Thursday, 27 May 2010


To neutralise such a excessive overblow of glorious Chelsea flarze and gaahdens, I thought this shabby little nest of cobwebby lovelies might be more fun to look at. The PG, as usual, landed me with a million wonderful shots to edit and catalogue. More than all the others, even the exquisite garden views, I thought this was the charmingest, but at the same time, easily the most Chelsealy, cheezily bogus of the lot. Not sure who designed the garden where these were, but I'm sure if you care that much, you'll probably know already.

(The PG has just informed me, slightly crossly, that it was the Pine and Conifer Enthusiasts Garden. Hmmm. I'm even less enthusiastic about conifers than I am about Chelsea. Nice wash tub, though!)

Tell you what. I wouldn't bother much with this post, if I were you. It is being scratched out in spiteful haste, before we depart the wind-slapped, wilting, arid dump formerly known as My Garden, for warmer, wetter, friendlier climes.

The best thing about it all is that bloody Chelsea is over - or it is for me. Oh, it was lots of fun, and the standard utterly superb - especially in the Floral Pavilion – but I have been increasingly convinced, over the past forty or so years, that Chelsea really isn't me.

I try desperately hard to enthuse over the gardens, and really want to care about who wins what, but this year, having been deeply embroiled with the rigours of the new judging system, and with a process called Moderation, I really fell down badly on the enthusiaz front. I didn't even get to see any of the gardens until Tuesday morning, and by then, was limited to the odd glimpse whenever a tiny space cleared, among the backs of a million middle class heads. And I'd been at the show ground since Saturday!

The Daily Telegraph Garden

My favourite floral stand was Avon Bulbs - wonderful selection of fascinating and exquisitely coloured bulby things. I think it's their ephemeral nature that make them so irresistible and I fell deeply in love with a pink Camassia. I must have a bulb of it, and soon. My mini-meadow has camassias and, more to the point, they seem happy in it and are seeding.

And I thought Andy Sturgeon's garden was an absolute belter - if you like that sort of thing. I loved the planting - gloriously dreamy colours - but wasn't sure about the giant, upright DVD racks or the stone recesses at the back. This is not in the slightest way, a criticism of Andy.

The man is a genius and his gardens are fabulous. But, like jeans that reveal the buttocks on fat, slutty girls, expensive loafers worn ostentatiously - by males - without socks or for that matter, Tiramisu, this type of garden just doesn't float my boat. Perhaps it's Chelsea gardens in general that fill me with fear and loathing. It's all such a lot of flummery.

More DT Garden

We had our first Plantsmanship Conference and between the hundred or so experts in the room, came up with our Chelsea New Plant of the Year - or CNPOTY. It's an superb streptocarpus bred by Dibleys. You can see details and the runners up here.

Other things about Chelsea:
I lunched next to the High Commissioner for South Africa, drank Champers with Her Majesty, who looked suitably floral and seemed to be in an extraordinarily good mood; wore a new neck-tie - made, I believe, by one Duchamp, but much prettier than his urinal, though less useful. I was rather chastened to learn that the PG has ordered an expensive obelisk. If this goes much further, we'll be going all Daily Telegraph.

This week's film was really spectacularly awful. It was Disney's new Alice in Wonderland. I know it was stupid to pay money to see it but there were three good reasons: we haven't yet seen the new 3D; it starred Johnny Depp and it was filmed at Anthony, in Cornwall.

What an absolute bummer! The film was not merely poor, but a shocking insult to anyone's intelligence and downright shabby in its treatment of poor old Lewis Carrol and the original Alice books. There were pointless inventions of a pitiful new plot, excessive use of computerage, a lousy story, tedious pacing and . . . well, there's no point in saying any more. Even Depp's brilliance failed to provide much relief. The 3D was OK, but I wouldn't need to see it again, I don't think.

This time last year It was Day Two of a diet.

I'm listening to Bach's Cantata number 67 'Hold in Affection Jesus Christ' - a nod to Ascensiontide which, I believe, has just past. This ancient recording features the immortal Kathleen Ferrier. That voice still makes me cry.

And finally - we've harvested our first 'lunch box' cucumbers. Now I know why they're called 'lunch box' varieties. How very rude! Tasty little chaps, though!

Off to Singapore - speak soon!

Friday, 21 May 2010


First, an apology for being so neglectful of everyone's blog posts. I'm hopelessly behind. Sorry, sorry, sorry. But the pressure is on - to finish all my copy before going to Chelsea tomorrow and the Far East a few days after that. Help!!!!!!!!

A couple of questions:

1. Why aren't gnomes allowed at Chelsea? Who is the Papal decree maker who decides on what the Nation's gardening tastes should be? I personally hate the things - even more than I hate caramel heucheras - but I would defend, valiantly, the rights of Gnome Man to stock his front garden with the little pot hideosities if he so wishes, and of course, I hugely respect La Sock's curious dalliances with foliages of dubious colour and provenance. Let the gnomes come forth, say I. Let them join those chicken wire ducks, unnaturally goodie-goodie stone children and repulsive concrete copies of the fabulous works of odd Greek bods like Praxiteles.

Papaver orientale 'Saffron' - no good if you hate orange!

2. How long has it taken the Conliberative Government to go completely off the rails and run away to La-La land? The answer - 14 days. It started so well. HIPs are gone, hurrah! No nasty Big Brother I/D cards - double hurrah! Swingeing capital gains and other tax hikes for us poor middle-road-middle-socioeconimical suckers - boo, bugger and bother! Oooh the pain, when you're ageing and looking forward to a trashed pension. But we know some poor sod's got to pay up for the Bankers' cock-ups, and subsequent gross mismanagement of our economy. But now the New Ticks have gone too far.

I heard at 5.45 this morning on BBC Farming Today that the badger cull is on again. So as well as drastically cutting the badger population in the West of England, Bovine TB will be signficantly increased in the future. The disease is horrific and costly but culling Badgers, as has already been demonstrated in scientifically conducted trials, doesn't work.

What is desperately needed is a TB vaccine that works effectively, for cattle. But before that, what is even more desperately needed is a quick, accurate blood test which will produce an instant, reliable result. That's where the money and energy needs to be spent. Culling badgers is a destructive and pointless activity. Doing it leads to perturbation, where badger communities are broken up and where massive re-distributions follow, with animals moving far greater distances than is normal, thereby spreading the disease ever further.

And my big worry is that it's being instigated, not because Clegmeron really believes it will work, but as a kept promise to an influential Farmers Lobby which punches grossly above its weight and is essentially Tory - and that's despite farming enjoying heftily socialistic support in the form of around £3billion in subsidies. (America does something similar, I believe.)

Nice Things. The first rose is out this morning. A climbing 'Cecile Brunner' - pink, petite in flower but rampant in habit - just what you need, in a good climber.

The first poppies opened a week or so ago. Welsh poppies, orange and yellow forms, compete with greater celandine, thistles and groundsel in our yard. The first field poppies, too, are opening and we've a white one among the reds. But the star is Papaver orientale 'Saffron' whose petals are the hue of a Buddhist Monk's robe.

Other lovelies, noted on a pre-breakfast garden stoll - or rather, a hobble - include blue Corydalis elata which has delicious coconut fragrance, Paeonia cambessedesii which is tiny but exquisite, pink cow parsley and pale blue camassias in the mini-meadow. Things are burgeoning all right. Such a sin to go to the tropics, when England is so heavenly.

Paeonia cambessedesii - petite but perfect, in a blotchy pink sort of way.

Swallows and a blackbird are nesting in the garage - and crapping all over the car. And my first cucumber, in Wendy, (no double entendre intended) is ready to pick for today's lunch.

I'm listening to the PG, banging pans about in the kitchen unnecessarily loudly, to send up the message that her breakfast coffee is overdue, and I'm on coffee-making duty.

This week's film was a short. A 42 minute gem by Jonathan Miller who adapted the MR James story, Whistle and I'll Come to You. Here's what I wrote in my ordinary pen and paper diary:
‘Who is he who will come?’ - chilling words, inscribed on the wooden whistle. The ‘on-the-nose' narrative goes like this: ageing academic unearths a relic in a disused cemetery which invokes an unwelcome reincarnation. But the spine and message of the tale says: if you’re a smug, self-satisfied pedant with fixed ideas and an overweening sense of your own intellectual superiority, you may be in for an extremely nasty surprise.

This Day in 1991 I was filming with BBC on the Chelsea Programme. I had to interview Anne Hitchcock of Three Counties Nursery about her pinks. In my diary I wrote in praise of the BBC Cameraman, one Nigel Davey, describing him as 'approachable and very open to ideas.'

See you at Chelsea!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


Three cheers for democracy. We really must try it in England, some time. Still, I suppose it's a goodish outcome - until the squabbling begins. Mr B's 'Thank you and goodbye' brought a tear to the eye but otherwise, I was too embroiled in self-pity to take in much of what was going on yesterday. All is explained in a mo.

Now, then, now then. Ahem! Hrrrh hmm!!
There are times when you just can't win. Year after year, I've moaned about hot spring weather burning up the tulips, after we've waited and waited for them to flower. Then we've gasped at the speed with which they've shot out, shot their bolts and shot off. Talk about Tulipulatio praecox!

But this year, when Chelsea is coming up like a fast ball from Freddie Flintoff, and my trip to South East Asia is hot on its heels, the blasted tulips just won't die.

Tulipa 'Portofino.' Not nearly as pretty as it was in Parker's catalogue picture.

Not that I'n in a hurry to see them go. Far from it. But the trouble is, my beloved Wendy (my greenhouse to those who don't know) has been wonderfully productive and I need to get all the tender babes that she's raised this winter planted out before I depart for London and beyond. I dare not leave them under glass until mid-June and would not ask my long suffering and kindly neighbour to water all that lot anyway.

The tulips have been a mixed bag, this year. I tried 'Jackpot' a dark job with white picotee which I have to say is remarkably good. It has also stood up well to the disgusting weather that's been thrown at us. Ground frosts every dam' day, this week, and a poisonously bitchy north-north-easterly.

'Portofino' appealed in the catalogue pictures - a nice cherry red feather against a snowy white background. But what we got was cream and blood, uuuughgh (or in American, Eeeuuuuwwww!) The flowers resemble World War One dressings with the blood seeping through. Loathsome!

And for the prissy row of pots on my wall top, I chose 'Orange Lion,' a new Darwin hybrid which is neither leonine nor orange. It was yellow - a nasty, flat, eggy yellow with suffusions of L-plate red. And it had no lasting quality at all.

Jackpot - a fine, late tulip with amazing lasting qualities.

I'm trying to be brief, this week, you'll be relieved to learn. Work is crowding in, a couple of extra commissions have plopped onto my desk and I've got to get ready for flying to Singapore sharpishly after Chelsea.

My week's big event was not horticultural and took place yesterday. My first ever MRI scan. I won't bore you with too much detail. One had to wear the usual Jack Nicholson (Something's Got to Give) hospital gown but luckily, the horticultural buttocks were protected from world view by the baggiest, softest cotton pants I've ever donned. I was heartbroken to have to give them back, and would have schlepped about the house in them at home every evening until they finally fell apart. But the National Health Service demanded them back.

The scanner madoodle is terrifying to look at. You lie on a plank which slides into a coffin, and you're clamped into stillness with padded fetters.

'What sort of music would you like?' asked the charming and solicitous radiologist. (Are scanner madoodle operators called radiologists?)

'Schönberg please,' I quipped, facetiously. 'Or failing that, how about some Wagner.' Instead, was fed light classics - Eine Kleinebloodynachtmusik. But they needn't have bothered because the noise is so unbelievably all-consuming that you are blotted out and spun into a vortex of din. It really isn't that unpleasant, once you relax into it. No worse than a rock concert.

The first scan was to take 40 minutes. That was a shock. I expected to be like House - a brief spell in the coffin, while two supervising doctors paid no attention at all but quibbled with each other about who was being adulterous with whom and then it would all be over. But not a bit of it.

And since my injury, I've been quite unable to lie on my back without feeling sharp pain down there in my, um, I think sacrum. And you can imagine, I'm sure, what it was soon like, lying there unable to move while the pain got sharper and sharper until I was digging my fingers into my ribs to counteract the agony. The noise, if anything, was a welcome distraction. When it was over, I couldn't stand up, at first, but the pain disappeared remarkably fast.

After a few minutes of pacing, enjoying the baggy trousers and that wonderfully solicitous but brisk attention they give you in hospitals, I was ready for the next blast. This one, they said, would be only 25 minutes, and wouldn't hurt a bit because my knees would be up, and supported by a comfy cushion thingy. 'But I'm afraid,' the radiologist said, 'you have to have ear plugs and there's no music.' So it wasn't all bad. In fact it was a piece of cake and I nodded off.

Driving home, listening on the radio to history unrolling and feeling, for the first time in my life, rather sorry for Gordon Brown - but also sensing his huge relief at handing over the burden of office, I reflected on pain and pleasure.

That first scan scan provided me with the most unpleasantly painful forty minutes I've spent for years, or possibly ever. And yet, driving home through the fresh, vibrant countryside, with a low sun gilding the new foliage, with hawthorn coming into flower and all the roadside cowslips giving a last spring flourish, it felt wonderful to be alive.

Jackpot, close-up. Lovely, velvety petals.

I'm listening to Dies Natalis by Gerald Finzi.

This day in 2007 I laid a crude path in part of our garden, using heavy concrete slabs. Also managed to drop a large bolt into our Mighty Mac Compost Shredder. Nice work! Ruined bolt; butchered flails.

This week's film was - well, if you don't mind, I'd rather mention the new TV detective series Luther - written by Neil Cross whose blog is here - which is really good, in parts, but also flawed. Great casting, with Idris Elba – the big geezer from The Wire – and a spine-tinglingly bonkers parricide-matricide Ruth Wilson who, despite her evil nature is quite a sexy girlie and spends time dogging Luther for no apparent reason other than being unable to decide whether to outwit him for sex or for murder. But parts of it really bother me. Exciting ideas and possibilities are blended with knackered and hackneyed plot devices, disappointing scripting – not in the main storylines, but in the minor beats and changes – and sometimes, I just don't find it credible. But I still love watching it. Trouble is, whatever we watch, these days, can't help but be compared with the daring, skill, originality and grittiness of The Wire.

Whoops! - far too much rambling. Bye bye!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Well, me hearties, beauties and old daarlings. Who'll be residing at the Downing Street gig on Friday? George Galloway, possibly, or might it be that nice Mr Clogg?

But enough of all that. If it's that James Campbell fellow, he'll be far too tired to run the country after campaigning nonstop for 36 hours. Couldn't someone have given him a bed?

A bit of our garden in late April, shot by the PG.
(Wish I knew how to make the pics a bit bigger on these 'ere blogs.)

Now then. A couple of announcements:

1. The swifts arrived this morning, spot on cue. Every year, they hit our parish on 5th May, bless them. Starlings have already begun nesting in Swift City, ie, under our pantiles, so I'm hoping there'll be enough des res left for the swifts.

2. A pair of swallows have been zooming in and out of our garage - which is a hole in the side of an outbuilding - all day. They did this last year, but found us wanting and left. We're crossing fingers, toes and other things, in the hopes that they'll stay this year.

3. Last week the Photographer General and I travelled to Devon to attend the Topping Out Ceremony at the Peter Buckley Learning Centre at the RHS Garden, Rosemoor. More info here.

I think I must have got entirely the wrong idea, because I thought 'topping out' was something to do with a well endowed lady bursting forth from a strapless evening gown. Perhaps, at the moment critique, there'd be a clanging of bells, a bang, a whistle, a muffled explosion, and there she'd be with all before – but done, of course, in the best possible taste.

The PG admonished me to abandon ridiculous schoolboy fantasies and to understand that 'Topping Out' happened to sky scrapers when the last widget in the apex of the roof was lowered into position amid cheering and much waving of hard, plastic hats.

Well, this ceremony was neither of those things, but was lovely. The 'building' consists of a lot of shaped concrete flooring and some rather interestingly arranged timber uprights. I'm sure it will be lovely when it's finished. There were speeches, champagne, more speeches and then a lovely dinner of coarse country pâté, poached salmon and a sort of rhubarb shortcakey thing.

Next morning we all came to earth and had a Gardens Committee Meeting preceded by a tour, in driving rain, of the garden. Watch this space, if you're artistically inclined. Rosemoor always has a superb programme of activities and some interesting exhibitions. The Beatrix Potter one a couple of years ago was great, but this summer, they're doing one on William Morris.

I don't suppose you'd call Morris the Tracey Emin of his day. Just as well, really. Anyway, he managed some jolly passable wallpapers, fabrics and nature-inspired artworks and seems to me, to have been pretty much of a good egg, in a rather Englishy, tight-knickered sort of a way. The Wikipedia entry is quite jolly. Look on those florid beards, and be afraid!

The new learning centre is tucked away in a corner, near the woods. There were hundreds of Sitka spruces, all crowding in on that part and some have had to be thinned and cleared. But like everything else carried out down there, it has been done with oceans of tact.

My good friend Chris Bailes, Curator of Rosemoor since it was given to the RHS by Lady Anne Palmer, described how that part of the plantation had been thinned just enough to allow adequate light levels in the Learning Centre, and said that the trees left un-felled had been 'snedded up.' What a wonderful expression! He meant, of course, that all the dead, whispy branches had been removed, making those immensely tall trunks smooth, clean limbed and, frankly, rather sexy. I can see, now, why some people like to shave their legs!

That word 'snedded' or to 'sned' appeals. It reminds me of the old Kentish expression, 'pethering' or to 'pether', meaning lightly forking over ground.

The spring bedding at Rosemoor is as brash and brassy as bedding should be. Shockingly glorious, especially in such a rural setting. A Ford Cortina, parked in the middle of Arcadia.

I love Rosemoor. There's something extra special about it. For me personally, it has always had fond memories and I can hardly believe that it has been in the hands of the RHS for twenty years. Under the curatorship of Chris Bailes, the garden has not only managed to retain the slightly oddball charm of its originator, but has quietly and steadily developed a special character of its own.

You'd think a Devon garden would be a piece of cake to run, with all that rain and lovely mild weather. But Rosemoor nestles at the bottom of a Devon Coombe and is therefore where all the freezing air ends up. This past winter, they suffered from temperatures of minus 16ºC for several nights running, so it is hardly surprising that many treasured, marginally tender plants have bitten the dust.

But their deaths have created wonderful planting opportunities and as the RHS President, Giles Coode-Adams so rightly said, 'I don't think we should allow these losses to make us cowardly about our planting.' Too right. Gardening is always about being daring, a little bonkers, maybe, but always pushing possibilities to the limit.

While we had our meeting, cosy and dry, the PG, looking like a drowned rat, mooched about the garden shooting some wonderfully moody pictures of rhododendrons, dripping, or Chrysoplenum davidianum glistening in the damp and of the gloriously vulgar and brash spring bedding.

Fair daffodils we weep to see
You haste away so soon:
As yet the early-rising Sun
Has not attain'd his noon.
Narcissus 'Lucifer' a pre-1900 cultivar with grace and beauty and my favourite 'oldie' daff for this year. It smells quite nice, too.

4. Trillium flexipes is in flower and is heavenly. I'm so proud of it. T. luteum is flowering, too, but it's rather small and modest.

As usual, this post's pictures bear little relation to the text - hope you don't mind.

I'm listening to, for some absolutely bizarre reason, to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring.

This week's film was The Wicker Man. Well, with Beltane and May Day, it had to be really, don't you think? Have to say, I didn't think it quite as brilliant and inspired as last time I saw it. Edwardwoodwardwardward was pretty convincing - if you believe a policeman could ever be that 'pure in heart' - and Shaffer's writing has its moments. Britt Ekland's mouthing of words she clearly didn't understand was quite funny and Christopher Lee's detached portrayal of the effete Lord Summerisle was hilarious. And all that raunchy, naked 'reeling and writhing' by Ekland, with only a thin, stud (whoops, bad choice of words) wall to divide her from the pure, let's not say prudish Edwardwoodwardwoodward was somewhat erotic. They could have taken a lesson from Pyramus and Thisbe, I suggest.

This day in 1983 we were riddling the last of our potato crop, on the farm, and having trouble with the engine of the riddling machine. It had rained for days and my diary moans about extensive sparrow damage in our little plant nursery and how I had spent ages lining up plants for sale. On the next day, a Friday, I had a piano lesson.

Toodle - ooh!