Tuesday 23 February 2010


Cover design, inspired by South African Native flora.

First: several reasons to rejoice, dance and sing:

1. If you haven't already seen it, the inimitable, hiliarious, tip-top quality Cashmere Sock has launched a magnificent new blog here. Huzzah for more pearls, all gift-wrapped with lashings of jollity and humour! There's nothing better, on a desperate Monday morning, than to postpone work for a bit and have a good chortle at other people's blogs - especially if they're funny and clever.

2. I've just checked up the 10 day weather forecast for my area and we're promised 10 days without it falling below 1ºC. The day temperature will positively soar, on Thursday, to a staggering 6ºC. I must rummage for the shorts and sandals at once.

A rather rare crocus opened in the watery sun, this afternoon and I rushed to find the PG, so I could show it to her. But by the time I'd found her, the sun had failed and the lovely roseate mauve inner flower had slammed shut faster than Akrwright's till. (The outsides of Crocus tommassinianus 'Rosea' are a dismal pale grey and unutterably boring.)

Detail from the cover design, showing Zaluzianskya

3. At last week's Westminster RHS Show, I bought a Dracunculus vulgaris tuber. This, if you don't know it, is the dragon arum, a Mediterranean native whose huge, liver-coloured spathe and spadix smell exactly like a donkey that has been dead for five weeks in the middle of a midsummer heatwave. It is pollinated by flies.

This is just the thing with which to entertain the grandchildren. My only dilemma is, should I move it into the garden, or dare I keep it in Wendy (my greenhouse?) If I do the former, the stink may dissipate a little too quickly - although it might impress passers-by. But in Wendy, gosh! Imagine the pongle that will cause! What a larf!!!

I might even organise a sponsored fundraiser and get people to volunteer to be paid by the minute, for every minute that they stay in the greenhouse - all windows and doors closed - and endure the stench. (I sense a Catherine Tate moment! 'Worrit is. . . .')

Anyway --- enough of all that rubbish.

THE nicest thing to rejoice about - was the job one of my daughters did for me and my chums who sit on the RHS's very best and most distinguished Floral Committee - the one which is responsible for Tender Ornamental Plants. (No caramel coloured heucheras for that lot, I'm proud to say!)

Anyway, our long-serving secretary left us at the end of the year, to move on to greater things. We thought it would be nice to work up a little scrap book for her. And my dear daughter who happens to be quite an inspired and skilled artist, very sweetly agreed to design and make the whole thing.

When I suggested South African flora, she said, 'OK, give me a few pictures and I'll see what I can do.' I found photos of such lovelies as Cussonia, Zaluzianskya, Leucospermum, Pelargonium, Osteospermum, and so on and so on.

And she came back with the rather snazzy design that you've already seen at the top of this post.

Carved pattern on a Toraja hut, in Sulawesi, inspired by buffalo horns.

It always fascinates me to see how artists can gather up the essence, the nub, the core, the very foundation of the shape that gives a natural object its identity, and then use that shape to as a form of their own expression. The centrepiece of the design, based on a Leucospermum (Pincushion protea) set the mood off beautfully, I thought.

Barringtonia asiatica, fish poison tree.
The fruit remind me of those Beretta things some Roman priests wear.

I recall visiting a Toraj community, in Sulawesi, this month some years ago, and being staggered at the beauty of the their crescent-shaped houses. The design, we were told, is inspired by the water buffalo, an animal which is reverred in Torajaland.

Many of the buildings were intricately patterned, again, with the curves and shapes which recalled bovine horns.

I'll never forget that trip. The Toraja people are animists. When members of the community die, the funeral rituals are lengthy and complicated. Death itself is merely a transition and the 'deceased' stick around, physically, to watch over those still living.

A Toraja resting place. Rather macabre to have one's deceased relatives, literally watching over one.

Im listening to some totally insane music by Charles Mingus, recorded at Cornell University in 1964

This day in 2006 I was at the official opening of Delamore Young Plants. Their vast acreage of glass produces more bedding and other plant material than almost anywhere. Peter Seabrook did the honours and at the lunch I found myself sandwiched between two Israeli plant breeders.

This week's film was Festen, a second viewing, for me, of the mould-breaking 'Dogme' work which took the world by storm when it was made in 1999. It's all filmed in home-video style jerkavision and according to the rules, gaffes have to stay in and re-takes are not allowed. Yeah, right! But in spite of the pointless rules and some truly awful lighting, I really enjoyed it. A horrible story which lifts the scab of social convention and manners to reveal the festering mass of gruesome corruption beneath. Lovely!

Bye bye for now!

Thursday 18 February 2010


Witch hazel in flower at the RHS Garden, Wisley on 24th January 2008.

At last, my two witch hazels have come limping into flower. Hurrah! They're at least a month late - compared with these pictures, shot at Wisley, on 24th January 2008.

Actually, it would be more correct to say that they're later than we've become accustomed to. When I was little, February was the normal month for snowdrops and witch hazels. And yet I read in yesterday's Independent Newspaper a rather fatuous article explaining that bad weather has delayed spring, and that the flowers would terribly late this year, and would then all come in a rush. I mean, what? Eh? How?

The climate may be changing, but unless something cataclysmic has happened recently, the earth is still trundling its way round the sun at pretty much the same rate and Spring, therefore, still doesn't start until the March equinox which is about five weeks away.

We've had a decade - more - with unusually mild winters. Whether or not this climate change is man-made ain't the point. No. The real issue is that we've grown accustomed to abnormality. The current season we are enduring is more like the proper, ordinary, grim British winter than the preceding dozen have been. Accept it. Learn to love it. Such normality may not occur again for another decade.

My favourite witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' has the prettiest primrose spiders, and plenty of them. I also grow 'Diane' whose spiders have been dipped into tawny port. With the sun shining through them, they're gorgeous but in dull weather, are too easily overlooked.

During the only ten minutes of pleasant sunshine, that we've had so far this February, I spotted something that to most people, would have been joyous and uplifting: a pair of House Sparrows gathering up nesting material.

They were outside my office window, squabbling chirpily - as spadgers always do - and tweaking at bits of dead grass and what looked like fibres from our knackered doormat. My heart sank faster than the value of the £. 'More of the bloody things on the way,' I thought. And then, of course, was stricken with guilt.

Birds, you see, are my big love - after plants. Well, OK, after plants and chocolate. So I should be nurturing the little darlings, not resenting them. After all, I record for the British Trust for Ornithology, and when I'm not knackering myself for the RHS or trying to earn a crust, or gardening, I like nothing better than to don drab clothes, grab the telescope and binos and head off to where there's likely to be an interesting bird or two.

And we've been told by all and sundry, just how rare the house sparrow has become. Well, it hasn't. There is no question that urban house sparrows have declined and you can find some interesting information about that on this website, as well as elsewhere. But in the countryside, and worldwide, Passer domesticus is still widespread and in my garden, it is one of the most serious, damaging and exasperating pests.

House sparrows nest in my eaves - and I wouldn't dream of interfering with them. We also have swifts, starlings and swallows nesting in our roof and all, but sparrows, are welcome. Sparrows are unwelcome, but tolerated.

Sparrows, in our garden, damage young seedlings, devour the buds of wisteria, spring shrubs, fruit trees, clematis and lots of other emerging shoots. They peck off the young foliage of all silver-leaved plants, and pull the shoots of emerging bulbs, sometimes managing to lift whole plants out of the ground. They attack crocuses, pecking the base of the flowers and tear off the petals of primroses, polyanthus and some anemones - particularly A. pavonina.

I've had to stop setting out bird feeding stations, because sparrows hog everything and I'm loath to encourage more of them into the garden. They are approaching plague levels. I have to tolerate them - but I resent their presence and wish they'd go somewhere else.

By the way - have you even noticed how grumpy and morose birdwatchers can be? I've never really understood it. I remember watching on Gibraltar a few years back, with Matthew Biggs - quite a keen bird man himself - when we were recording an Easter Special Gardeners Question Time for BBC Radio 4.

Each morning, at dawn, we'd walk up to the top of the rock, to watch migrant birds crossing from North Africa. And when we saw 17 Black Kites, all in the sky at one time, the exuberant Matt, leaped up, locked me in an enthusiastic embrace and we danced an excited jig. It was all so bloody beautiful - the Straits, Africa one way, Europe the other and this mass bird movement - a staggering feat of nature, all happening before our startled eyes. And yet, the hunched figures of the other early-rising birders barely moved. Their faces continued to be set in grim dejection as one of the great wonders of nature unrolled before their jaundiced eyes.

I'm about to listen to Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb.

This week's film was When Father Was Away On Business, original title Otac na sluzbenom putu. It's a treasure of film, set in what was Yugoslavia. A warts and all portrait of a Muslim Bosnian-Serb family, living in Sarajevo during Tito's stand-off with Stalin. The Zeitgeist is beautifully captured, though the film was made in the 1980s, and what is interesting is the racial and religious harmony. One was left wondering at what caused the awful conflicts later, after Tito had died and the whole thing broke up. If you haven't seen this film, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. You'll find more detail here.

This day in 1982 I bought a second hand British Leyland Ital for £3,375. It proved, by a very long way, to be the worst car we ever owned. Unstable, unreliable, ugly, tinny and hateful. To make a bad thing worse, its colour could only be described as turdy brown.

When will we see some warm sunshine?
Bye bye.

Thursday 11 February 2010


A long-tailed macaque, Penang Malaysia. (Not the Garden Monkey!)

I'd like to make an official denial:
An hour or so ago, I received this rather startling email from my good friend Chris Young:


“When not busy with all of the above, Nigel spends his time contributing to his hugely popular blog,
The Garden Monkey.

Thinking about it, I think it makes sense as Silver Tree Daze started up when Garden Monkey was slowing down.....

Best wishes


A vervet monkey in the Transvaal - close to some flowers but not the Garden Monkey.


My instant reply went thus:

My God, I don't believe it!

First they spell my name wrong, and then they accuse me of being the Garden Monkey! I fervently deny being the GM. It absolutely is not me, I promise! I wish I was that clever!

Plus, the Limelight picture was shot by Tim Sandall decades ago. Even so, that's a really, really bad jersey.

I really should pay more attention to what my agent's are doing, shouldn't I?

Thanks for the tip [off]. I'll have to do a special blog post!
All best
NOT, repeat, NOT the Garden Monkey.


And then my other good friend at the RHS Garden, Phil Clayton chimed in with:

Maybe. But that’s what you would say....!

Philip Clayton


To which Chris added. . .

Well, I wouldn’t be so rude to comment on the jersey (but yes, it was pretty bad!)....but I’m still not 100 percent convinced Mr Monkey. You, out of all the people, have the wit, charm and eloquence that could make you the Monkey.

Maybe, to help you support your notion that you are not he/she, your blog should out the real GM.....in an effort to convince your dear, dear, sincere friends at the Royal Horticultural Society’s esteemed journal office!!!----------------------------

And finally, the latest, from Phil:

It was a bit unfair, I’ll grant you, but you are not entirely in the clear yet.

Perhaps you hide a split-personality, the mild, placid half of the Nigel we know and love working on Silver Tree Days, and the other half tearing hapless people to shreds on Garden Monkey... I’m nervous just thinking about it....!

Just in case you didn't get the message, let me reiterate: I AM NOT THE GARDEN MONKEY. OK?

I'm in a bit of a predicament, here, because I can deny this until I'm blue in the face, but I don't know how I can prove it.

What would be lovely would be for the real Garden Monkey to post a comment, here, confirming that, as this post's title states, It Ain't me, Babe!

And while we're on the topic of primates, can I just say that I find it perplexing - and sometimes annoying - that people call apes monkeys.

A male orang utan, just coming into puberty, photographed in Borneo (Sabah.)
Not the Garden Monkey - indeed, not even a monkey at all, but an ape.

That's it. Back to the usual insanity next week.
Bye bye and thanks for your kind attention!

Monday 8 February 2010


One of the prettiest: Trillium erectum.

Two newspaper articles amused me, this week. The first, which you'll find here, describes how a pair of Royal Albatross, Diomedea epomophora, have reared a chick in a breeding colony in southern New Zealand. No news there, I hear you cry - but the 'man bites dog' angle, in this story is that they are both female. Hence the headline:

Lesbian albatrosses to raise their chick.

This is a ridiculous heap of anthropomorphic twaddle. You can impose all sorts of boundaries and codes of sexual conduct on humans, if you must. Religions, social customs and conventions usually decide what's 'right' and 'wrong' - though 'good' and the 'bad' or 'normal' and 'deviant' are quite different in different societies.

But in the animal world, such definitions make no sense. Albatrosses, like Mute Swans, bond. It's their nature. And sometimes the life-long relationship is between two members of the same sex. So what? You can't apply the word 'Lesbian' to that, can you?

Male Bonobos (aka Pygmy Chimpanzees) play extremely rude games together, but you couldn't really call them 'gay' or 'perverted.' It's just what Bonobos do, the horny little devils! And they're the closest thing, in the animal world, to us 'umans.

The other hilarity is that we have a new School Meals Tsar. (I didn't even know there was an old School Meals Tsar.) He's a chef - not a nutritionist, you'll note - called Robert Rees who trained at La Gavroche. Well, apparently he wants to lock school kids in, at lunch time, to make sure they eat good, nourishing food instead of nipping out to the local chippy for something hot, fatty, bad and delicious. No coercion there, then!

If I was a kid, the very act of locking me in would make me want to rebel - even though otherwise, I'd probably have gone happily for the wholesome, Tsar-approved tucker.

In future, it won't be just a quick fag, or a bit of furtive Bonobo behaviour behind the bike sheds, oh no! Instead, the kids will be sneakily porking smuggled chips and cheeseburgers, or perhaps even Pukka pies - whatever they are - to supplement their rocket and yak's milk yoghourt lunches. (I've never seen a Pukka, but assume it to be some kind of game bird.)

As for gardening - well, the weather's put the boot in. Again. I tried, at the week end, to cut back perennials and remove leaves from the epimediums, but it was so cold, claggy and wet, that I gave up with the job barely half done. Meanwhile, the kitchen stove glowed invitingly, so I sat, gently steaming while finishing The Old Curiosity Shop.

And later, when Little Nell was finally, properly dead - good riddance to such nauseating angelicness - and when the good (apart from Nell) had all ended happily and the bad unhappily - my thoughts turned to ponder another list.

Ypsilandra thibetica an early woodlander.

So without more ado, here's is my list of fifty little woodlanders. These are the plants that Little Nell might shed a motherly little tear over, for their sheer, peerless beauty. And which. . . oh, do get on with it, Colborn, for heaven's sake! I mean really!!!!!!!!!!!!

At random, then in order of their coming into the bonce:

1. Anemone nemorosa - all varieties that are not freaks.
2. Primula elatior - the true wild oxlip.
3. Primula vulgaris.
4. P. vulg. var sibthorpii - for the lilac petals.
5. Convallaria majalis
6. Ypsilandra thibetica - blue stamens - amazing - see piccy above.
7. Hacquetia epipactis - see last week's post
8. Viola odorata - all good varieties.
9. Viola sororia 'Freckles'
10. Galanthus nivalis - no colletors' varieties though!
11. Narcissus pseudonarcissus, only the true, wild, Wordsworth jobs.
12. Hyacinthoides non-scripta -yer actual genuine bluebell (NOT H. hispanica.)
13. Scilla hyacinthoides.
14. Epimedium 'Amber Queen' plus sundry epimediums but not those coarse things with cloth leaves.
15. Polygonatum glaberrimum see piccy below.- also P. odoratum
16. Speirantha convallarioides. Better than your actual Lily of the valley, possibly.
17. Ranunculus ficaria - preferably plain, wild celandines.
18. Cardamine pentaphyllos
19. Cardamine enniophyllos
20. Cyclamen hederifolium
21. Cyclamen repandum
22. Eranthis hyemalis
23. Erythronium tuolumnense
24. Erythronium revolutum
25. Luzula nivea
26. Luzula sylvatica
27. Anthericum liliago
28. Iris foetidissima
29. Trillium erectum
30. Trillium grandiflorum
31. Aquilegia alpina
32. Aquilegia formosa
33. Anemone prattii
34. Epipactis gigantea best garden orchid going, and a doddle to grow.
35. Polypodium vulgare
36. Blechnum spicant
37. Pellaea rotundifolia
38. Stellaria holostea - stitchwort - essential with bluebells.
39. Silene dioica - red campion, pink and lovely with bluebells and stitchwort.
40. Lychnis flos-cuculi - ragged robin. White form also acceptable.
41. Ajuga 'Catlin's Giant'
42. Leucojum vernum
43. Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant'
44. Omphalodes verna
45. Omphalodes cappadocica (NOT starry eyes. - seem to remember this from other list?)
46. Chrysoplenum davidianum
47. Corydalis flexuosa
48. Corydalis solida
49. Arum italicum
50. Paris quadrifolia

Er -that's it.
Polygonatum glaberrimum

I'm listening to Mahler's 5th Symphony.

I'm reading David Attenborough's Life on Air, about his life as a broadcaster.

This day in 2007 I calibrated the colour on my computer, using a Spyder Pro calibrator, rather than guesswork and prayer. I also recorded a large flock of Long Tailed Tits in trees by the River Glen and a barn owl.

This week's film was Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot. Surely Jacques Tati's greatest. The clowning is so easy to write off, unless one observes the entire frame closely. So many tiny details, all riddled with humour. And always more to see, even when one has watched the film scads of times. BUT, there will be those who hate it, and I respect that!

Well there we are. If you've read this far, I love you! Good bye!!!