Thursday, 1 October 2009


First the swank: our snowdrops are already looking absolutely lovely, my deah! We have nine in bloom, as of this afternoon, all looking ridiculously out of place among the golden autumn afterdaze. They are Galanthus reginae-olgae (picture left) and come sans leaves, during the closing days of September. They prefer it a bit hotter and drier than most snowdrops and are happy in my searing gravel, where the cats crap and where a fox, last spring, buried an entire rabbit. The leaves follow at more normal snowdrop time in January.

If you've got snowdrops out, tell me! Bet you haven't!!!

Second, the moan. No rain now for weeks and my poor October lovelies are more wilty than ever. Chrysanthemums sulking, lower leaves dying before the buds open; Schizostylis going schizo because they're thirsty; dahlias looking jaded. Clover is the only thing making my lawn green and when I went to plant a few bulbs, I nearly shattered my elbow trying to dig a trowel into the ground.

Now the story - such as it is.
I spent Tuesday at the RHS Garden, Wisley, travelling with a celebrated and respected journalist - no, not the Hat, this time - and what I saw, down in that RHS topknot garden was enough to make me dance with delight, whoop aloud and clap several startled members of the public on the back with heartiness and bonhomie.

Miscanthus sinensis in full fettle uphill from the glasshouse at Wisley.

Among the trials, down on the Portsmouth field, there's a superb collection of garden-worthy dahlias, some with dark leaves, others not. Many of them show terrific promise and it's comforting to know that more new varieties are on the way. However, I won't dwell because this blog has been a dahlia-ed already.

Three things that really excited me, this time, were Tom Stuart Smith's magnificent gardens around the glasshouse. His semi-circular layout has matured in an amazingly short time and although the beech columns need a little maintenance, the overview was not only enchanting, in its own right, but resonates so aptly with the neighbouring parts of the garden.

I wrote about this in A Garden Under Glass and for Gardens Illustrated when it was new, but to an extent, what I wrote then was an act of faith. Now that Tom's gardens have matured, I'm delighted to find that that my original eulogistic prediction was, if anything, understated.

Gaura flowers really were dancing like butterflies in Piet Oudolf's planting.

Uphill from the Glasshouse Garden, I followed the two big borders originally planted by Piet Oudolf and subsequently 'tickled up' by others. With the sun in my face, viewing all those dying grasses and perennials contre jour, was like wandering through a glittery dream where everything is luminously atremble.

Later, coming down hill past the main herbaceous borders was an equally inspiring experience. Here, David Jewel - surely, one of the most interesting creative planters around, these days - has managed to stage a theatrical masterpiece. Even now, after a long, hard summer, there is still plenty to come. Strong colours rule - quite different from the Oudolf 'sere and yellow' - but wherever you examine plant combinations, you are startled by their daring. A vivid purple Salvia leucantha, for instance, near the dark leaved Dahlia 'Twinings After Eight' with a short Cortaderia and red fuchsias. And it worked! They all blended beautifully.

The big double borders at Wisley, David Jewel's triumph of creative planting.

There's no doubt that with a double border, whatever the size, the whole is greater - far greater - than the sum of its parts. Both big double borders at Wisley should be looking a little bit knackered, by now but they don't. They look bloody marvellous. And at home my double border looks bloody awful. Sigh!

Outstanding plants, also at Wisley, included Wisteria frutescens 'Longwood Purple,' - short, stubby racemes - unmistakeably a wist but a late summer one. Worth growing, if you ask me.

Also the nerines in the glasshouse and Wisley's extensive collection of Hydrangea paniculata. They pollard them, to soup up the flower power - and it works. Even in extreme age, these flowers are lovely. Am I the only person who thinks dead hydrangeas are far prettier and more interesting than living ones?

Delightful chaos: Piet Oudolf's borders, augmented, at Wisley.

I'm listening to Brahms String Sextet Number 2 in G Major.

This Week's film was Stagecoach, a greatly acclaimed Western but for me, it has two serious problems: John Wayne. Firstly, the man simply couldn't act and relied on speaking really slowly in the hopes that that would build up some kind of tension. Secondly, when seen in motion, he gave the impression of being a nicotine-addled wreck who would need a week's holiday to recover from shooting a single scene. Action Man he wasn't. The other problem about the DVD I bought is its abysmal print quality. We are warned never to buy pirated copies but the film industry might want to 'keep a slice of all the advice they give so free' and stop fobbing us customers off with crappy videotape recordings, cropped for square televisions and packaged as higher tech DVDs.

This day in 2006 I managed to change the internal battery of my iPod. In those days, that was a scary thing to do. Apple provided you with an odd plastic tool which wasn't strong enough to open the iPod and a tutorial CD-ROM to talk you through the terrifying procedure.



  1. Oh, I just have to post a response having read this over breakfast.

    Those plantings are just glorious, I agree. And how speedily the glasshouse borders have reached this point. Every time I go there, & that is quite frequently, I sometimes am too busy taking photo after photo, most of them rubbish sadly, to stop & just take it all in.

    I think my only criticism of the Piet Oudolf borders is that I feel the path should be winding in amongst all those great swathes of plants so you can feel a real part of it all - but then you couldn't have that same view down the hill.

    Thanks for those wonderful descriptions.

  2. Agree T S-S planting is looking amazing - saw it in the summer, all acid green euphorbias and purple salvias. How was James Hitchmough's meadow behind the glasshouse holding up into the autumn? It was fabulous in June, like one of those packets of tutti frutti sweets we used to eat as kids

  3. Yes, dead hydrangeas are infinitely preferable. Ideally in a skip, which is where the ones we inherited on moving house ended up.

  4. My garden has really been struggling for the last couple of weeks. Finally it has rain over night so I can now have a go at planting the bulbs.

    Havent been to Wisley but now I have seen some photos of those borders will put it on my list for next summer