Tuesday, 11 August 2009


Begonia 'Sherbet Bon Bon' - don't blame me, I didn't name it! A trailing variety which flowers all summer, photographed at the Ball Colegrave open day in Adderbury, Oxon, last Friday. I like it.

Sad things:
- The swifts are gone. Only two pairs nested in our roof this year - three less than last year.
- The garden robins have disappeared. Two birds which are my constant companions through the seasons are simply not there any more. I fear disease.

Happy things:
- Anthyllis vulneraria has seeded copiously in my shingle bank and produced a peppering of babes. I'm hoping for an interesting colour range.
- The swallows appear to have had a good season with loads of young.
- More butterflies than ever, this year. More Painted Ladies than the world's largest brothel could boast and at Wisley the other day, a Clouded Yellow. Hurrah!

Well the sun has come out, at last, but I have to say that it rather lacks conviction. Last week's incredibly heavy rain has revived the mildew on our aged perennials and bashed down the last of the big daisies. The late asters and chrysanthemums are weeks away and there is, frankly, b***all to pick for the house other than the late sweet peas which, at last, are delivering. If only I'd grown more, and in a wider variety. The saving grace of my red, pink or white ones is that they smell divine.

Something without a shred of decency or kindness is ruining all our dahlias. I prefer single flowered varieties - you may remember one of my own children here - but their blooms are so much more vulnerable than big doubles. Thus, whenever a thrips (it's one thrips/many thrips. there's no such thing as a 'thrip') or a capsid bug, or one of the loathsome army of pre-pubescent snails that seems to have invaded our patch, arrives at a flower, it is soon ruined, misshapen and ugly.

Some members of the RHS T.O.P Committee, making a fashion statement at Ball Colegrave. Story follows.

One thing I am proud of, though, is the 'lawn.' I vowed, when we moved here, never to feed it and had been concerned that it had developed the habit of turning from green to a rather bilious tint far too early each season. But I was adamant - no feed! The poor water table carries enough nitrogen pollutant in these parts, anyway.

Back in April, this year, I decided to dispense with the grass box on the mower and to allow the mowings to lie on the top. This demands rather more frequent mowing, to avoid clots of damp mowings everywhere, so increased petrol usage may cancel any savings on non-sustainable fertilizer. But the overall effect has been astounding. We are green, my dears, green, green, green! My theory is that the clover is responsible.

Let me explain:
1. Our lawn was about 60%clover, 10% moss and 30% grass with a few flowers. Oh, all right, then, weeds! (In fact, it was a groundsman's nightmare.)
2. Clover fixes nitrogen from the air.
3. The severed clover leaves rot down speedily releasing their newly acquired nitrogen.
4. Ergo - the grass snaps up the N and the lawn goes green, green, green. But the daisies and flowers have reduced - a little, and I'm a bit sad about that.

Anyway, enough already!

Tropical Plant expert, Tim Miles admires a Niagara of dangly begonias at Ball Colegrave.

Last Friday, I joined the illustrious Royal Horticultural Society's Tender Ornamental Plant Committee for a trip to the trials and demonstration plantings laid on by Ball Colegrave at Adderbury, near the town to which that lady rode a cock horse, ie, Banbury.

What exactly is a 'cock horse' - does any one know? It sounds a bit rude. And if you reverse the order of the two words, it sounds even ruder!!

A-a-anyway! I have to say that some of the plants soon to come into more general cultivation are rather impressive. We saw some enchanting herbaceous climbers, for instance - a winsome, white Lophospermum - like a climbing foxglove; sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, with golden or purple leaves and an overwhelmingly loud, brash, bright Niagara of dangly begonias. There were suteras which don't look like weeds - that's new! - Callibrachoas in coffee and cream hues, fancy selections of smelly but enticing lantanas and, oh, so much more!

The most heartening words of the day, issuing from the lips of Ball Colegrave's Stuart Lowen went something along these lines. I paraphrase:

Too many plants have been bred to lose their character, have become too compact and may not last. They look fine in sales displays but might not perform well in peoples gardens. We are trying to develop plants that will perform well at planting, and will last much, much longer in the season.

I suspect that some of you will loath bedding and others, probably rightly, are concerned about summer annuals and carbon footprints. You may raise an incredulous eyebrow at the concept of window boxes, baskets and summer displays - but for millions of gardeners, these are the heart and soul of what they grow and love. And when a breeder, or a propagator begins to recognise and to acknowledge the wrongness of developing plants that sit prettily in Danish Trolleys, but let gardeners down before the end of July, I believe real progress has been made.

So hats off to Stuart and everyone at Ball Colegrave. Lets have lots more plants that we can set out in June and still enjoy in mid October! And with climate change, perhaps we will see parks bedding hang on until November.

Callibrachoa Can Can 'Mocha' The petunia's cousin in coffee and cream tints.

I'm listening to Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.

This week's film was Pasolini's rich, 1970s raunch-fest, Il Fiore delle Mille e Una Notte (Arabian Nights) which is pretty uninhibited with its nudity, especially male, but is a beautiful and skillfully woven tapestry made from threads of the original Sheherazade stories. Princesses, love, demons, love, djinns, slaves, love, amazing scenery - it was shot in Yemen, Iraq and Nepal - and scads of very, very naughty bits.

This time last year I was biking into a keening westerly, across the Fens. We had hobbies nesting down, sadly, I haven't seen them there this summer.

Got to go weeding. Bye for now!


  1. I found this a really inspiring read - not only because the enthusiasm is infectious but because of its wonderfully optimistic and cheerful tone. I'm glad you decided not to stop blogging after all.

    I don't know much about robins - except that their song is my favourite amongst all birds (and that they are extremely violent and warlike, despite their image . . . a bit like doves - which will fight to the death) - but I do hope they will come back / be replaced.

    Cock horses . . . cock robins . . .

    The begonia photo suggests that it is a wonderful place. I have friends with a begonia in their bedroom. It goes right up to the ceiling like a huge bush, then out across the room on strings. It is the most extraordinary, exuberant (and rather overwhelming!) house plant I know! It must be like sleeping in a jungle.

    Best wishes.


  2. I believe clover and moss lawns are the best type of lawn. Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it, especially as my green sward is the envy of my neighbours!

    Looks like you had a good old rootle around at Ball Colegrave. I haven't come across Callibrachoa before. Is it scented as well? If it is, then it might be put into my solitary hanging basket next year...

    Thanks so much for your comment over at mine :) Patient Gardener and I also found the Nepeta gorgeously swarming with bees on Monday at Hampton Court - the Herefordshire version that is.

  3. PS My understanding of 'cock horse' from my childhood was the use of an adult's knee as a pretend hobby horse. And a toy hobby horse is also known as a cock horse.

    Neither of which fits in that well with Banbury Cross or having rings on fingers or bells on toes!

    Confused? You will be...

    PPS I'm growing Firecracker Begonias for the first time this year. I'm a complete convert and am deeply envious of Ball Colegrave's and your brother's examples.

  4. I dont feed my lawn and it is really a mixture of clover moss and other 'weeds' with the odd bladeof grass in between. I think it looks lovely when it flowers but my father, he of the old school, is driven mad by it!

  5. Come the revolution , Brother Colborn, all RHS Plant Committees will have to wear full length Cassocks rather than three quarter length trouserings and unsuitable beachwear.