Tuesday, 31 August 2010


(A friend, Lucy, has pointed out that it's difficult to post comments. Has anyone else had a problem? Lord knows how you'll tell me if you have, but if you're having trouble connecting, my apologies! If I find a fault, I'll try to put it right.)

When visiting Gill Richardson's wonderful garden at Keisby, the other day, I was shown this absolutely MUST HAVE perennial, Serratula bulgarica. It was growing almost 9 feet tall, in semi-shade, towering above big persicarias and proving irresistible to bees which fed greedily on the white, thistly flowers.

It flops and slumps a bit drunkenly, as does Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne' but is not so hopelessly collapsible as Lespedeza, which I love, but whose habit can be a little challenging, especially to neighbouring plants. Gill very sweetly gave me a seedling which has gone into a place of honour in my Island Bed (the bed is a tribute to the late Alan Bloom who invented the things.) Soil there is moist and retentive.

I now grow two Serratula - the other being the low-growing, rosy mauve-flowered S. seoanei. Nice little seed heads!

The mysterious late-arriving swallows - a different pair from the ones who brought off five bouncy babes - which seemed obsessed with our garage had, in fact, occupied an ancient nest in a concealed part of the building. To my amazement, yesterday, two young, fledged birds flew out into a vicious northerly wind, coaxed by their anxious parents. I doubt they'll make it, to South Africa - the odds are horribly long, even for mature birds (try this link) - but I hope they do. It's so heartening to have had two pairs nesting with us, after such a long absence.

I've also cut our meadows and hauled off the 'hay.' A hard task, even though they're tiny, but my timing for once seemed right. This morning, the first colchicum showed a tight little bud. And on the thin bits, of which, I'm glad to say, there are plenty, I can see yellow rattle seed lying, ready to pop up and impoverish the grass next year. Cowslips are now at plague proportions, still seeding with staggering fecundity.

Ahem. Hrrrrh Hmmmm. I was moodily putting diesel into my car, the other day, when I saw something that made me want to kick the pump over and drive off furiously, crushing the bunches of lurid dahlias on sale, and knocking over the racks of unsold barbecue charcoal (shite summer, wasn't it?)

It was just a word, but it pushed my nuke button with a vengeance. The word was 'Excellium.' What is that supposed to mean? Would my car go faster because I had been filling it, not with smelly, overpriced, HIDEOUSLY over-taxed diesel, but with sleek, smooth, accomplished and feel goodish stuff called Excellium? Then I noticed that the petrol dispensers were also called 'Excellium.' So it isn't so much a diesel as a kind of over-all blessing. Not only am I buying Total fuel, but, thanks to their wonderfulness, I'm also receiving a special honeydewed gloriosity called Total Excellium. Total bullshit, more like.

What is it with these Graeco-Latin-cum-Chartered Beancounterish neologisms? Why do they all have to copy each other? I used to pay my electricity bills to the East Midlands Electricity Board in Nottingham - where England's most beautiful girls come from, apparently. Now we pay some distant, anonymous giant called E-on. Might as well call it E-off, for the number of powercuts we have, in my part of the world, or Eyore, for intellect of those who run this ex-nationalised heap.

I used to know an insurance company called Norwich Union. I believe a certain Norfolk turkey person worked there, before he began to twizzle. Now it's Aviva. Then there's that bus firm called Arriva, when their vehicles frequently don't arrive.

The Germans are at it, too. I spotted a headline about a firm called Infineon which has fallen prey to the massive chip manufacturers (silicon, rather than potato) Intel.

Intel is guilty of the most enfuriating little musical catch phrase ever transmitted on television: dumb-dumb...dumb-dumb! unless you also count that nauseating little 'Mmm-mmm - Danone' on the bowel bug ads.

Then we have Expedia, I wish they'd all stop, because it's very irritating indeed.

And another moderately interesting thing is that when I Googled 'Excellium' I got this: So there's another lot doing the Excellium thing. Might those two get cross with each other over copyright or anything, or is Excellium a real word?

For the future, I can see some likely name changes coming along. Here are a few that I've heard are being tried out with certain Focus Groups and potential target audiences:

Nappi-on - a well-known supplier or baby accoutrements.

Ex-Hortia - a certain August Society which used to be connected with Horticulture, now re-structured as a children's theme park company.

Pretentia - the new name for the Granta publishing company, also being considered for the re-vamp of the Simplon Orient Express.

Mediocreon - the post Coalition BBC. (Don't get me started!) Sherlock was quite good, but not that brilliant. A sort of Dr Who meets Doyle with Sonic iPhones. By the way, why is the music in TV drama serials so awful, nowadays? Indeed, why is modern film music so rubbish? Remember Ry Cooder's wonderful soundtrack in Paris Texas? Lawrence of Arabia, or the Zither in theThe Third Man?

Stagger-homeum - new name for the massive Peterborough Beer Festival which I attended last Tuesday.

That's enough neol0gisms (ed)

NEXT WEEK: Lincolnshire rhyming slang and a review of the Jonathan Ross Encyclopaedia of Advanced Vegetable Gardening. Watch this space.

I'm listening to some Schubert Lieder, sung by the incomparable Ian Bostridge.

This day last year, was Bank Holiday Monday. I stuck my first cuttings, in my beautiful new greenhouse, Wendy and we watched Lawrence of Arabia - the director's cut.

This week's film was Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice. It's a masterpiece, but I won't burden you with a comment. I'd need to watch it a second time, because I feel I've missed more than half of what's there. I did not sleep easily, for thinking about it. You might find this link of interest, though!

Happy September.

Friday, 20 August 2010


Victoria Summerly wrote, on Friday 13th, an inspired article in The Independent entitled Colour Prejudice in the English Garden.

It twanged a deeply sympathetic chord with me, as well as making me laugh like a drain. Quite rightly, she singles out the English as being the worst perpetrators of colour and style Fascism in their gardens. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, she suggests, are immune from such idiocy because of climatic or topographic limitations.

I'd narrow her geography down even further. The worst of the hortipuritans hang out south of Watford and East of Christchurch. There are pockets of creative inhibition elsewhere, of course. Harrogate is not exactly free of garden fascism and parts of the Cotswolds are highly suspect. But by and large, it seems to be a 'southern' thing and Victoria's piece reminded me of how much I hate such haughtycultural red-neckery.

Echinacea 'Art's Pride' with Scabiosa 'Chile Black' - hot colours for August and early autumn. Hues too shocking for Surrey gentility?

This is not a rational hatred, of course, and there's no virtue in it. Consider it on a par with wanting to fart in church, or, on being presented to the Queen at Chelsea, undergoing a wild fantasy of ignoring the outstretched, gloved hand and instead, throwing one's arms around the majestic personage and shouting, 'Come on, Grannikins, give yer loyal subject a big, sloppy kiss!!'

But doesn't it ever give you a sense of crashing hopelessness and despair, when you see yet another 'English Paradise' of genteel, colour co-ordinated, tastefully confined borders and lawns? Clippy-clippy yew allees; gracious planting schemes with refined and subtle lemons, creams, pinks or mauves; yards and yards of bloody lavender; tasteful obelisks furnished with pink roses and pale violet-blue clematis – these are the essential ingredients of a 'good' garden, we are told. By implication, a garden which does not exhibit these features is not good.

And don't forget the Chinoiserie garden seats, cherubic nudes – usually born minus genitalia – concrete greyhounds, chicken wire geese or faux Grecian urns, not to mention pointless sundials or lions' heads which drizzle water into upturned concrete scallop shells.

Modern additions to such 'refained' embellishments include snap-on conservatories or timber summer houses which must be painted thyme green and have that abomination of the 'noughties,' sedum sodding roofs.

It's all so bloodless. There's no passion, no wild abandon, no spunk. And there's certainly no risk.

What also narks me, about some of these Country Life Mag, Good Taste, Roy Strong-pleasing type gardens is that they're so smug and comfortable with themselves. No nasty innovative ideas, please, we're Surrey! Climate change? That doesn't affect us – we fly Business Class.

Trees and shrubs, in such places are 'correctly' pruned, as prescribed by the RHS. Border plans are still Jekyllic or Sissinghurstian, a century on from when such styles were innovative and exciting. In musical equvalents, it's like being stuck in a time-warp with Franz Lehar, Harry Lauder and Marie Lloyd.

Genuine nautical knick-knacks in a working chandler's yard. Potential garden ornaments?

Colour control seems to be at the very core of all this. Get out and about, in what's left of our countryside, and you'll find the most extraordinary colours working together like a gorgeous dream. Bluebells with red campion; an orange tip butterfly perching on pale lilac cuckoo flower; the bubblegum pink husks of Euonymus europaeus contrasting startlingly with the bright orange of the exposed seeds; strident yellow charlock and scarlet field poppies - there are countless wonderful and sometimes shocking combinations.

But in a garden, persons of delicate sensibilities might feel faint if they encounter a strident orange Geum, especially if it grows too close to a pink Sidalcea. I even knew rather grand gardener, female, who grew variegated London Pride in broad bands along her border front, but who cut off all the flowers before they emerged because their pale pink hue 'didn't go.' That, to her, was good colour discipline; to me it was sick and perverse.

And while we're on the subject, here's a bit of colour fascism from me: most variegated plants are about as sick and perverse as it's possible to be – specially the ones with stipples and blotches rather than well-defined cream or white lines. When I was learning to garden, back in the early seventies, I planted a variegated zone. It soon became known as 'the vomitorium' because every plant looked as though it had been chundered upon.

Lobelia speciosa 'Fan Rose' - another beauty for rude colour in late summer, provided you have moist, fertile soil. Almost nothing 'goes with' that shade of pink - wonderful, isn't it?!

And now that I've offended virtually everyone, I can conclude by saying that, thank goodness, there are plenty of gardeners, even in the Home Counties, who ignore all this nonsense and have exciting, vibrant, thought-provoking and emotionally moving gardens.

Fergus Garrett carries, with panache, the banner first raised by Christo Lloyd and as a result, the colours are more glorious than ever at Great Dixter, despite a strong presence of yew-hedgery and home counties posh. And Fergus' wild meadows are an inspiration to all of us. See them in early June and if you fail to be profoundly moved by the devastating beauty of such pristine flowery meads, you have a heart of carborundum.

The Hyde Hall Dry Garden, from a crushingly inauspicious start when a pile of rocks was dumped outside the main garden, has developed into a dazzling example of how to turn an unforgiving site into a horticultural gem. Not only that, it has never been watered and is as environmentally correct as can be.

Oh, and perhaps I should add, here, that my own garden is absolute crap, style wise. But it's mine and I love it and I'll do what I bloody well like in it.

I should admit, too, that there is just the teeniest bit of yew clippery in the form of two big bobbles. Each had a ridiculous nipple on top, when we move here, and both were too small. So I sheared off the protrusions and grew the little green boobs into big egg-shaped tumps. I think they're out of place - but as Victoria Summerley might say, they're there as 'ironic statements,' so that makes them all right.

Crocosmia 'Bressingham Blaze' and other varieties in gloriously violent colours. They flower when the delicately pastel-hued June flora is long gone. Far too red-blooded for some tastes, but what autumn drama!

I'm listening to Britten's Peter Grimes Act Two, would you believe? And look what prejudice and self-satisfaction did to him, poor sod!

Last Night's film was Almodovar's Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces.) Penelope Cruz, I'm sure, is at her best when she's being Hispanic. A crackling performance, and what startling glamour! The usual brilliant Almodovar mix of sexual ambiguities, misplaced fidelity and inverted values. I enjoyed it very much, but didn't get quite as caught up as with All About My Mother.

This Day in 2006 the PG and I flew to Amsterdam for a two day stopover before flying on to Cape Town. We stayed on Prins Henrikkade and sipped van Konink's ale by a Canal.

Lawks how I hate August! My garden looks knackered, pox-ridden and repugnant.

A belated Happy Lughnasa to all!

PS - in case you didn't know, the title is from Casablanca - Bogey says it to Ingrid Bergman.

Monday, 9 August 2010


iPad - therefore I am. (With apologies to Apple.)

Try as I might, it proved impossible to beat my mighty-minded, thoroughly decent and remarkably televisual previous show-biz co-worker, James El Sombrero in the race to become one of the first iPad owners in our horticultural milieu. He swankily pulled out his elegantly sheathed beauty on Press Day at Chelsea - back in late May - while I was still feverishly awaiting Budget Approval from our Financial Controller who also operates in this household as the Photographer General.

When I got the approval and sauntered into the Regent Street Mac Store, my simple demand for, and I quote, 'One iPad please, and don't bother to wrap it, I want to play with it on my way out,' was greeted with gales of ironic laughter from the assembled, uniformly sweat-shirted pimply but obliging youths and youthettes who make up the Apple team of 'may-I-help yous.' The iPad, I was told, was not yet available, not even for ready money, and not yet even online.

Certain persons, apparently, had got theirs from abroad, weeks before the UK launch. There had been talk of SIM Card Modification. Hmmm. Way too technical for me. So I went to Singapore, in June, iPadless and grumpy.

But my launch into the joyous sunlit uplands of iPaddery happened around Midsummer's Day. Auspicious, it was. Beltane, the time of burning wicker men and gearing up for better things and a newly productive life.

And it is certainly true, that this ingeniously designed little talisman has proven to be a life-changer. For some. For the rest, there'll always be phone boxes, fil0faxes and places in the wallet for dog-eared snaps of family and friends.

And now, I discover, that Apple have just opened their even sparklier new store in Covent Garden. So I thought it might be a wise moment to assess my experiences with iPad, having played with it for long enough to go quite blind and even more simple-minded than before.

An iPad can contain your entire life, neatly canned like Heinz Beanz. It can carry your library, your hi-fi system, your record collection, a treasury of broadcasting archives such as the Goon Show and Monty Python, your engagement diary, your contacts list, all your family snaps plus one or two photographs of which you may be proud - well, less than two in my case - minutes of RHS meetings, correspondence, your blogging and, well everything, really, all crammed into the slimmest and flattest of metal cases.

So far so good. The iPad is a great deal more than just a new gadget. It, or its descendants will be in the satchel of every school child, and will be at the core of their academic lives, probably from five to eighteen. Grannies will depend on them for keeping in touch and anyone who fails to see all that such machines will do for us is a mugwump or the blindest kind of neoluddite.

This is not just a grown up toy, nor is it a shrunk-down laptop. Nor can or should it replace laptops, though there are folk who say it will. This is something that we will learn to depend on, something to be as much a part of our personal equipment as our wallet, phone or trousers.

Or is it?

Remember the Amstrad? The early Sinclair? The first Apple Classic? Do you recall life before word processors and the internet? How did we manage?

I think the iPad is like the car, a costly toy in 1900 but look at it now. It's only one of a rash of new reader type thingies coming into our world but being Apple, it's zingy, imaginative, fun and different. And I'm already totally hooked on mine.

I've read a sackful of novels, so far, and am just embarking on the works of Ford Madox Ford. What treasure! All 2,000 pages of his Parade's End tetralogy are tucked away in my iPad and weigh nothing. Not a gramme, not a milligramme. Same for Mrs Gaskell, Joseph Conrad and Jane Austen - they're all there, waiting to be read.

BUT - there are dark, unsettling things I've discovered about iPads, and also some MAJOR ANNOYANCES.

Here they are, in brief.

1. APPS.
An App is an emasculated application - about as good as a gelding would be at siring a potential Derby winner. About 99% of Apps are completely pointless. Of the remaining 1%, half are designed for puerile minds, a quarter are only semi-functional but the remainder might be handy on rare occasions.

2. The iPad is very flat, thin and elegant. Its larger sides are as slick as a newly siliconed Teflon surface. The chances of droppage, are therefore greatly enhanced.

3. The battery lasts for hours on end. It also takes hours on end to charge.

The iPad - sleek, slinky and silkily beautiful but remember that most of the Apps are completely pointless.

4. Because it's Apple, you are bound, pretty much, to use the iTunes store for everything. That's fine for music and shows. But for eBooks, iTunes store prices are an absolute outrage. eBooks cost MORE than real paperbacks. That is disgraceful. No paper cost, no distribution costs, minimal administrative costs - all automated - so why the rip off? They need heavy competition and a revolt among customers.

5. After dithering, I decided to opt for a SIM version, so that I could go on line when no wifi is available. I thought at the time, the extra £100 would be worth it.

What I didn't realise was that, short of taking the bloody SIM card out, every time I didn't need it - 99.99% of the time, that is - it would try to hook you into some dastardly O2 network unbidden. If it does that to you abroad, watch out!

As it is, the bastard mobile phone companies are out to get you, if you stray accidentally online. With my iPhone, when in France for two nights, I was not aware that I'd even gone on line, and certainly never intended to and did not knowingly download a single piece of data. And yet my bill was up by £16 for just that. And yet O2 can't even provide a viable signal at my own home. And it's not as if I live in the middle of the blasted Sahara.


Maddening iPad moment, when the stupid little pop-up comes, unbidden, to tell you the network's lost, when you didn't even want to use any dam' network.

6. transferring data between computers and iPads is cumbersome. For Microsoft Word files you need an app called 'Documents to Go' - American for 'Takeaway' And you can only do it all through iTunes. It would be nice if there were some easier kind of 'drop box' system, so you can dump stuff from one machine to another without inadvertently 'syncing' and thereby risking junking other stuff that you wanted to keep.

7. The picture library a bossy and 'we know best' thing which causes weeping and frustration. It really is hardly worth the bother if you're a serious photographer. OK for snaps, but hopeless for trying to transport good stuff. Furthermore the Keynote (Mac's vastly superior 'Powerpoint' type application) works but is slow. I would not trust it for lecturing.

8. The iPad loudspeaker is absolutely PANTS, and the Apple don't even include a pair of their crummy white, pluggy earphones. Tight sods!

9. Er, I think that's it. For everything else, it's absolutely marvellous. The screen and its picture quality is wonderful - great for films, telly etc.

BUT this what makes me really love my iPad: To read, on screen, is easier than reading a real book. It's always ideally illuminated in a font of your choice at a type size that suits. It even has an in-built dictionary and the facility for writing rude notes in the margins - something too few people do, especially to library books.

CRIKEY - what a BORING post!!! I'm so sorry. Back to jollier stuff next time.

I'm listening to Dvorak's String Quintet number 12 in F - not on the iPad speaker, obviously, because it's so pants.

This day in 1983 I was showing a bus load of Over Sixties round our garden, before giving them a talk. The next day, apparently, I lunched in the Braganza restaurant in Frith Street where one of the waiters looked exactly like Lord Kagan, father of the Gannex Macintosh. I've no idea how we afforded that lunch! It certainly wasn't from the fees for presenting Gardeners World, that's for sure!

This week's film was Now Voyager, the gloriously weepy 1942 Bette Davis classic, directed by Irving Rapper, with the closing words '. . . don't let's ask for the moon: we have the stars.'
Aaaah, wet tissues all round.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Lycopersicon esculentum 'Sungold'.

I was going to rant and rail about the media trying desperately to whip up another destructive and pointless food scare over the possibility of, shock, horror, CLONED milk finding its way into the food chain. But the whole thing is too damn silly to bother with and, frankly, I can't be arsed. One thing that did scare me rigid, though, was discovering in the Independent that in the House of Commons, there is only one - yep, just one - scientist. Lord help us all! The Luddites are in charge and there'll be free homeopathy for all. Hurrah!

But instead of ranting, and because heck, it's August and lazy times are here, I thought I'd show you a little of Wendy's opulence on the tomato front. This is how she looked on Monday, before the PG raided all the ripe tomatoes for cooking and was spotted grumfling them raw, in the kitchen. I've stopped some of the plants, but others will be trained round the roof, for late fruits, and because it's a bit of a laugh, going against the text books.

Sad Thing - the swifts have pretty well gone. I saw some flying high yesterday, but our nesting birds have dumped us for warmer climes, the ungrateful little sods.

Amazing thing. Two ravens flew over the house yesterday. Are we doomed? Is this the end, the coming of Wotan, signifying the doom and sending Brunnhilde to snatch me off to Valhalla for an eternity of gardening leave? Don't jest. Brrrrrrrrrr! Scary!!!

Happy thing - when I pruned the massive yellow banksian rose on our house, I exposed a song thrushes nest with three roughly 1 week old fledglings. I withdrew sharpish and mum thrush has continued the rearing task. Lovely and so good to see a succesful late brood. It will be her third, at least, so three chicks shows she's a dam' fine bird.

Because they are invasive aliens, gurus and boffins have been having a serious down on buddleias - or buddle jars, as we're supposed to call them these days. I have been rejoicing in the glory of Buddleja davidii 'Nanho Blue.' It isn't blue but the bush is quite small and dainty - by buddle jar standards - and has an exquisite fragrance.

Buddleja davidii 'Nanho Blue'

I pruned the tops from the most vigorous half dozen stems in June, to temper its growth a little and to secure more late blooms. That works well and I'll do it again next year. Each February I take off about 70% of all growth.

The buddle jar - isn't it ridiculous? - grows near a batch of agapanthus seedlings which have a good smattering of soft blues and whites. They're bone hardy and die right back underground each winter. August is the proper time for aggas, just went so many other garden flowers are about as appealing as unlaundered pants.

My seedling agapanthuses.

I'm reading John Updike's The Widows of Eastwick - I love his take on religion and hypocrisy - and aim to re-read its prequel, The Witches of Eastwick which was made into a pretty bad but utterly enjoyable film. That was my first sighting of Susan Sarandon and I have to confess to being rather smitten at the time.

This day in 2006 I was in Norfolk, walking over the salt marshes near Stiffkey. The ground was vivid with sea lavender and I spotted a Black Tailed Godwit, in full summer plumage, in in a creek.

This week's film was Fish Tank, a wildly acclaimed BAFTA winner which was one of my week's most bitter disappointments. It was so self-indulgently over-length at more than two hours, that I would have fallen asleep if rage hadn't kept me watching. The tired old theme, of disillusioned teenager with a slut-bitch mother living in a hellish part of Essex where no one is safe was trotted out laboriously for what seemed hours. To make matters worse, the DVD print was cropped for a 4:3 TV - why do that still do that? - and the sound was so abysmal and the actors' diction so poor, that much of the dialogue was inaudible.

Oh dear, Another moan. I must get out more.