in today's post.

Nice naffodils, in Saint Jim's

It happened as I was striding through the Whitehall end of  St James's Park, last Thursday, on my way to the RHS Council Room to attend a 'teach in' about children and gardens.

I was feeling a bit virtuous and smug, having just walked there from Kings Cross station, and a few moments earlier, had nodded to the statue of my big hero, Captain James Cook, near Admiralty Arch, before walking past the banked flower beds which front the shrubs which, in turn, partially conceal the public conveniences.  Bogs in parks are so fussily planted up that it's hardly surprising they're called  'cottages!' 

Royal Parks usually do pretty well with their bedding, blending crassness with unnerving colour combinations.  When beds are massed, as here at Saint Jim's, they have the effect of making one feel exhilarated but at the same time, slightly nauseous and trembly.  This spring, Parks have stuck rigidly to their policy of sustained fortissimo and when I spotted the beds from afar, I was about to adjust my ancient, wrinkled, chammy leather face into a supercilious sneer of superiority when all of a sardine, I was whacked almost senseless by a brutal, olfactory cosh.  So instead of scoffing, I found myself swooning in an ecstasy of fragrant pleasure.

I can't play back the perfume, for you but I took a picture with my iPhone which, though wonderful in every other respect, has a totally pants camera.  BTW, the other scary thing about the iPhone is its slick shape.  It has nowhere to grip and feels like taking pictures with a bar of wet soap.  One day, I'm sure I'll drop it, hopefully not like Lucy, though, who gave hers an impromptu bath.   Sorry, therefore, about the grotty picture quality, but it gives you a rough idea of what we are up against, visually, at least.

Discreet, quiet, tasteful - iPhone picture of the bedding near
 the bogs in Saint James's  What colour will the tulips be?

Nothing smells quite as gorgeous as an over-bred polyanthus.  Cowslips smell faintly of freesia, a fragrance that instantly recalls early childhood, for me, when my parents would take me into the meadows to pick bunches of them.  Some, but not all primroses have a sweeter scent, unless you bruise a leaf which then smells slightly acrid - like school ink.   But modern polyanthuses (polyanthes? polyanthi??) seem to have caught up the fragrance of both species and have had that amplified, perhaps in parallel with the grotesquely inflated flower sizes.

A pink haze of cherry blossom, in Saint James's Park. 
Not remotely relevant to the post, but pretty, all the same.

I am resolved to grow some of these hybrid monster pollies next year, but will have to erect a black gauze veil over them, so that I can breathe in the celestial vapour without having to endure the hell of those violent colours and blowsy, caricatured blooms.

Speaking of which, the bloody wood pigeons have turned their attention from anemone buds, in my wood garden, to the primulas.  The sods!

This post was supposed to describe the sexual promiscuity that has been going on beneath the bushes at the bottom of my garden, but I got carried away by the Royal Parks Bedding Schemes. You see how damaging they can be?   Imagine how much they must terrify the horses.  More on nice primulas soon.

I'm listening to  Strauss's song Die Heiligen drei K├Ânige aus Morgenland. The accompaniment has a musical phrase which sounds just like the theme music for The West Wing.

This day in 1988, I was writing a book called Laissez Faire Gardening for Helm - a chapter on roses.   2000 words in rough in a single day, I boast in my diary.  No wonder it needed so much editing!

Fallen petals.  Cherry blossom, so long awaited, is soon gone.

Sexual promiscuity in my next post - and that's a promise!  


  1. The fragrance of masses of daffodils is heavenly, and I love the smell of 'Cheerfulness' indoors, which many people find overwhelming. I can't recall having experienced the perfume of polyanthus - the idea of primrose leaves smelling like school ink intrigues me ...

    (Your phone-hued photos are marvellous! I'm tempted to download them and experiment with the colours on Photoshop - but you might do me for copyright infringement!)

  2. Snobs: I think I see the reference, St James's Park, proximity of Royalty,
    Heavenly Pongs: Yip. Right with you. Breathy Narcissus. Yum Yum.etc
    I hope we are not lowering the tone too far here, Nigel. I am sure the explanation is perfectly innocent and has nothing to do with either cottaging or the activities beneath your hedge.

  3. I'm guessing lipstick red for the tulips. They have a thing about red, the Royal parks. Like those Americana Red geraniums they have outside Buckingham Palace, that match the guardsmen's uniforms. It sounds good, until you realise that if you're standing anywhere near the geraniums, you can't actually see the guardsmen. (And if you're standing anywhere near the guardsmen, you're probably about to be arrested by Special Branch.)

  4. Plants of Distinction do a lovely collection of Primulas seeds - I think they are called Elizabethan mix. I have had some really good results with them.

  5. I love parks planting in Spring, especially on roundabouts, nothing better than flowers en masse, great blocks of pristine colour that I can only look at with awe and wonder how do they do it when my 'naturalised' bulbs insist in naturalising under bushes, under the fence, go blind, get eaten by slugs etc... in Weymouth you used to be able to visit the local council's greenhouses and see how they produced their fantastic displays.

  6. I am jealous, I miss London out here in the US.

    This being said, I was in Atlanta yesterday and spring has sprung so much earlier than in the Pacific Northwest.

    Driving from Alpharetta to the Atlanta Airport there was blossom everywhere with brilliant purples and pinks mixed in with the green hue of new leaves. My driver said "you wait until we get close to the airport" and as we did there was Wysteria out in abundance and dogwood too (there are so many varieties here in GA that they have a dogwood festival!)

    Anyway... that made up a little for the regional jet ride to Chicago in a thunderstorm!

  7. James A-S - the 'snobs' bit is me, being snobby about bedding - but I get the connexion with Buck House etc. The 'knobs' part is, I agree, a bit suspect - interpret as you will.

    Over the way from the greenery, they were preparing for the visit of Mr Obamaramarama. I'm told the US wanted the Presidential limousine to park right outside the Cabinet War Rooms but the authorities worried that because of its extraordinary weight, being a motorised fortress, it might crash through the pavement and end up actually in Churchill's wartime sleeping quarters. Wot a larf!

    Victoria - I believe your namesake Monarch demanded the red geraniums outside her London home and they've been planted there ever since.

    Trishia - at least the wood pigeons don't eat them.

    James - stop complaining. The azaleas and magnolias in the Southern US are utterly fantastic and I'm jealous. I recall being bowled over by them in New Orleans a few springs ago.

  8. Daffodils are up here but that's all. We still have too many frosty mornings and freezing winds. The days keep slipping away. We may have to skip spring altogether.

  9. Hmm.

    Came over to pick up a link for my new blog - Esther's Boring Garden Blog and discover evidence of sabotage. Were you not, only the other day, recommending to my friend Lucy that she replace her 'washed' phone-camera with an iPhone?


  10. Ah, yes, quote . . .

    "Have you considered the total, unadulterated joy and delight of an iPhone?"

    Interesting blue rinse.


    Have kept meaning to come back and commiserate about the pigeons. Something happened when I was leaving a comment the other day so I abandoned it at the time.