Tuesday, 21 July 2009


Leucanthemum x superbum 'Phyllis Smith' - shaggy, blowsy and lovely.
Like fried eggs done in proper bacon fat, and hot enough to splutter.

This is the fourth attempt at starting a blog post, having spent the last hour downloading an inordinate quantity of impromptu software updates. They all seem to come at once and the least important - a Google Earth plugin thingy, in this case - seemed to take the longest to crank itself onto my somewhat aged Mac G5.

All the school kids in the village are home for the long hols. It's raining outside and they're all logged onto something or other, so what is laughingly called 'broadband,' round here, is narrower than a wasp's waist - thank you BT, as ever, for such an absolutely SHITE service.

Recent rain may have rescued and freshened things a bit but our garden is beginning to slide into the usual midsummer, mid-life crisis. Every time I venture outside and look at the borders, I'm reminded of a blowsy female who got too plastered to remove her make-up, last night, and is now blinking to a wakefulness of smudged lipstick, migrating mascara, headache and a flaking psyche. (Not that I've ever been near such a personage, you understand.)

There is plenty of colour, of course, and some things - such as Allium sphaerocephalon - are looking their best. But all virginal or vernal traces are gone, gone, gone. We are definitely in slut country, now and there we shall remain until crisp mornings come back to freshen things up.

Silly name, that by the way. The name 'sphaerocephalon' means rounded headed, but this particular garlic is one of the few that isn't - it's oblong. Botanists? Ha!

A proper Shirley poppy, with pale pollen.

I've become even more obsessed by poppies. The true Shirley Strain of Papaver rhoeas, developed in the 1880s by the Rev. Wilkes, in his parish, near Croydon, originated from freak a pink one, he spotted in the wild. It had pale stamens, apparently. I encourage the grunge-coloured Cedric Morris selections to grow near my Shirleys and love it when they're promiscuous. You have to yank out dull red offspring but otherwise, the mix 'n' match technique come up with some exceedingly pretty blooms.

The big daisies Leucanthemum x superbum - butch cousins to our more petite Ox-eye daisies, L. vulgare, which frequent nitrogen-hungry meadows - are becoming a mini-obsession. I love all daisies, but varieties of especial charm, just now, include the delectably tarty 'Phyllis Smith,' (picture at top of post) repeat-flowering but feeble-stemmed 'Sonnenschein' which has pale yellow ray florets and a new one to me, the anemone flowered 'Christine Hagerman.' I will get more, including one usually sold as 'Old Court' whose ray florets are so thin and shaggy as to look like shredded coconut. It's real name, according to Graham Rice, is 'Beauté Nivelloise' a lovely name for a magnificently disshevelled and tousled flower.

A couple more discoveries: Walking under arch into our pretentiously named 'wild wood' which is a bit of overgrown shrubbery where the woodlanders grow, I picked up a delectable scent. Twas more subtle than honeysuckle, but sweet and compelling all the same. I soon discovered that the fragrance came from Clematis viticella 'Betty Corning' whose pale lavender-grey-blue flowers I have foiled with Rosa 'Compassion.' What a bonus! I love all the viticella varieties - though I suspect that 'Betty Corning' has a touch of C. texensis in her blood - partly because they flower in midsummer, but also because you can slash them half to death every winter and they bounce back.

Clematis viticella 'Betty Corning' has hidden qualities and a soft, unobtrusive colour.

Some of our roscoeas are looking quite nice, too. R. purpurea has been colourful for ages but the oddly named R. purpurea var alba is a winner, with its bold painted purple stripes on a white background. I love the flowers, but the habits of roscoeas leave much to be desired. Gawky, grassy things which don't know how to die down discreetly.

Roscoea purpurea 'Alba' exotic but untidy.

I'm listening to Bill Evans playing Never Let Me Go from his album Bill Evans Alone. His jazz is in tune with my garden, lazy, downbeat but still seductive - well, it is to me anyway. (People who worry about unclipped hedges, untrimmed edges and clover-ridden lawns need not apply!)

This week's film was Antonioni's Il Grido, which is set in the very, very flat, very, very muddy, Po Valley. Deliciously depressing with a perfectly apt conclusion, all amid grey skies, rain, snow and almost anything else that is positively un-Mediterranean.

This month in 1991 I was told that I was to be dumped from BBC Gardeners' World, when the programme moved from BBC Pebble Mill to an independent production company, the following season. It was the hardest and most bruising knock I have ever experienced. But I also began to write Short Cuts to Great Gardens with Conran Octopus and that turned out to be a worldwide best seller.


  1. Sounds like you have a gathering of excited girls in your garden all getting ready for a night out. I wonder who Phyllis Smith was and what she would think of being described as shaggy and blowsy!

  2. I've gone right off my Leucanthemum as they are sprawling around like a hen party on an ice rink. Legs everywhere and all terribly undignified.
    (Treat yourself to a new 24" iMac. You know it makes sense and it is tax deductible....

    go on.

    Do it today.)

  3. The 'Betty Corning' sounds and looks lovely.

  4. James - since writing this post we've had a gale, so my daisies are in total collapse, too. I'd have thought better of them, since I don't recall staking them in previous years.

    You must be reading my mind. I spent a while in Apple's amazingly plush new megastore in Regent Street yesterday, mainly to sus out the G5 range. I thought a 30" monitor, so that I can edit larger quantities of the PG's shots at any one time. What a machine! I also drooled over the tiny MacBook Air - wafer thin and as light but subtle as your inimitable prose! Doesn't plug into anything much, though.

  5. Behind with blogging as usual I nearly missed your interesting post. The Leucanthemum were popular at Hampton this year but I prefer the simple cottage garden variety.

    Love your Shiley poppy and clematis I wonder if I have room for one more clematis but a bit vigorous I suspect.