Monday 27 April 2009


Part of the enchanting gardens at Coton Manor, Northamptonshire, taken with my iPhone camera.  

Well howdeedoo?  Jambo!  Guten tag!  Hola!

Lawdy lawd, what a caper!  We've had quite a week end.  I've become the proud and anxious owner of four Trillium plants, since my last posting, and over the weekend, we opened our garden as part of the village biennial Art Event.

The great, beautifully washed, painstakingly spruced, expertly coiffed and sparklingly groomed public were admitted, for the first time ever, to our current garden.  Celebrities joined the ranks of thousands of good folk who actually paid money - well, not real money, just Sterling - to come and tread our lawns, wonder at our flowering wisteria, scratch their heads in bewilderment at our proud display of lawn weeds and wonder at our completely empty vegetable garden.  They also came to admire other, far better gardens in the village - no that's not just false modesty, believe me - and to look at works of art in our church as well as enjoying Lincolnshire's world famous mountain scenery.

But I can't tell you about all that because I have a promise to keep.  

Last Tuesday, I was privileged to conduct one of the sessions at Coton Manor Garden School in Northamptonshire.  The topic was Woodland Gardening and it would be impossible to find a more appropriate place for the subject.  The wood garden at Coton Manor is absolutely superb and on a positively golden April morning, the air full of cherry blossom and the sound of bumble bees, we all scurried out of the classroom quam celerrime and strolled into the woods while Susie Pasley-Tyler, of Coton Manor, talked us through her heart-achingly beautiful planting schemes.  

We gazed at drifts of trilliums, wood anemones, bluebells, hellebores and all sorts of rarities, all blending and melding together to create a gently coloured, subtly patterned, deep-pile carpet under the trees.  I felt extremely inadequate afterwards, when showing the class pictures of my rather pathetic, small scale attempt at woodland gardening at home, but the students - all, I suspect, capable and experienced gardeners - were extremely kind and tolerant.

While there, I realised that I hadn't written a plant list to go with my pictures, so I gave out my blog address and promised that I'd post the full list,  herein, within the week.  

So, pupils, and anyone else who may be interested, here follows the  list of plants featured in last Tuesdays sessions. Google any of the names, or use the RHS Plantfinder to get more info on each!

(Sorry, but the internet thingy has dumped the italics, so you'll have to put up with scientific names in Roman.  Hope that's OK)

Anemone nemorosa, Wood Anemone
Rhodendron 'Vuyk's Scarlet' in pot on terrace.
Ranunculus ficaria, Lesser Celandine.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Bluebell
Betula pendula, Silver Birch
Lonicera periclymenum, Common Honeysuckle
Rubus sub-arcticus, Blackberry
Viburnum opulus, Guelder Rose
Primula vulgaris, Primrose
Allium ursinum, Bear Garlic, Ramsons
Phyllitis scolopendrium, Hartstongue fern
Cymballaria muralis, Ivy Leaved Toadflax
Viola riviniana, Common Violet
Potentilla anserina, Silverweed
Tussilago farfara, Coltsfoot
Glechoma hederacea, Ground ivy
Oxalis acetosella, Wood Sorrel
Stellaria graminea, Lesser Stitchwort
Stellaria holostea, Great Stitchwort
Paris quadrifolia, Herb Paris
Melittis melissophyllum, Bastard Balm
Primula elatior, True Oxlip
Petasites hybridus, Butterbur
Digitalis purpurea, Common Foxglove
Campanula trachelium, Nettle-leaved bellflower
Ligustrum vulgare, Wild privet
Tamus communis, Black Bryony

Amelanchier lamarckii
Cyclamen repandum
Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum'
Acer palmatum 'Osakasuki'
Acer griseum
Betula utilis var jacquemontii
Rhododendron 'Pook' (white)
Crataegus laevigata 'Crimson Cloud'
Sorbus harrowiana
Clematis serratifolia
Corylus maxima 'Rubra'
Desfontainea spinosa
Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Narcissus 'W.P. Milner'
Narcissus 'Firebrand'
Narcissus 'Eystettensis' aka 'Queen Anne's Double'
Primula 'Gawain' - you'll only find it in my garden. (My name.)
Primula 'Dark Rosaleen'
Omphalodes verna
Omphalodes verna 'Alba'
Anemonopsis thalictroides
Viola found near Grimsthorpe - possibly a hybrid V. odorata x V. hirta
Viola odorata 'Amiral Avellen'
Anthriscus arvensis 'Raven's Wing'
Chaerophyllum hirsutum 'Roseum'
Ranunculus ficaria 'Pale Form' - mine, discovered in wild.
R. ficaria 'Flore-pleno'
Anemone ranunculoides
Anemone x lipsiensis
Anemone nemorosa 'Parlez Vous'
A. nemorosa 'Royal Blue'
A. nemorosa 'Hilda'
A. nemorosa 'Leeds Variety' (Huge flowers)
A nemorosa 'Viridiflora'
A nemorosa 'Vestal'
Ypsillandra thibetana
Heloniopsis orientalis
Hacquetia epipactis
Lysichiton americanum
Epimedium rubrum
Epimedium 'Amber Queen'
Speirantha convalarioides
Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum 'Album'
Corydalis elata
Polygonatum humile
Primula sieboldii
Lamium orvala
L. orvala 'Alba'
Matteuccia struthiopteris
Lonicera periclymenum
Duchesnia indica
Hamamelis virginiana

And that's it.

I'm listening to  Lover Man sung by Sarah Vaughan with Dizzy Gillespie's All Star Quintet.

This week's film was, I blush to admit, Blake Edward's The Great Race.  Childish humour, but the Lemmon - Curtis chemistry works and no one could ever top that famous custard pie fight.

This day in 1985 I was crating up plants for the RHS April Westminster Flower Show.  It was snowing, apparently, and later, I watched Titus Andronicus on TV.  Nasty! 


Monday 20 April 2009


A Welsh Dragon, in the Schools Wheelbarrow Garden Contest at Cardiff Flower Show.

GOLLY GOSH!!  It's Monday again and already far too long since my  last post.  Sorry about that, and about the slightly breathless style of what you are about to read.   It's sunny, it's spring, I've just spent the day in trains, or in offices, and am I out enjoying the blissful spring evening?  No!  Why? Because I'm an idiot.  Any more questions?

Last Thursday through - or, if you must, 'thru' - Saturday we journeyed to Wales to 'do' the Cardiff Flower Show and to catch up with dear relatives.  The weather, on the journey there, was almost surreal in its awfulness.  Fog, which was a surprise, slowed us down over the midlands and then, as we approached  Bristol, a deluge of such intensity fell through the unnatural murk, that I began to wonder whether that promise made after Noah's flood was about to be broken.  After all, we deserve that it should be broken - but let's not preach. 

The relatives were lovely, and accompanied us, on Friday night, to Llandaff for a superlative Chinese Dinner.   Llandaff is profoundly historic, with a cathedral and fortified Bishop's palace and all, but all I could think of was a scarlet dahlia with dark foliage!

The Cardiff Show was as good as usual and a particularly rich source of springtime gems for the woodland garden.  My favourite exhibit was runner up as Best In Show, staged by remarkable Cotswold plantsman, Chris Cooke to whom I'm always keen to listen.  His sage advice on how to coax difficult plants into a thriving happiness is second to none and after careful consultation, I came away with what he says is a foolproof trillium - Trillium flexipes - and a rather darling little dog's tooth violet, Erythronium howellii.

Yer actual peacock - at the Cardiff Flower Show Schools Wheelbarrow Contest.

My Better Half and Financial Controller bought, without permission, a splendid little form-hugging willow, Salix nakamurana var. yezoalpina, which I've already 'bent' round a rock by my micro-pond.  'I knew you'd love it,' she said, 'and it was the only one they'd got, so I bought it.' Slightly scary, to be so deeply understood, don't you think?

It seemed wise to counter her purchase with another little willow, S. repens 'Argentea' which lacks the quaint charm of S. nakamurana but does have bright little needle-point silver catkins in January.

There were jolly show gardens, at Cardiff, too, and some extremely comfortable and expensive furniture and a food tent that, quite out of character, I never got to.

Learning about Darwin - a Galapagos Tortoise in the Schools Wheelbarrow Contest


This competition has enjoyed steady growth and this year, had a record 68 entries. Each is staged by an entire school, involving teachers and children who grow the plants, design the barrow gardens, get the plants transported, set the exhibits up at the show and so on.  Every design was original and exciting; each an artistic installation in miniature; each utterly delightful.  

The winners were elected by popular vote and I was told by the RHS Shows director, Stephen Bennett, that when it came to canvasssing the grannies, aunties, mums, dads and the general public, the competing kids made Parliamentary candidates look like bungling amateurs.

A slightly drunk-looking Flowerpot Man.

It's always so refreshing to see childish endeavour come good - and these barrows came very good indeed.  Having their work exhibited at a major flower show will have inspired some of those kids to a lifetime of loving plants and gardens.  And that can only be a good thing, in my view.

Part of the Competition.

I'm listening to Bach's 'Cello Suite in C Minor, Paul Tortelier playing.

I'm reading Harry Thompson's This Thing of Darkness, a monster novel about Captain Fitzroy of HMS Beagle and his passenger, a geezer called Chazza Darwin.  I'm not totally hooked on this 'faction' novel, yet, but it's too interesting to put down.  Also I'm told that Harry Thompson was responsible for the adult cartoon series Monkey Dust which earns him several Brownie Points as far as I'm concerned.

This day last year I was planting a scarlet kidney vetch, Epimedium 'Amber Queen' and Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket' in my garden - all acquisitions from last year's Cardiff Show.  
This evening last year I watched for the first time the Bette Davis classic Now Voyager.  What a MARVELLOUS movie!!

That's it for now - I must water my pots and prepare for tomorrow's work.  Bye bye!

Tuesday 14 April 2009


Amelanchier lamarckii flowering outside my window.

A monstrous bottleneck in my work/time ratio means that the last thing I should be doing, now, is writing this post.   RHS duties, proper paid work, the weeds, planting obligations and planning for future jobs should be keeping me well away from blogtopia.  But advancing age, fatigue, an excess of reading Dickens and aching joints have rather knocked the stuffing out of my zest, verve and joy de doodahs!  So I thought I'd break off to tell you about how things were a-rockin' and a-rollin' down here in frenetic South Kesteven.

This uncharacteristic lethargy was partly brought on by the bilious weather we had to endure over the Easter week end, here in the east.  And so many of you basked in tropic sunshine! Four day's keenly anticipated gardening had to be crammed into Easter Monday, since three quarters of the long week-end was such a pile of unlaundered meteorological pants.

So instead of leaping up with the lark, singing a hymn of joy and wielding my tools and wheelbarrow on Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Day, I spent most of the time huddled by the fire, reading the aforementioned Victorian novelist or working through images for forthcoming lectures and things.

The Kitchen Garden at Grimsthorpe Castle

One fragment of relief, from all this misery, was a trip to the annual horticultural highlight in these parts, the Grimsthorpe Castle Plant fair.  This is an absolute Mecca for all the planty anoraks in the region and the worse the weather, the grimmer their satisfaction seems to be. This year, there wasn't a smile to be had despite a mouthwatering array of enticing plants.

We turned up early, to beat the rarity snatchers, and were not disappointed.  Familiar and unfamiliar faces were there, among the traders, and the choice of sought-after pretties was tempting enough to drain the contents of my wallet pretty sharpish.  I'm delighted to say that no one seems to accept credit cards, at this kind of event, so as long as one's wallet is only modestly stocked with increasingly worthless tenners, one can indulge in a buying spree without breaking into the housekeeping or incurring the wrath of the family.  (She usually retaliates, in such cases, by buying a stock of taut thrillers on DVD.)

What impressed me, more than usually, among my fellow plant fanciers, was how miserable we all seemed to look.  Only bird watchers, as a community, seem more collectively suicidal, particularly when they've just seen the Siberian Chiffchaff, or the Isabelline Warbler that they travelled 193 miles, just to tick off.

Early comers to the Grimsthorpe Plant Fair, held every Easter Sunday.

My better half brought her camera, and until I saw the pictures, I thought I was the only cheerful bloke there and everyone else was miserable as sin.  But that's not so.  My mug was even more down-turned than most and although there was a biting north-easterly and a persistent drizzle which found its way down everyone's neck, there was no excuse whatever for any of us to look so totally bloody despairing.  The plants were fantastic and the surroundings sublime.  I can't think of a nicer spot in which to sell enthusiasts the things they love most.

Blogger and nurseryman, locked in an ecstatic and animated conversation about the wonderful plants on sale.

Wackiest sight of the day - even better than the beige and powder blue, bakerboy-hatted, pink rinsed lady who seemed to be just in front of me at every stall - was a someone pushing a rather posh pram in which reclined three, snugly rugged-up dogs.  Even they looked miserable, pampered as they were.  (They'd probably have preferred to be rolling in cow pats, in the park, and barking at the plantsmen.)

Pampered pets, hating it at Grimsthorpe Plant Fair.

Grimsthorpe Castle is an architectural gem, with front end by John Vanbrugh, back end much earlier, grounds and lake by Lancelot Brown and a rather superb kitchen garden by I'mnotsurewho.

Plants that I couldn't resist included:
The big, midnight blue  Muscari paradoxum
Muscari 'Valerie Finnis' - a Cambridge blue grape hyacinth which I've lusted after in the past
Tall, elegant Fritillaria pontica
Geranium clarkeii 'Kashmir White' and G. c. 'Kashmir Pink'
An outstanding form of Corydalis ochroleuca, which I suspect is a different species
Primula capitata subsp mooreana
Armeria juniperifolia 'Bevan's Variety,' 
A curious double lesser celandine named after Ken Aslett
Erythronium 'White Beauty.'  

A treasure trove of little beauties.  With all that rain, they almost planted themselves and already look as though they've been living with me for years.

I'm listening to Johnny Cash, singing Folsom Prison Blues, and also to my conscience which says STOP DOING THIS POST NOW, AND GET BACK TO WORK, YOU LAZY BASTARD!! 

This week's big film was Spartacus.  People seem divided on the strange navel in Kirk Douglas's chin.  I barely notice it but this week's photographer says it's a serious turn-off.  I'd forgotten how wonderfully ugly Charles Laughton was.

This day in 2006 I saw the first swallow.  And since drafting this post, I've been out for a bike ride - you see!  Anything but work! - and seen four swallows on the village line. My first for 2009.  

A cheery note on which to end!  

Lordy lord - yet again, this post is waaaaaaaaaaay tooo long!  So sorry to bore you.   Byeeee!

Friday 10 April 2009


A vigorous cross between Primula elatior and  P. 'Guinevere.'  I 'raised' it  nearly 20 years ago and called it 'Gawain. The dark leaves and coppery, bristling stems set off the pale, butter-coloured flowers to perfection. 

Kinky sex has been far too prolific under my birch trees and it was time to stamp out such lawless antisocial behaviour, I decided.  The offenders knew who they were but before I could punish them, those bloody wood pigeons invaded again and crapped all over the ones they didn't peck to death.  A fitting fate for such amoral creatures but actually, I rather miss them.

As I'm sure you're aware, Nature abhors a mongrel almost as much as she dislikes that poor, inoffensive vacuum.  Any student of Darwin will explain how hybridisation in the wild can dilute the benefits of sexual reproduction but if you need chapter and verse, read the works of Charles Darwin redivivus, ie, contemporary geezer  Steve Jones who wrote an updated version of C. D's Magnum Opus and gave it the intriguing title  Almost Like A Whale.

A welcome mongrel in my garden, with bold flowers whose petals are curiously pinked.  I'd like to name this one, so any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Some plants are promiscuous little blighters but your vernales primulas - oxlip, cowslips and primroses - are utterly shameless.  Even in the wild, they indulge in orgiastic parties, usually along the boundaries of each species' preferred habitat, giving rise to halflings and bastards whose true taxonomic identity can sometimes confound even the the most learned of botanists.

I've seen grown horticulturists almost coming to blows, at RHS flower shows, over the correct identity of, say, the Merton Oxlip, or the difference between a false and a true oxlip, and . . .yawn, yawn!  Enough, already!

Where cowslip meadows border woods, you will find 'primroses' with tall scapes (stalks what hold the clusters of flowers at the top) just like the one in the picture below.  These, I was informed by reliable experts, are hybrids between Primula veris (cowslips) and common primroses, P. vulgaris.    

A false oxlip, Primula veris x P vulgaris.

Much rarer, and mostly limited to the damp, alkaline clay woods or shaded dyke-sides in Cambridgeshire and Essex, you might be lucky enough to find true oxlips, Primula elatior.  These can also cross with  P. vulgaris to produce a plant like a rather weedy polyanthus.

And that's just in the wild!  My garden has other species and varieties of vernales primulas which come in all sorts of distinctive different colours, characters and shapes.  Among these, the beautifully dark-petalled but feeble-growing  'Cowichan' polyanthus throw enchanting children.  However, no offspring has been as good those sired by the dark-leaved, lilac flowered Primula 'Guinevere.'  It is the shameless progeny of these horticultural classics that have been so hyperactive in the reproduction department and delivered me a mixed blessing of multicoloured, illegitimate children.

One of the better mongrels - a lovely, grungy purple, held on good stems with nice foliage and marks on the outer petals.  I thought 'Rowan Williams' might be a suitable name or perhaps 'Monsignor.'  No?  What about 'Ribena?'

I say 'mixed' blessing because these seedlings can be a little invasive.  Monsieur Jacques le Chapeau will be happy to tell you how naff the peppering of multi-coloured primulini looks in my mini-meadow - although I have done a Dr Mengele and weeded out all but the most washed out colours since he last saw them.  And now that my little woodland garden is beginning to get established, the wild oxlips have been 'at it' in there as well.  

The undistinquished hybrids, I allow to remain, but have no inhibitions about yanking them out for composting if they are in the way.  The good ones I move from the more naturalistic parts of the garden, slipping them into the mixed borders wherever there's a tempting gap.

Let's  not forget the beauty of ordinary, wild, pure primroses.  These are growing on a steep, grassy dyke-side in Lincolnshire.

I'm  listening to Parts 2 and 3 of Handel's Messiah and writing this 'cos it's raining outside.

Last night's film was Prison (Fängelse) a 1949  Ingmar Bergman about Swedes locked into the intolerable agony of human existence.

This day last year I was making my debut at the Coton Manor Garden School a delightful day in which I learnt more than I could possibly have taught.

Happy Easter/Passover everyone!

Monday 6 April 2009


Anemone nemorosa growing in Dole Woods, Thurlby, Lincolnshire

I promised to describe the promiscuous sexual activity going on in my undergrowth - or rather my garden's undergrowth, whoops, pardon missis!! Ahem Ahem!  And I will keep that promise - I absolutely promise.  But for today, something completely different.  (Cue the military band playing the Monty Python theme which, friends over on the western side of the puddle will recognise as a Sousa march  - I think, The Liberty Bell.) 

Today, though, I just want to show you some pictures.  

I'm conducting one of the gardening courses at Coton Manor, later this month and wanted to enrich my collection of woodland pictures, since this year's topic is to be woodland gardening. So armed with a camera, I wanted to head for the woods, anyway.   

But my motivation was sharpened last Friday, when I attended a fascinating lecture entitled The Nature of Dole Wood.  The speaker, an erudite and dedicated lady, described the natural history of the whole parish, but with particular emphasis on Dole Wood, a fragment of ancient woodland just south of Bourne, Lincolnshire.

Anyway.  Work had gone well this morning and the threatened break in the weather was yet to arrive, so off we went for a walk in the woods.  As so often before, I had completely overlooked and underestimated the value of such a natural gem on our doorstep - or at least, a mere 5 miles from home.

The pictures, I hope, will tell the tale.  Chiffchaffs, great tits, and robins were singing, as we explored; long tailed tits were doing acrobats, there were many bumble bees and the woodland
floor was awash with a full spring tide of Anemone nemorosa among other lovely spring wildflowers.

Wood anemone, A. nemorosa.  A favourite native plant, always bringing back happy memories of childhood, when seen.  My mother would take me and my little brother for picnic teas in the local woods, in spring and summer.  We would gather bunches of primroses or bluebells to bring home.  Everyone did, in those days, even though the act might seem anti-conservation these days.

Some vandal has planted these digusting garden objects in a piece of otherwise unsullied ancient woodland.  Out of scale, out of kilter and bang out of order!  Lovely in cultivation, they may be - but not at all welcome in the wild.                                                                                            

Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa in full bloom.

A badgers' sett.  Surprisingly, they haven't polished off last autumn's fallen fruit, see below. . .

Remarkable keeping qualities, fallen wild crabs, still almost edible.

Vandalism - or is it an artistic expresiion?  Either way, this was the only example in the wood.

Scads of wild primroses, wherever light levels are a tad higher, especially at the edges of the wood.

Bluebells just on their way - taking over from the anemones and full of promise.

I'm listening to those chiffchaffs, with my aural memory and hoping to hear the first cuckoo any day now.

I'm planning to watch the queenly but erudite David Starkey talking about Henry Vlll's childhood.

This time last year I was suffering from shingles.  I don't recommend it.  I really, really don't.

Get yourself off to the woods! You cannot help but love them.  Enjoy!