Tuesday, 28 May 2013

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Best in Show
Another Chelsea Flower Show is behind us. I’m still sorting through photographs to upload and wondering whether or not my overarching sense of disappointment is justified. In spite of its origins as a flower show, and notwithstanding the fantastic displays by top nurseries in the Great Pavilion, it’s frequently the show gardens which receive most attention at Chelsea, certainly with the media. In this centenary year much of the press attention appeared to be focussed on the gnomes, which I managed to avoid entirely, eager as I was to get to the gardens in an attempt to discern this year’s trends and see how tastes have moved on from last year. Strangely I found it particularly hard to identify common themes largely because in contrast to previous years, when the majority of the show gardens seemed to possess a certain coherence – irrespective of whether or not I found them to my particular taste – many of this year’s gardens didn’t quite pull it off. Perhaps the planting might feel rather leaden, or the finish wasn’t quite there, or maybe there was an element (or several) that unbalanced the whole. Admittedly this is only my own personal impression, but it’s no less keenly felt for that. However, in this post I’d like to concentrate on things that I appreciated, rather than those that I didn’t, although I’m always happy to discuss that side of things in person, so do catch me on Twitter if you want the lowdown!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Three ways to keep on top of your garden in May

It is early, a grey and misty morning, the hedgerows a luminous and dripping green with the dew lying heavily on the ground below. Birds sing, lambs bleat, and a solitary crow pecks for food in the field. Trees that were tentatively offering up delicate buds a matter of weeks ago are suddenly in full leaf. Mother Nature knows how to make an entrance and, fashionably late, the doors to the growing season are thrown aside and she is suddenly before us and around us and commanding our attention, while spring rushes in and May bursts into life.

So the month began, and so it continues. This is not a time of year to neglect the garden, as grass and weeds put on inches of new growth with each passing day and the undergrowth sends out tendrils of goosegrass to scout out untended ground, at which point it moves in with reinforcements to reclaim the territory by virtue of a more imposing occupation. The change of pace can take you unawares; each time I come home the answer phone winks at me to indicate another overwhelmed garden owner seeking assistance, and I can only help as many as the daylight hours and my diary will allow.

As futile as it might initially appear a strategic approach to the garden can help in holding back the advancing waves of vegetation, and while some investment in time is inevitable it needn’t occupy every spare moment. You can’t do everything at once, so let’s consider just three tasks that you stand a change of fitting into your schedule.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Green & pleasant

It must have been holidaying in Dorset as a child that instilled in me a love of earthworks. Driving through the lush countryside a few miles from Bridport our local landmark was Eggardon Hill, a prominent feature on the local skyline but, to a small child, all the more exciting for the iron age hill fort and burial mounds to which it is home. As a family we became adept at identifying the telltale swollen welt of tumuli in the landscape, while my sister and I learnt how to read the contours of the land on the Ordnance Survey map and home in on the gothic typeface that indicates a Feature of Interest. On the same vacations I remember scaling the windswept grass terraces of Maiden Castle, and clambering around the Roman amphitheatre at Maumbury Rings in Dorchester.

I’ve been asking myself what it is that so appeals to me about these constructions. It’s not merely the frisson you feel when encountering a familiar object – or, in this case, material — used in an unfamiliar way, or even the play of light and shade across the horizontal and vertical surfaces of the banks, paired with the relentless green of the closely cropped turf. But there’s also the delight of seeing the commonplace being used to create something of more complexity in both purpose and meaning. The grass itself has a semiotic link to something deep within most of us, recalling moments of carefree fun from childhood — whether it calls to mind grand lawns, country pastures or a welcome patch of green among the urban jungle. There’s something quintessentially British about grass, and pulling and pushing the land about into forms that suit our purpose before covering it over with a blanket of grass seems an entirely proper thing to do.

It’s exciting to me that garden designers and landscape architects like Charles Jencks and Kim Wilkie are incorporating these features today. But what unexpected joy, when entering the newly redesigned walled garden at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, to discover crisply defined curved terraces of grass. Inspired no doubt by agrarian practices in the foothills of Nepal, it still somehow feels rooted in the Kentish landscape, only a few miles away from the sites of hill forts at Ightham and Plaxtol. The garden was full of children, throwing themselves with gusto at the embankments and laughing as they slid down the terraces. I’ll certainly be coming back to spend some time gazing at these lush green contours. Quite apart from anything else, in the absence of a flock of sheep which would have unwelcome consequences for the contents of the borders, I’m interested to see how they get on with the mowing.