RHS Chelsea: My favourite things 2

Carrying on from yesterday's gorgeous rugs from Weaver Green, something rather less outwardly beautiful but incredibly clever and useful; The Air Pot. This thing combines clever design and recycled plastic to give you healthier plants.

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The Air Pot

The Air Pot has been around for years and is used by professional growers for everything from seedlings to large trees. The design promotes healthy root growth - roots grow outwards towards the holes in the sides and bottom, and are then air-pruned (the tips die off when they come into contact with air) which in turn makes the plant produce more branching roots. The result is a containerised root system that never becomes pot-bound (where the roots start circling around the edge of the compost), and when it's time to pot on or plant out, you simply un-wrap the pot, which means minimal root disturbance. 

The pots are made in Scotland, from recycled plastic, and let's be honest, they're not pretty, but a healthy root system makes for more beautiful plants, and they can of course be placed inside another, larger, more lovely container. They come flat-packed and are easily assembled. They can also obviously be stored flat, which is a great for those with limited space. At present, because the company has only just started retailing to smaller customers, the product is sent out wrapped in a sand-bag (woven plastic material) which can be re-used in the garden. Eventually these will be replaced with cardboard.

I have enough old-school small and medium sized plastic pots to last me for years, but I'll be ordering a couple of large Air Pots for my containerised trees so watch this space!

 Acers in Air Pots at Kew Gardens

Acers in Air Pots at Kew Gardens

x Laetitia

RHS Chelsea 2018 - My favourite things 1

Before I bang on again about plants, I thought I'd do a short series showcasing my favourite products from Chelsea this year. All of them have one thing in common; they have sustainability at the core of their business.

 Stunning rugs, throws and cushions from Weaver Green, made from recycled plastic bottles.

Stunning rugs, throws and cushions from Weaver Green, made from recycled plastic bottles.

 

The judging criteria at RHS Chelsea doesn't include anything on sustainability - odd, considering that gardens are nature, tamed. It becomes stranger every day to me, that this professed love of nature should be accompanied by such a head-in-the-sand approach to the mountains of single-use plastics within the industry, along with toxic rivers of insecticides and herbicides (also encased in single-use plastics. 

It's not up to the RHS, or any other large organisation to lead the way in reducing waste though. The power is with each of us, making everyday choices which align with our values; if we want to see the gardening industry (and the rest of the world) changing its ways in this respect, then it is in our gift to vote with our feet and our wallets. Sustainability begins at home.

There are businesses out there though, who are making it easier for us to do this. Whilst I wait and dream of a nationwide plastic-free compost delivery service for those of us who don't make enough of it at home, here is the first of my favourite things from Chelsea this year. 

Weaver Green rugs

When I walked onto this stand and touched these rugs and throws, I fell in love with them instantly. Imagine how thrilled I was then to be told that they were made entirely of thousands old plastic bottles that would have ended up in the ocean. I am smitten. The colours are soft and receding and they basically look like they've been there forever, which is what you WANT (or at least that's what I want) Oh, and guess what, moth larvae, house dust mites, and mould have absolutely no interest in these products either. Needless to say, I bought one of their beautiful runners immediately, and will be investing in a couple of other rugs for outside, because yes, these things are outdoor friendly and machine washable.

Weaver Green is the brainchild of Tasha and Barney, who spotted a fishing rope used to tether boats on one of their trips to Asia, and, inspired by this discovery, tasked themselves with creating the softest, comfiest textiles possible using single-use plastic bottles. They ended up with a product that works on so many levels - not only is does it give new life to discarded plastic bottles, but it also looks and feels exquisite. People like Tasha and Barney make me feel hopeful and happy.

x Laetitia

 

RHS Chelsea 2018: Ideas to steal

Wafty and romantic.

I know I sound like a fashion journalist (and that's NOT what you're here for) but bear with me when I use the words 'key' and 'trend' in the same sentence, and tell you that all things floaty and romantic had the upper hand this year at Chelsea. It was as if someone had sent out a secret decree that forbade hard lines (straight or curved) in the planting on the show gardens. Even the topiary balls were shaggy. It screams laid back laziness and I LOVE it.

Achieving this look requires doing LESS rather than more (hurrah!) but you do have to be careful that your organised, purposeful wafty haven doesn't descend into ACTUAL overgrown chaos.

Here are a few sensible shortcuts

1. Use grasses. See-through. Sensual.  I don't need to spell it out. 

 Briza maxima in Matt Keightley's Feel-Good Garden

Briza maxima in Matt Keightley's Feel-Good Garden

2. Use water. It makes light move and glitter and pirouette. It bestows SPARKLE.

 Trickles and dancing light in Sarah Price's Mediterranean haven for M&G

Trickles and dancing light in Sarah Price's Mediterranean haven for M&G

You don't have to have lots of time or money to put water in your garden. Although there's no doubt that movement creates magic, you can start off with a  large bowl (Waterside Nursery do purpose-built ones made of fibreglass, or you can use a glazed pot with the drainage hole blocked; (you don't even need to put plants in it...just water will do). 

3. Be intentionally lazy.

Leave your seed-heads standing - all those beauteous brown things that made winter just about bearable can have a different effect in summer...I'm really surprised how much I love this look; I would never have dreamt of doing it until I saw it yesterday. There's a poignancy to this bit of brown dead stuff that tugs at my heart strings. It's a reminder that life is messy, and beautiful, and complicated, and that we all carry the brown spiky bits inside of us all the time. There is also an elegant nonchalance to it - no primping or preening here.

 Teasel seed-heads in Kate Crome's Epilepsy garden

Teasel seed-heads in Kate Crome's Epilepsy garden

And again here - same but different - the charred remains of plant material from the South African fynbos. The black is almost sculptural against that zingy orange. I'm won over.

 Fynbos landscape on Jonathan Snow's South African Wine Estate for Trailfinders

Fynbos landscape on Jonathan Snow's South African Wine Estate for Trailfinders

4. Embrace shaggy.

It's an aesthetic that says "I'm far too busy living my life for all this clipping". On many of the show gardens, small balls of Pittosporum tobira 'nanum' were as smart as it got. The hard landscaping was left to do all the work of providing a foil to a mass of foliage. This really does still work, providing an alternative to box or yew, or any of their close-clip-friendly pals. Watch out though, before you purchase - this stuff is not fully hardy and you may need to fleece it in a hard winter. A well-tended Sarcococca confusa, which can be clipped into shaggy balls, or even yew, allowed to get a bit away from itself will be much less hassle for those who don't want the bother of worrying about frost.

Pittosporum tobira

x Laetitia

Clearing pond algae

 Pesky but inevitable: Pond algae

Pesky but inevitable: Pond algae

It's hard to think of any truly exquisite garden that does not have water. It will always be the thing that completes an outdoor space, as well as the very best way to bring wildlife into the garden. As with all good things though, there must be a down-side, and in this case it is that any pond is only really a bog-garden in the making.

 

It’s the time of year when algae begins its assault – warmer weather and anything but the perfect chemical balance means that most of us either have water that looks like green soup, or that its surface is covered with the stuff (like my pond, above). No short-term solution is full-proof, but manually removing any blanket weed using a pole is a good start. A submerged bag of barley straw will help to prevent growth, and if you don’t mind your water being black, then a pond dye is a real option as it prevents photosynthesis. In essence though, an algae-free pond is all about achieving a delicate balance; and long-term, the solution is to ensure that any water added to your pond or pool is rainwater (I know, not always possible), that clippings, fallen leaves, mowings and compost are kept out of it, and prevented from adding nutrients, and that it has a modicum of shade. Achieving the right amount of oxygen, nutrient levels and light, is a continual project; your oasis of water will always be a work in progress.

How to get your garden sorted, by yourself. FAST.

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Tis the season.

One sunny day and we’re all looking outside and wishing our gardens were how we wanted them to be.

'Come and sort my garden out!’ the messages say (or words to that effect). I get it, I really do. The sap is rising, and we just feel compelled to get it sorted, right now. Panic ensues and out of that panic, all our deep-seated fears and doubts bubble softly up to the surface. 

They generally take the form of three myths:

 

  1. I don’t have time to do this myself. 

Do you have time to scroll? If you have time to scroll, then you have time for your outdoor space. All it takes is five minutes a day.

 

  1. I don’t know enough to do this myself

Are you a sentient human being? Are you open to a learning experience? Then you can do this.

 

  1. I don’t have ‘green fingers'

Green fingers don’t exist. It’s about becoming interested enough. We become interested when we actually DO stuff. 

 

Okay. Now for the reason you clicked on this post:

 

How to get your garden sorted, by yourself,  FAST.

 

What follows is a list, in no particular order, of things you can do right now, which will make your garden really lovely, and somewhere you’ll want to spend time in. You’ll notice that none of the things on this list is particularly planty or complicated. In fact most of these things are more to do with husbandry (outdoor tidying) than anything else. Before you begin though, remember one thing:

 

Start at the back door.

Don’t look beyond the first thing you see and just work on that. Do it for five minutes and then call it a day. I promise you will end up doing more, and wanting to do more.

The list:

  1. Sweep. Find a broom and sweep all the paved or decked or hard bits. Terrace, paths, steps. If you have algae on your deck or paving then hire a pressure washer and clean it off. This will make the garden safe; not breaking your neck is key to enjoying your garden.
  2. Mow. If you have a lawn, mowing will do more for your garden than any other single job. You can get away with murder everywhere else if you mow. Truth. SWEAR.
  3. Remove. Give away or freecycle anything that’s not working for you, or spoiling your space. This could be garden furniture, but more specifically, I’d advise you to get rid of any flower pots smaller than 40cm diameter. Too many pots or containers, particularly if they are small ones, will not only increase the workload (watering, tending etc) but also look hectic. A small number of large pots is less work and looks immeasurably better.
  4. Chop. Anything that’s dead and crispy. It’s probably last year’s shoots on a perennial plant, and if you look at the base there will be new leaves appearing. Chop the dead stuff. 
  5. Weed. Anything that you know is a weed. Google common weeds and see if you can identify plants that you think shouldn’t be there. Weeding sounds boring but it’s actually really therapeutic and even fun. First, get yourself a good tool. I like the Hori Hori knife or this widger by Burgon and Ball. Or just go round the garden and tug at the weeds. Some of them, like chick weed, will just come up easily, roots and all. If you don’t have a good weeding tool right now, just go out and find weeds that you can easily remove with a tug. Other ones, like couch grass, or bindweed (google them) will need more ingenuity. Some weeds, like herb robert, are so lovely you should probably consider removing just a few. A kneeler helps too, and so does a really good podcast. Be gentle, but firm. Calm and assertive. Do one area at a time. Don’t look up. Stay focused. 
  6. Feed. Put some bird food out, somewhere you can see it. Srsly. you need to see those birds, doing stuff. You need to.
  7. Loiter. Spend five minutes every day in your outside space. You don’t have to do stuff, you just need to linger there (add wine if you want). You may want to provide yourself with somewhere to sit. Put your phone away. Listen. Sniff. Watch. Do I sound like I knit yoghurt? I’m not quite there yet, but I have learned that my garden provides me with something nourishing, that I like to call Vitamin G. You should try it.

 

That’s it for now. It's just the start. Let me know how you go. 

 

x Laetitia

Rose pruning rules - the five minute way

 Roses galore

Roses galore

If you haven’t pruned yet, panic not.

Just gather sharp secateurs, pruning saw, some gauntlets and a reckless attitude. If you're unsure, then it pays to be bold rather than tentative; roses really are the big bruisers of the garden and can take a proper beating, so don't be shy.

It's okay to get it wrong! You may lose some flowers, or your bush may be wonky for a bit, but who cares? It'll right itself at some point down the line, and YOU'RE LEARNING

Rush out and chop dead, diseased or dying wood, and anything spindly right down to the base on all your roses, after which, a shrub rose (a bush) simply needs all stems pruned by one third of their height. Try to cut just above a bud, but don't sweat it; your aim should be to get the thing tidy. For climbing roses, remove anything that's not going to play ball when you try to tie it into your framework, so if it's sticking out or too tough to bend to your whims, then chop it. For ramblers (climbing roses that flower only once) then take out a third of the oldest shoots. Hybrid teas (big flowers on single stems), and really overgrown monsters need razing to about 10cm above ground. Treat floribundas (many flowers on single stems) the same way, cutting higher up though, about 30cm above ground.

 

Finally, give them a feed after pruning with rose fertiliser. They also love a good helping of manure around their roots.

 

There you go. Now just do it.

Messy but Marvellous: Two more amazing winter scented shrubs

As promised, and following on from my last post, here are a couple more winter scented shrubs of utter gorgeosity, but ones which you might need a little more space for...either that, or you have to NOT mind that they look a bit meh for the rest of the year. The best treatment for both of these would be to plant them in profusion (i.e. get yourself a WOODLAND) but failing that, one specimen, tucked away somewhere near to where you're going to walk is definitely the way forward. Needless to say, what these two lack in general looks, they make up for with their winter scent. Here goes:

Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'

  Lonicera  x  purpusii  'Winter Beauty' (Winter honeysuckle)

Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' (Winter honeysuckle)

Gorgeous isn't it? So delicate, and the scent is out of this world - delicate, violet mixed with sweet syrupy yumminess. 

Here's the wider view though:

 Pretty, arching, but needs space, and a plain, dark background.

Pretty, arching, but needs space, and a plain, dark background.

Chimonanthus praecox

  Chimonanthus praecox  (Wintersweet)

Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet)

I do have pictures of this when it's not looking quite so awful, but putting them up would be a misrepresentation of what you're actually getting here. THIS is what the flowers become pretty quickly, and this is what you're looking at most of the time. Eeeek but OH THE SCENT! Indescribable, delicious, sweetly floral and JUST WHAT YOU NEED on a winter day. 

...and the wider view:

 Um, sort of spindly and bare... again, needs a plain dark background to help it shine, but only if your nose is blocked.

Um, sort of spindly and bare... again, needs a plain dark background to help it shine, but only if your nose is blocked.

Both of these of course are totally worth it. But I would say that, wouldn't I! The truth is that I used to have both of them in my garden, but they had to go when I revamped it, as they just didn't do enough for me during the rest of the year. BUT if I had the space, wild horses wouldn't keep me from planting lots of them.

xx Laetitia

Scented shrubs for winter glamour

Scent is a massive topic in winter gardening stories, especially as it is one of the more glamorous horticultural things we gardening journalists get to ramble on about amidst a sea of chopping, planting and wrapping advice; I challenge you to find a gardening section at this time of year without its annual dose of scented winter shrubs. You lovely lot don’t necessarily gravitate towards gardening sections though, which is why I’m giving you my favourite winter scented shrubs here, in the hope that you’ll seek these out the next time you’re in a garden centre, and snap one (or all of them) up for your own space. I promise, you will not be disappointed.

 

Sarcococca confusa

  Sarcococca confusa  (Christmas box / Sweet box)

Sarcococca confusa (Christmas box / Sweet box)

Smart, evergreen shrub that looks like nothing very much all year and then suddenly bursts forth into flower in January with tiny white flowers, which pump out the most glorious sweet scent. A couple of these in pots, flanking your front door is the way to go, and if you have the space, put some out the back as well. Incredibly tolerant of most conditions, even the dreaded dry shade. NOTHING NOT TO LOVE!

 

 

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

  Daphne odora  'Aureomarginata'

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

Absolutely stunning pale-margined green leaves and waxy pink flowers with reflexed petals that smell like you’ve died and gone to heaven. This is the HAUTE of winter scent - it really really is. You have to be nice to it, and give it a sheltered spot with well-drained but fertile soil, but if it likes you then glory will be yours. 

 

Viburnum tinus

  Viburnum tinus

Viburnum tinus

Don’t turn your nose up and tell me it’s only for a car park…this is a true beauty – loves being clipped and preened, into lolly pops and hedges and all manner of things, and has scented flowers from December onwards. 

 

And if you don’t mind a bit of messy…

These above area all frightfully well-behaved plants. Next time I'll put up a couple of rather messier (but no less gloriously scented) options for those with a bit more space...stay tuned my loves...

xx

Laetitia

 

 

Five minute gardening jobs for Christmas sanity

I know I know, it’s nearly Christmas. You’ve got all that stuff STILL to do, and all that stuff STILL to buy, and everything’s just too much. I know.

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It might seem odd to think of venturing out into the garden or balcony right now, and you’re right, it goes against all our thousands of years of human programming, which tells us very clearly that if we find a warm safe place to hide out from the elements, we should stay put for as long as possible, until, that is, we get hungry, at which point, we’re going to need to venture out in search of food. The trouble is that because our warm safe place these days is home, where food is plentiful; we need never go outside at all.

 

That lovely warm feeling you get once you’ve been for a walk after an enormous Christmas lunch? THAT feeling is the golden one, where you’ve moved your body and cleared your mind. When you pick up a rake, or a spade, or a trowel, you not only get outside and clear your mind, but you maintain your outside space as well…BONUS! - it’s basically like going to the gym and when you get back you find that your garden has been tidied. Never has the hashtag #winwin been more apt.

 

So in the spirit of “I REALLLLY REALLLLLY REALLLLY don’t wanna go outside today, here are my top three, maximum payback, blow-out-the-cobwebs, I-am-a-total-god(DESS) five minute jobs for December. 

 

1. Rush out, pick up a trowel, pick a small piece of earth, or a couple of containers (whatever you’ve got) brush any leaves away, remove any weeds that you see, and chop off any unsightly dead stuff. Keep your eyes on this one spot, do NOT look at the rest of the garden or any of the other pots until you’ve finished this one area. Once you’ve finished, either go inside or (and this is the more likely scenario) move on to the next bit.

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2. Get some bulbs (tulips, alliums, crocus, irises…whatever takes your fancy) and quickly plant as many as possible in five minutes, using either a bulb planter, or a trowel. Once you’ve finished, either go inside or (and this is the more likely scenario) plant some more bulbs.

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3. Grab a broom and sweep your paths, or if you don’t have paths, sweep your patio, or your steps for five minutes. Pick up all the leaves and either scatter them between the plants in your flowerbeds or bag them up into a plastic bag, punch some holes into it and store it somewhere out of the way to make leaf mould.  Once you’ve finished, either go inside or (and this is the more likely scenario) do some more sweeping. 

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Have a truly peaceful Christmas everyone...see you on the other side!

xx Laetitia

A gooseberry salsa...(sort-of)

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Blogging food recipes has become a bit of a mind-game of late, and I'm fully blaming radio 4's brilliant comedy 'In and Out of the Kitchen', about a food writer, Damien Trench, who lives in Queen's Park with his partner Anthony, and who basically wants to BE Nigel Slater. His voice, when reciting his recipes is a  completely and perfectly crafted amalgam of all the food writers whose cook-books we started taking to bed and reading for pleasure way back when; that nonchalant 'just toss it in a large, shallow pan and anoint liberally with very best olive oil', peppered with sentences like 'You can, (and should) add lashings of best butter' etc. etc...

It is only when confronted with stuff like this that I realise how derivative my writing really is, and I look back and laugh, not at what I wrote, but the way in which I wrote it...not cringing exactly, just metaphorically patting my younger self on the head, telling her she was sweet to try, but look, you have your own voice you know.

Mark Diacono is one writer who doesn't suffer from copy-cat tendencies. His new book could only be crafted by him, and I am greedily gobbling it up. Quite apart from all the recipes, it is a treat to get inside Otter Farm, and really understand how it is laid out (there is a beautifully illustrated, useful map to show you where everything grows), and the story of how it all began.

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Once again, I have gooseberries galore, from a bush, coincidentally bought from Otter Farm a couple of years ago. We like them raw in this family - even the small baby seems to relish the tartness, but there are always loads. Last year I did this relish, which was truly scrumptious, and I recommend it to anyone, but to celebrate this year's harvest, I made Mark's salsa...a recipe of which he claims he is 'indecently proud'.

Being me, I rushed the whole thing and read the ingredients of the salsa recipe and the method for the ensuing one, (for Gooseberry Sauce), directly underneath it, which begins with the always welcome words 'Put all the ingredients into a large pan'....this I did, getting rather excited about photographing the thing in its raw state, in the pan (i.e. thinking about the BLOG, rather than the actual recipe).

 

It did look very pretty indeed, but then I realised that half the ingredients are of course, supposed to be raw (it being a salsa and all). Hey ho.

So the result is NOT Mark's salsa at all, but a sort of half-cooked relish of sorts. The shallot is translucent rather than crisp and opaque. The lovage, mint and spring chives are a rather sludgy green rather than the emerald that they should be. The gooseberries are rather too squishy but my goodness it is bloody delicious. I'm having a hard time leaving it be until it can be paired with some smoked mackerel and a salad, like wot it tells me in the book...sorry Hunk.

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A vase of Nigella

IMG_6912 Nigella - one of those blooms that makes you feel like a professional photographer...impossible to take a bad photo of it. I have an abundance this year, thanks to my sowing a few plants two years ago, and being scandalously lax with the weeding etc. ever since.

Their beauty is that they spread, without asking permission, but never making a nuisance of themselves. The perfect party guest.

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If you have none in your garden, then clear a bit of earth this autumn and get some seeds in. They need very little encouragement... a little thinning perhaps. They will flower, like these, next year, and you should cut lots, (for the bedroom I think...these are gloriously bedroomy blooms). Strip off the fennel-like leaves from each stem with a swipe of your fingers, and cut them short...(long is better as part of a big bodacious bunch, with other flowers). Leave a good half to go to seed (they are the most beauteous of seed heads, and then do nothing, letting the seeds fall and start the process again without your lifting a finger - that's my kind of gardening.

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My little jug was a wedding present, from and by Annabel Ridley engraved with important information about some of my favourite plants:

Lavender 'shall breathe forth the breath of Heaven'

Sage 'for domestic virtue'

Rosemary 'for remembrance and friendship'

Marjoram 'joy of the mountains'

Thyme 'like dawn in paradise' (Kipling)

Hyacinth 'for the feeding of the soul'

Fennel 'for strength, courage and longevity'

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