Sunday, 18 December 2011

Battling berberis, bramble and briar

I manage to get myself into a tight spot, wedged between the boundary and three prickly customers, armed with only my wits, a garden fork and a slightly inadequate looking pair of secatueurs. The loppers lie tantalisingly out of reach on the barrow only feet away but separated from me by an impenetrable curtain of spines. Obviously the brambles need to come right out now, and I do my best to cut away the tangle and lever out the stubborn roots from beneath the neighbour’s fence, snapping one of the tines off my fork in the process. The second trusted garden friend I’ve lost in a week. Collateral damage. But no time for regrets now, there’s a job to be done, and decisions to be made. How much to cut from the other two, and when? That’s a thornier issue.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Digging December

I’m not sure that anyone spends much quality time in their garden during December. Even the keenest of gardeners will find more pressing things to do in the run up to Christmas, and it’s probably no accident that the holidays occur at a time of year when there’s little work to be done outside and the garden can be left largely to its own devices. But for those determined few prepared to contend with claggy lawns and inclement weather, there’s the promise of a calm, quiet space so different from the frenzied maelstrom which too often typifies our experience of the end of the year.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Review: The Ivington Diaries

by Monty Don

Christmas approaches apace, and I thought I’d share with you one of the most inspirational gardening books in my collection. So for those of you be in the enviable position of having already finished your gift shopping, you’ll still have time drop weighty hints suggesting that the course of the festivities will run far more smooth for you having discovered a copy of this excellent book wedged into your stocking on Christmas morning.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A grey day, with berries

Hips of the dog rose in the morning mist

It’s gloomy outside – the kind of day that words like ‘dank’ and ‘drear’ were invented for. But peering through the nullifying fog that hangs heavy in the air, cancelling out familiar views and making us feel like strangers in our own gardens, something rich and rather magnificent calls for attention. Winking, jewel-like clusters of opulent splendour, fat with food for the birds and creatures who share our autumn gardens, the berries take centre stage at this time of year, bringing colour and joy to our surroundings when all around is fading into winter gloom.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Leaf fall

Autumn leaves of the Liquidamber styraciflua
at the boathouse, Scotney Castle Gardens

Every season has something to recommend itself, but for me autumn has always taken pride of place. I would love to experience a New England fall, but working in the garden or walking through the countryside here at home, I’m just as content to revel in the sights and smells of a Kentish autumn. I think it’s partly the freshness in the mornings, the smell of damp soil and bonfires, and the almost perceptible sound of the garden sighing after a frenetic summer's growing, drawing all its richness back into the ground as it prepares to muster its energies over the winter – ready to do it all over again next year.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Magic in the walls

The entrance to the walled gardens
To the splendidly formal but entirely accessible gardens of Penshurst Place this week, which closed for the winter today. The building itself is the closest we have to Hogwarts around here (they recorded the sound of the creaking floorboards in the long gallery here for the Harry Potter soundtrack), but to my mind it’s in the gardens that the real wizardry occurs.

Friday, 21 October 2011

First frost

The rudbeckias, staunchly gritting their teeth and smiling through the cold. 

I had wandered out with Bill early in the morning, noticed the chill air, but not ventured more than a few steps from the back door in the dark. The penny dropped while I pulled on my boots as a prelude to loading up the Land Rover for Thursday’s gardening round calls. That familiar, rasping noise – absent from the early morning soundscape for months but instantly recognisable as the sound of the neighbours scraping their windscreens. We’d had our first frost of the autumn.

It hadn’t been a severe one. Not harsh enough to worry the Canary Island date palm or the pelargoniums basking in the relative warmth of the courtyard – but sufficient to transform the lawn to a silvery carpet, perfectly complementing the lavender hedge, and to rime the margins of the remaining flowers with a delicate, icy border. The dahlias, very late this year, won’t be putting on much more of a show.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Orchard crate

Delighted recently to receive a commission from a lovely young couple for a wooden box in which to place presents at their wedding reception. Stuart and Nicky were hoping for something with a similar finish to the herb planter I blogged about in June, but in the style of an apple crate or bushel box – quite appropriate for the time of year!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Deadheading by dusk

October, and while people who ought to know about these things argue over whether or not we were having an Indian Summer (we weren’t, apparently – just a late warm spell), there’s no denying we’ve all been given a late reprieve from autumnal maintenance tasks to enjoy being in our gardens a little longer. Even the supermarkets have been holding back on filling the shelves with Halloween paraphernalia in order to be able to cash in on an unseasonably late weekend of barbequing. It’s been great.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Do the Right Thing

On the right, the forsythia the spring after we moved in, with
our friend Mark expertly logging the ash tree he’s just pollarded.

Someone once said (I think it was the apostle Paul although I’m fairly certain these weren’t his exact words) that it’s all very well knowing what you ought to do, but quite another thing actually doing it, when all you want to do is the exact opposite. I don't recall any stories about the saint being a great horticulturalist, but the notion holds true in the garden too. Over the past few weeks our forsythia hedge has taken on the silhouette of a lunatic banshee’s hairdo, and against my better judgement, I’m struggling to resist the temptation to give the thing a good trim and restore a little order before winter sets in.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mists and mellow fruitfulness

Thoroughly enjoying several things just now: the slightly chill nip in the air, the mist hanging over the garden and fields in the mornings, the sight of swollen red rose hips in the hedges, the sound of ripe apples dropping off the tree, and the early evening sunshine that comes raking in across the land at a recklessly low angle, creating a fantastic backlit tableau out of any stand of trees or clump of grass that gets in its way. All of which means autumn is coming in, and while I won’t believe it is quite arrived until the leaves turn and the fire is lit, I have a familiar sense of excitement and – is it relief, almost? – that the approaching season brings. Which might be considered odd for a gardener, seeing as the light becomes shorter with each passing day, and the garden appears – on the outside at least – to be winding down for the year. But there’s plenty yet to be done.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

September colours

September burnishes the garden with a metallic sheen, and colours so improbable you would think foliage and seed heads had been steeped in some lustrous paint overnight. Acanthus leaves are turning from deep green to their autumn shades of copper and gold, and an arresting combination of the sea holly Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’ against pearlescent maroon honesty is particularly hard to accept for a natural phenomenon. Across the path the flower heads of the tussock grass Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ nod and in the breeze, catching the evening light as though they've been spun from thin golden wire. Just for a moment it feels like a stage set.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Thinking ahead

Bank Holiday Monday dawns bright and clear in spite of last week’s heavy rain, but I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that the evenings are drawing in with frankly indecent haste. While the arrival of Bill the puppy last weekend has taken a toll on domestic routine, on those occasions I have managed to escape the furry but demanding cuteness for my morning run there’s been a noticeable freshness in the air. Autumn is on its way, and now is a good time start thinking ahead – beyond late summer, beyond even Christmas and the bleakness of winter – about how we want our borders to fill out in spring.

It might seem a bit premature, but a plant grown from seed sown direct into the final flowering position over the next few weeks will have a distinct head start over seeds of the same plant sown in spring. Now, with the memory of this spring still fresh, we’re ideally placed to devise and execute a plan for plugging any gaps which we noticed in our gardens earlier in the year.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Laurel, and Hardy Plants

To the utterly charming and most inspiring Marchants Hardy Plants today, a wonderful garden and nursery not far from Lewes in East Sussex. I’d love to give you the exact location but, in spite of printing out instructions from the infernal interweb, we got slightly lost, and spent rather longer getting there than intended.

The small car park was overflowing when we finally arrived, so we pulled up on the roadside just before the entrance, next to an artfully pruned hedge of what I took to be field maple. But what this place specialises in is as fine a selection of home grown herbacious perennials and ornamental grasses as you are likely to find anywhere, and that's what we'd come to see.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


Emma’s Thursday posy, just cut from the garden. Quite a handful, with a knockout scent from a combination of lavender, fennel and sweet peas.

Need to find a better vase, though.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Spud man

Is there anything more wonderful than digging your own potatoes out of the ground just in time for dinner? I can’t think of anything right now.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Honey bush

This gorgeous foliage belongs to the honey bush, Melianthus major. Year after year, I grow it in my garden and, sure enough, year after year it expires.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Weed or wildflower?

Mock outrage at Friday evening’s Gardeners World as the very splendid Monty Don refers to Corydalis lutea as a weed. He was speaking of it with affection, so I think he’s excused, though I like to think of it as a wildflower. Granted it has a wondrous faculty for self-seeding, but it rarely has it inserted itself in a position where its presence has done anything other than brighten the immediate environment and, should it do so, it’s not hard to pull out.

I love it for its soft, ferny leaves, which remind me of aquilegias or the maindenhair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris, and yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers. It’s a delightfully unfussy plant, liking the margins of things, and will cope as happily with the shade under a tree or hedge as with a position on a sunny wall, in the cracks of which it frequently stations itself. All it requires is moderate drainage, and a slightly alkaline soil. In the shade, it looks great planted with epimediums and its not-too distant relative Dicentra ‘Ivory Hearts’.

It catches my eye, peering back at me from under the pyracantha hedge opposite the kitchen window. Company for when I’m doing the washing up.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Hampton Court Flower Show

Lots of really inspirational gardens and some wonderful plantsmanship in evidence at Hampton Court this year!

We loved the planting and the restrained colour palette in Charlotte Murrell’s Wild in the City garden for Wyevale East Nurseries, and her use of green oak posts and cut logs to form panels for the wall. Another breathtaking site was the amazing hedge on the Heathers in Harmony garden (shown here). It’s a modular vertical planting system (all the rage at the moment) with different heathers providing a tapestry effect. A deserving gold medal winner for designer William Quarmby.

Notable trends across the show included Grow Your Own (still going strong), sustainability, naturalistic planting for wildlife, and vertical gardens! Great stuff.

See our Facebook page for more comments and pictures from the show.

Telling tales

I’m beginning to suspect that the most successful people in any walk of life are the ones who tell the best stories. We all love a good story. It seems to be hard-wired into us in infancy, and we never lose that childlike trust to place ourselves in the hands of the storyteller and allow ourselves to be taken on a journey to an unknown destination. And who doesn’t still feel cheated on those occasions where the ending is given away before its alloted time? I think we all derive deep satisfaction from progressive revelation, and I’ve noticed this is something which the best gardens use to their advantage.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Life on the edge

Something that continues to fascinate me about gardens is the relationship that exists between the gardener and the natural world. We might be allowed to think we’ve got the upper hand for a short while, but this is just an illusion. Where the gardener seeks to impose their will – the tidily clipped hedges, fruit trees trained into espaliers and fans, or the neatly manicured expanse of baize green lawn – little more than a momentary distraction provides the opportunity for Mother Nature to reassert her dominance. And it seems to me that this relationship is nowhere more evident than around the edges of things.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Summer solstice

All too soon, the longest day of the year is upon us. Just at the moment we realise we can be outside at ten in the evening and still see our way along the garden path without the aid of a torch, we turn the corner and the nights begin to draw in again. Of course, this picture of balmy June evenings is entirely fanciful – having spent most of the past fortnight utterly sodden, rainsoaked and windswept, there’s been little chance of pottering through the twilight garden, beaker full of the warm south in hand. A mad dash to the shed to shelter from the heaviest of showers has been more typical of late, but for all that, it’s been wonderful to seen the effect of the rain on our gardens, transforming them from parched spaces to verdant jungles within ten days.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

In the box

Every now and again, you have to give into temptation. Some old floorboards leaning against the shed have been crying out to be turned into something altogether more interesting and useful. We’d been thinking about introducing a line of vintage effect wooden garden planters if there’s sufficient interest and, needing an original gift for a good friend, the chance to make a prototype box and plant it up with a selection of mediterranean herbs seemed too good to miss.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

In praise of peonies

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’

Firstly, I should say, hurrah, it’s June! At least, I think that deserves a ‘hurrah’ – the year is rushing past so quickly and gardens everywhere seem to be gathering momentum, building towards either a most amazing, bountiful crescendo of floral splendour, or a parched, arid period of drought where only the toughest of our Mediterranean garden imports looks chipper. Ever the optimist, my money’s on the former...after all, Wimbledon fortnight is soon upon us, and so rain is inevitable.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

An ill wind

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Chelsea Flower Show looking quite so windswept as the television coverage of yesterday’s press day showed it to be. And certainly the fierce gusts throughout the south east will have made the traditional ‘Chelsea Chop’ – that time in the horticultural year when gardeners are reminded that a swift and judicious dead-heading of certain, robust flowering perennials will bear dividends with a second flush of flowering later in the summer – somewhat more drastic than anticipated in some gardens. In fact in one border here, the force of the wind seems to have inflicted more of a Chelsea Flop on a certain geranium. However, the plant in question being robust to the point of thuggishness, I have no doubt that it will soon make a full recovery. And in the meantime, its temporary absence has opened space into which the lupins can stretch out, and created a gap where we can plant some of the cosmos which we’ve been nurturing from seed in the greenhouse.

It’s an ill wind, as they say, that blows nobody any good.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mini cards

Very excited by the recent arrival of our mini cards from Moo. Nine different designs, featuring garden photography, marketing messages and favourite quotes, which we’ll be distributing amongst friends and customers to spread the grow message!

Loads more creative ideas about what to do with them, so look out for them soon!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

May blossom

May has arrived, bringing with it the Andrew’s fortieth birthday, the prospect of the Chelsea Flower Show (for which we were too late to get tickets) at the end of the month, and, perhaps most importantly…some rain!

An unusually hot and dry April made for fantastic weather over Easter and the extra bank holiday gifted to us by the Royal Wedding, but left the garden gasping for the faintest sniff of an April shower. The thick layer of well composted manure we spread over the borders here at grow headquarters has not only transformed how the garden looks, offsetting the fresh greens and reds of the new spring leaves, but is doing an essential job of retaining as much moisture as possible within the soil.

And suddenly, the year seems to be well under way. The tulips are all but gone over now, replaced in the borders by alliums and unfurling, blousey paeonies. Last month’s vision of exaggeratedly generous cherry blossom on barely-leaved branches is now a memory, and now we can enjoy the sight of the May sun shining through pristine foliage and the amazing seeds pods of honesty Lunaria annua. And in the hedgerows, the dog roses are blooming with a gentle pink froth, and the hawthorn, which keeps us waiting, is clothed with May blossom. So much life.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The joy of hand tools

There’s no denying the usefulness of powered tools in the garden. And while electric models are inexpensive to buy and light in use, the threats of cutting through a power cord, running out of battery charge mid-way through a job, or having proceedings called to an end by a sudden downpour, makes their petrol engined counterparts far more useful. noisy! Not to mention smelly and, let’s face it, not ideal on the environmental front.

Ok, hand tools might be much slower in many cases, but not, it must be said, in all. I’m beginning to suspect that many of us reach too quickly for the power tool, when its finely crafted and well balanced manual counterpart would be a more appropriate solution. Of course, there’s an obvious commercial benefit to being able to do a job quickly, and no doubt the powered tools come in handy in this respect, but there seems to be something slightly incongruous about having to wear ear defenders in such a natural setting as a garden. I wonder how many clients will be happier to forgo the racket and emissions of, for example, my excellent petrol leaf blower, in favour of seeing their gardener working quietly but no less efficiently with a finely honed ash-handled rake and a broom.

I know which I’d rather use. I prefer a more civilised approach – one which doesn’t require all the neighbours to dash indoors and close all the windows – and I think it only sensible to put my trust in the hundreds of years of experience which has handed down to gardeners today tools which are perfectly designed and eminently suited to the tasks for which they are intended.

So, while I can’t promise never to use powered tools – time and cost to both my clients and to my business would dictate otherwise – I think it’s safe to say that they won’t be my default first choice for every task.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Spring is sprung...

Spring is sprung
Da grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies iz
Da little boids is on da wing
Ain't dat absoid
Da little wings is on da boid


Spring has most certainly sprung, and the grass is definitely riz, at least everywhere except the patches where it’s been worn out by being trampled into a soggy clay quagmire over the winter months. Nothing a smart bit of seeding and feeding won’t mend and, anyway, I have plans for a brick path that will stand up to the rigours of year-round traffic more robustly. So, shears, strimmer and mower have all been given their first outing of the year this week – it could have been a little earlier, but I don’t have the heart to brutalise the celandine Ranunculus ficaria which merrily rampages its way through the lawns and borders at this time of year. It’s such a positive little flower, appearing as it does around the time that the clocks go forward, giving us an extra hour of daylight in the evenings.

And as for the boidies, they’re making the most of all the digging we’re doing, not to mention the recent pollarding of the ash tree which has unveiled all manner of juicy critters to feast upon. And it can only be a few weeks before we’re beset by gangs of comedy starlings, which always brings a smile.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A time to sow

It’s spring. That time of year when we never seem to have enough working space, and the areas that have been dedicated to wood-working tasks over the winter months need to be reclaimed for managing the garden. Every year, I resolve to be better prepared for this change in seasons. This year – inevitably – I’m sowing seeds on a bench amidst wood shavings and the sweet smell of softwood sawdust. Well, there’s always next year.

And so the garden shed, and not a little part of the house, is in now in full production mode. Seed packets and chitting potatoes everywhere; friends invited round on the pretext of dinner, finding themselves press-ganged into making paper seedling pots from strips of old newspaper. I’m pretty sure they don’t mind being caught up in our enthusiasm – there’s so much to look forward to. Having spent the whole winter browsing seed catalogues, now – at last! — we get to start into life those plants we've spent the dark, cold days dreaming of. Now, just a tiny seed, a bit of compost, and some water. In a few weeks time, a garden full of flowers, and fruit and vegetables...It’s plant magic, and it never fails to capture me with its wonder.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

New logo

As I’m sure I’ve said somewhere else, when starting a new business venture, it does help to have a most excellent friend who also happens to be a fantastically talented graphic designer. Today after much discussion and many hours of work on Charlotte’s part, we got to see the new logo...and we think it’s just amazing.

We’d asked her to create for us something which represented our passion for what grow is about, in a way which would both appeal to our audience, and represent the personality of the company. What we got surpassed all expectations!

She’s created a marriage of classical typography with an original tableau, constructed from a riot of different leaf forms. This rich foliage softly envelops the company name, but in such a way that the clarity of the text is never compromised. The company descriptor, using a smaller size in the same typeface, appears offset to the side, balancing the whole effect. It’s at once organic and substantial; formal, yet with a touch of whimsy.

I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

Friday, 25 February 2011

February cheer

What an exciting week in the garden, though you wouldn’t know it on first inspection.

A drab, cold and grey February week in Kent — quite depressing, to be honest — with apparently nothing going on. But underground...what potential energy is building to a peak! It feels like the garden’s full of little incendiary devices everywhere...waiting to explode.

Already snowdrops and crocuses are livening up the scene across the neighbourhood — in my garden the tulip foliage is forcing its way out of the ground with no little force. Buds are swelling everywhere I look — from the hawthorn in the hedgerows I run past, to the red-stemmed Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, annoyingly remind me I should have moved it to its planned final location over winter when it was dormant. I know it’s only a few weeks till those dual harbingers of spring in our garden, the snowy mespilus Amelanchier larmarckii and Emma’s Magnolia stellata, are resplendent in their full, fresh white-flowered glory.

And if that wasn’t enough, it’s nearly March, which means...seed time!

Friday, 18 February 2011

New beginnings

After many months of dreaming and planning – not to mention many a long conversation with friends and family – a date has been set for the launch of grow. A new gardening business in north west Kent, grow will launch in the first week of July 2011. Having given my current workplace a generously long notice period, they’ve responded in kind by extending their best wishes and support through the first few months, which is a bonus.

I’m now free to plan in earnest, drawing together the many scribbled notes from various notebooks into a clearly articulated vision, in the form of a business plan, a marketing strategy, and numerous supporting pieces of printed and online collateral. It’s a real opportunity to focus all my mental and physical energy into something in which I'm not only really passionate about, but also have the opportunity to influence.

Can’t wait.