Tuesday, 24 November 2009


What ho!

A couple of nice things:
1. My Daphne bholua 'Darjeeling' has begun to flower and smells wonderful. I always think the leaves should make good tea with a variety name like that.

2. I've got the tulips planted - well, all but 50 'Queen of the Night' which will be put snugly close to Wendy, so their near-black petals contrast with her opulent cream paint. Being an absolute cheapskate, I've raided the garden for self-sown forget-me-nots to plant in all the terrace pots, as foils to the 'Orange Lion' tulips. Who needs to buy bedding, when freebies like these abound?

And a very, very sad thing:
The PG's car has died. She muttered something to me about it having mad a strange clunking noise, and that it had spewed dark and visceral-looking liquid over the ground. Next morning, she announced that it would go backwards, but not forwards. 'When I tried to drive it across the yard, there was a loud clatter and bits of gear - I'm talking broken cogs here - burst out of its bottom onto the gravel.

Later, a fey but extremely obliging mechanic arrived to price up a likely repair bill. 'Yer diff's completely smashed up,' he told us, helpfully, 'an' it's bust through.' I've no idea what a 'diff' is, but I'm nowhere near thick enough not to understand that 'bust through' is pretty final.

The cost of repair would exceeded the value of the vehicle. So, one, black Fiat Punto, not quite 10 years old, and therefore not eligible for the scrappage scheme - Damn! Damn ! DAMN!!!!! - RIP.

Broiler Orchids. Phalaenopsis flocking for fancy retailers.

Thanks for all the responses to the gardeners vs designers thingy. I think we've all said enough on that one, don't you?

And if you haven't yet been, get over to Martyn Cox's alternative awards. Much more fun and far less self-congratulatory than the real Garden Media Guild thing which looms next week.

I got far too caught up, first with the Sock's South Africa reveries and then with the Hat's return from NY and subsequent shenanigans on brainybuggersgardens that I failed to tell you about my trip, earlier this month, to Double H nurseries.

An immeasurable sea, not of gravy but begonias!

Picture, if you will, a big factory farm. An intensive broiler chicken operation, with important-looking people doing important-looking things in white coats; zillions of livestock, all crammed together, all looking absolutely identical and stretching almost as far as the eye can see. Got that image? Nasty, isn't it?

Now, in your mind, turn those animals into plants. Not nearly so nasty, I'd suggest. In fact, not nasty at all. Plants, you see, are not - as far as we know - sentient creatures. They have complex physical needs, but if these are met in full, they grow, they thrive and there is no visible sign of suffering. Even though they are being raised in the most unnatural conditions possible, they all look absolutely glorious.

Potting by batch, at Double H Nurseries.

At Double H, they go in for big numbers. 45,000 begonias, for example - PER WEEK! 32,000 pot chrysanthemums and gawd knows how many Phalaenopsis - their big thing. When we visited, they had 200,000 cyclamen ready to go out and, among masses of other stuff, enough Poinsettias to lower the tone of almost every Christmas household in the UK.

Mike Holmes, Double H's Technical Manager spells out Phalaenopsis technology.

We were introduced to the remarkable culture techniques for Phalaenopsis. The plants go, mostly, to retailers like Marks Expensives and Sainsburys, grown on to flowering perfection, and dunked into a fancy ceramic pot for added value.

Several things struck me about this place. Many of the staff were Polish. They were remarkably skilled at what they did and appeared to take terrific pride in such demanding and difficult work. The automation was impressive - mechanical potting etc. - but the whole system depended on the watchfulness and competence of the staff.

Bio security is strict, with stringent quarantine rules for all plant material coming in. We had to wear protective clothing and dip our shoes in disinfectant, before being allowed into the more hallowed growing areas.

A football pitch of bronze pot chrysanthemums. Who buys these things?

The Phalaenopsis take 30 months, from propagule to market size. That's some investment in time, not to mention mazulah! The Pot Chrysanthemums only take 8 weeks, the cheap, nasty things!

After such an interesting visit, I thought that I'd seen enough pot 'mums' and lurid begonias to get me through for the rest of my days without ever encountering another.

On the way home, I reflected on the day, as the train ran through the New Forest towards Southampton. What a difference! Vast, flat sweeps of garish 'flars' compared with afternoon sun on the golden bracken, rusty leaves, silver-grey birch trunks, making long shadows and pools of light in the New Forest.

Whenever I go into Marks and Sparks, in the future, and see those ritzy orchids in their smart plastic wraps and ritzy price tags, I'll recall the jolly Polish gals, working away among acres and acres of the things. That place, though light, live and flowery, still recalls - to me at any rate -the spirit of William Blake's 'Dark, satanic mills.'

Cyclamen by by the mile.

I'm listening to Marlene Dietrich singing an old recording of Lilli Marlene.

This week's film was La Vie en Rose, the biopic of Edith Piaf. When her song came out, back in the 60s, I thought the title was La Viande Rose, so usually referred to it as 'Pink Meat.' What an awful life that poor woman had! No wonder she was so nasty.

This day in 2005 it was bitterly cold - I'd photographed frost on the Brussels sprout leaves two days before - and we were visited by my daughter, son-in-law and little granddaughter who at 2, had already learnt how to turn on the charm.

Bye bye for now.


  1. Sorry about PG's recent loss :(

    Your trip reminds me of Palmstead Nurseries - described to me by its founder as a 'garden factory'. They propogate 800,000 perennials and shrubs per year at the moment and plan to quadruple this!

    Impressive, but I suspect not very rewarding as a day job.

  2. Sorry, that should read propagate of course.

    Hope the GMG Awards are jollier than you seem to be expecting. Will Silvertreedaze be making an appearance there?

  3. My mum buys those chrysanths!

  4. Would the PG be tempted by an MG? It would be so much more fitting.

  5. I am very sad about the demise of the PG's car (please convey suitably worded condolences) and quite intimidated by the Polish Phalaenopsis wrangler. It's the white hair and steely glint behind the specs.