Sunday, 31 January 2010

Even More Wonders at Wizzers

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  

Nathaniel Hawthorne

If Nathaniel Hawthorne is correct in his speculation then it is unlikely that happiness will be found in the RHS Wisley Glasshouse which has been turned into "a tranquil paradise where exotic butterflies take flight among tropical plants in the warmth". 

The Sock had pictured a gentle wander around the Glasshouse watching the masses of  butterflies flutter by, an occasional one alighting on a nearby leaf or flower or even on the Sock's hat providing perfect photo opportunities.  The reality was just a little bit different.  There were hordes of high-pitched children rampaging around trying to spot one of the dozen or so butterflies which weren't either already dead, or playing possum in order to avoid their monkey prodding fingers.  Although it was bitterly cold outside, the Glasshouse was like an afternoon in Singapore, heavy with humidity.. and the Socks already heavy with winter jumpers.

There were some rather lovely specimens of these 'flying flowers' although the Sock noticed that most of the fabulously blue 'morpho' butterflies appeared to have bitten the dust. A small child whined to her father "Are those butterflies dead?"  "No, Amber.. they are just having a rest".    The Sock caught Amber's eye and mouthed.  "They're dead! Gone! Snuffed it!" whilst miming a slashing motion across her neck.  Amber looked slightly bewildered but the Sock had done her a favour.  Parents shouldn't lie like that.

As a small child the Sock was walking on a Devon beach with family and friends when an oil slicked seagull was spotted.   Fathers and brothers were sent to investigate whilst mothers quickly hustled the Sock and her friend Julie back to the car.  Some short time later the "men" returned and assured us that the seagull had flown off happily.  But Uncle Tony had a gun and we had heard a bang and anyway we weren't that stupid.  The Sock and her friend sat in stoney silence, tears slipping down their faces for the entire journey home.  It wasn't the death of the seagull that hurt - it was the pain of the first lie we had caught our parents out in.

Escaping the overly crowded and humid tropical section the Socks had a quick look at the succulents to get ideas for replacements for her winter dead echeverias and aeoniums.  There was much to covet.

Amongst the other interesting exotics in the Glasshouse the Sock spotted this - can you guess what it is children?

No you can't. So  the answer is here.

Don't be put off seeing the butterflies but avoid the crowds and kids by going during the week.
The Wisley Glasshouse is always worth a visit butterflies or not.

Friday, 29 January 2010

You can do it if you B&Q it

Is there anything this man cannot advertise?

If the Sock's memory serves her well so far we have had

cream crackers


Jane Seymour and Stephanie Beacham

The Wyndham Hotel  (clearly not AT's doing)

A springbok rake

Naff jumpers

A cuddly toy  (the Sock hasn't found a link for this but is convinced it must be true)

This is of course merely the tip of the iceberg and discounts all AT's advertising of his own books and products.

If there is anything blogwatchers would like to add to the list or feel would benefit from being advertised by Alan Titchmarsh please feel free to comment!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Old MontyDonald Had a Farm Ee Ay Ee Ay Oh! Verse Two

And on that farm he had some sheep Ee Ay Ee Ay Oh!
With a Bah bah here and a pish tush there...

As you might have gathered the Sock finally watched Old MontyDonald's Dream Farm.  There is nothing much the Sock can say that hasn't been more eloquently stated by AA Gill in his article here.

The programme was perfectly pleasant with some perfectly pleasant people in it plus paternalistic Monty Don admonishing the farmer to 'look after his health' which, at least, seemed the one area of this programme in which Monty had some expertise to offer.   Other than that it was a perfectly wasted opportunity.  Had the magnificent and eminently watchable Sarah Raven and Adam Nicolson been planted in the mix she could have bossed everyone into submission whilst Adam waxed lyrical on the joys of the countryside.  Sarah surely wouldn't have winced at the price the dream farmers hoped to sell their wool-filled duvets for.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different..

The Socks had a  trip to London at the weekend, jollifying January by escaping the drear of dieting, sobriety and snow-dead aeoniums, and doing something completely different.. an afternoon at the Circus.  In this case it was the fabulous flights of fancy of the Cirque du Soleil performing at the Royal Albert Hall.  The breathtaking acrobatics, colourful costumes not to mention the champagne awaiting us in our box guaranteed  a highly enjoyable afternoon.  The Socks know how to live (when the opportunity arises).

There was however a feeling of slightly sanitised safety about the performance - which is odd considering the astonishing acrobatics and the fact that one of them appeared to be injured during a routine. Perhaps it was all just so slick they made it look a little too effortless.

The Sock remembered, by contrast, visits to the astonishing Archaos who several times performed in a circus tent at a nearby Brighton park in the early '90s.

 Archaos performer

 Archaos was described as a 'punk' circus and appeared as a shambolic procession of scruffy dark-clothed street people, juggling chainsaws, fire-eating, doing amazing stunts on bikes and wires to loud discordant music. They frightened the living daylights out of the Sock, particularly when they were throwing bangers and firecrackers around, a performance which often spilled over into the audience, but they were phenomenally energetic and entertaining.  The original Archaos eventually disbanded apparently not least because the chainsaw juggling and various other stunts had resulted in some serious injuries over the years.

As an aside, some of you may already know that the RHS Malvern show gardens for Chris Beardshaw's Mentorship Scholarship this year are 'Circus' themed. (Laughing already).  The Sock always designs gardens in her mind for these themed events and her imaginary entry for this one is based on the Archaos circus - black plants,swings, a generally anarchic, chaotic tumbling feel and La Beardshaw juggling chainsaws in the middle of it.  A sure-fire winner.

After the show the Socks went to Claridge's for some excellent cocktails the best of which was a hazelnut liqueur and pistachio paste concoction which was 'kick your shoes off' exquisite.

Then on to 'Bocca di Lupo' an excellent Italian restaurant serving authentic regional dishes.  The restaurant is busy, buzzy and not the place for a romantic meal à deux - the Sock's ate at the bar where you can watch all the expert activity by the friendly staff and chefs.

The food comes in large or small portions so by sharing a load of small plates the Socks sampled a wide range of delicious dishes including  an incredibly fresh and tasty 'Shaved radish, celeriac & pecorino salad with pomegranates and truffle oil' (Bedsock's favourite dish),  a ' Rustic pork & foie gras sausage with farro & porcini', a zingy 'Spaghettini with lobster, mussels & ginger', and the Sock's favourite dish of 'Rabbit & pearl barley orzotto'.  We skipped the Sicilian dish of 'foccacia with lung and spleen simmered in lard and smoked ricotta' although if we return we may well try it.  Paying a tiny nod to our discarded diet  by sharing a scrumptious Cassata Siciliana for dessert  we then upped the calories with a glass of vin santo.   All very yummy indeed.

As usual with London we managed to hit a discordant note at the NH Hotel we stayed at.  First.. the Sock was shocked to find on flicking the shaving mirror to the other side, a horrid little homily around it...

 The mirror says "I see a lot of faces and I have never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful"  it may well have changed it's opinion after seeing the look on my face after reading that first thing in the morning!

There were more dotted little homilies around the hotel including one on the lift suggesting you might feel so happy and energetic you could walk down the stairs??!!!

The Bedsock had accrued a load of hotel points for this chain and we were due a free stay paying with those.  On leaving the receptionist said we couldn't pay with them as the computer network connecting to their points scheme was down. When we had insisted that they phoned up instead we were told that the points scheme operators only worked from Monday to Friday.  In the end we had to pay and hope we can reclaim the money from the scheme as we were promised.  Unbelievable!  We wouldn't chose to stay at that hotel if we had to pay for it and we certainly won't be staying at an NH Hotel again because there has always been some problem or another on checking out at this one when we have stayed.

The Socks didn't stay cross for long though because a delicious dim sum lunch at the Royal China Club beckoned and more than lived up to expectations.

It's back to the diet now and the Socks will have to wait a while before their next outing.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to come out from the duvet....

All is not well at Sock Towers... there have been some very sinister developments...

On the day when we were all happily fantasizing about Matthew Wilson's bookywook the postman fought his way through the snowdrifts to Socktowers with an innocuous looking parcel addressed to Miss Arabella Sock.

"How delightful" thought the Sock  "this must surely be a delivery of deliciously expensive chocolates sent by the Bedsock to make up for leaving her snowed in and home alone for a week."  The Sock ripped open the padded envelope only to reveal, horror of horrors, an anonymous note dripping with malice ...

Worse was to come.  The Sock bravely but recklessly pulled out the bulky contents of the envelope and then Aaargh!!!!

Who could have done such a thing?

The Sock has her suspicions and believes it could be her No. 1 Fan gone bad...

The evidence:

The book was obviously bought at a 99p shop or more likely stolen from a local library as no-one, not even a mad person, would pay full price for it.

The book is in pristine condition, none of the pages have been turned implying this person couldn't bear to read it either.

The padded envelope was recycled implying someone too lazy to buy a new one.  After carefully peeling off the selotaped on address label the Sock found one word underneath!!  The Sock now believes she has the evidence she needs to have this maniac locked away from society and make us all safer.

And what to do with the book?  The Sock intends to pass it on to someone else who in turn will pass it on to someone else and we shall see just how many hands it can pass through before it finds someone who could possibly want it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Under the Duvet with Matthew Wilson

The Sock has been snowed in with two stir crazy cats and no Bedsock.  What is a Sock to do to keep warm at a weekend when Spook has stolen her HWB*?

There is nothing else for it but to snuggle under the duvet with Matthew Wilson.  It may be snowing outside, the sharp, Siberian winds may be screaming past the windows but here, cosy under the duvet, I am seduced by the warm, honeyed words of Matthew Wilson.  Seduced and sweet-talked into wanting... no needing.. a new garden to design.  This could end up expensive.

Blogwatchers may remember that the Sock paid full price at RHS Wisley (£20) for her copy of Matthew Wilson's 'Landscape Man - Making a Garden' before Christmas as she couldn't wait for it to be available on Amazon or other bookshops who appear to be waiting for the start of the 'Landscape Man' Channel 4 TV series (coming shortly) before releasing it.  It was definitely worth the extra few quid to have it early. So here is a Sock-style  review of all that you really want to know about Matthew's bookywook - none of the high-falutin stuff.

The book has a nice feel and weight to it and is perfectly proportioned for under the duvet where you don't want to be encumbered with a large RHS Plant Encylopedia or the rather unpleasing 'Ivington Diaries' which is.. er.. diary shaped.  On the cover we have a picture of Matthew Wilson looking rather fit in his Barbour jacket (from what the Sock can tell it doesn't appear to have been airbrushed).  Matthew smirks like the cat that got the cream - as well he might look happy with his book.  A few pages in, another picture, just as gorgeous but with a slightly more quizzical expression.  Make the most of these because sadly after that pictures of Matthew are few, far between and small, until we have another one on the back sleeve cover.

All is not lost, however, to make up for the lack of  Matthew pics the book is packed with beautiful illustrations (although the Sock didn't think the pictures of Keith Wiley's Devon garden were as good as hers).
The book includes case studies of the gardens which will be featured in the 'Landscape Man' TV series and if these are a taster of what is in store, we should at last be in for a gardening TV treat.

Although the book is an accompaniment to the TVseries, it is much more than that and is an interesting read in its own right, exploring the process of how to design a successful garden.  Matthew's writing style is very engaging and the Sock can say that unlike most of her other gardening books, which are used pretty much for reference only, this can be read from cover to cover like a novel.

Unfortunately 'Landscape Man' is leaving the Sock somewhat discontent or at least exacerbating an already started process.  The Sock designed her garden some years ago having been inspired by such as Dan Pearson's TV series and dare-she-say-it the early days of 'Groundforce'.  Between them they made the Sock realise that her medium-sized terraced house garden didn't HAVE to have the lawn, or as Matthew Wilson notes, a path running the length of it to access the washing line without muddying your feet.

One Spring the Socks sat down and discussed what they wanted from the garden, a list was made, plan drawn up, a cardboard scale model assembled and over the next summer the Socks made it so.

Above shows Sock's garden layout after the redesign - although some things have since changed in the past few years, the layout is pretty much set-in-stone, or brick as the case may be.

At the time the Sock was very proud of their achievement but now believes it fits into the Anne Wareham category of 'Lovely garden' which to the Sock translates as generally pleasing, most people would like it, adds a bit to the value of the house but where is the 'thought', the 'edge'.  It is the Project Runway's 'Prom dress' of gardens.. not 'Haute Couture', the America's Next Top Model's 'Pageant Queen' not really 'fierce'.**

Above Sock's garden with dear departed Binki cat. This border 'peaked' some years back and has never really been as good since the Sock started tweaking it.

The Sock still likes her garden and believes she has made good use of the space but can see where it is lacking.  No mystery - it can all be seen with one glance.  Although at the mid-point between the two brick circles there are cotinus planted at each side which the Sock hoped, when in leaf, would give a tied back curtain effect setting the stage for the back circle, this still hasn't given the garden any real height at this point. Dawn Isaac's recent Guardian blog about dividing up small gardens would have been useful in the initial thought process.  The planting is too bitty - the Sock has been greedy to cram all the different plants and styles she likes into a small space so it lacks any continuity.  Although it would perhaps look better with a limited colour pallet and some drift planting its not going to happen with this garden as it would restrict the Sock's horticultural retail therapy too much.

Recent picture of Sock's garden

So Matthew Wilson is to blame for planting new ideas in the Sock's mind, a desire to experiment with all those aspects of design that he covers in his book,  light, shade, form, content, vistas, focal points and all those things that might give the Sock her coveted vision of mystery. The Sock wants to take her next gardening step forward and this is the book to help her do it.

There is only one thing for it, move somewhere with a large garden waiting to be transformed and have unlimited funds to do so.(Must have a word with the Bedsock.)  The Sock now itches to see if she has another garden in her, something bigger, grander, something more 'designed'.

For those like the Sock who spend the cold months just dreaming of a new garden and those about to embark on a new garden voyage get under the duvet with Matthew Wilson NOW!

*HWB stands for Hot Water bottle and not Hot Willing Boy Bedsock as some have suggested.

** The Sock makes no apology for watching these American shows, cut out the screaming and bitching and there is a lot of interesting stuff about fashion photography and design in these programs.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Old MontyDonald Had a Farm Ee Ay Ee Ay Oh!

Just a little reminder from the Sock that His Organic Jerkiness and Hobby Farmer MontyDonald is back on TV this week with his new series "My Dream Farm"! 

Apparently the Lord of Cord has ducked all personal interviews regarding the series as he wanted to look forward, not backwards and didn't want this termed a  "TV comeback"!

With a quack quack here and a quack quack there!

(All other Old Macdonald jokes gratefully received)

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Health and Safety Dogs Winter Warnings!

Just when you thought it was safe to go out in the snow...

clic for the flic

Apologies for the fact it may run too slowly this is presumably due to internet traffic and connections and beyond my control.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Reasons to be cheerful...

There aren't any.  The Sock can't blog properly because the Bedsock upgraded her computer to Windows 7 and obviously that means a load of stuff doesn't work now including Photoshop which we may need to upgrade to get it to work.

Now it looks like the Bedsock may be stuck in Devon at the weekend if the roads are too snowed up for him to drive home and he has all the camera kit and most of the Socks winter jumpers down there too. This will delay setting up the computer stuff even longer!!!

Worse than that it is "no-alcohol January" so I can't even cheer myself up with a few tots of Talisker.

The Sock has found one reason to be cheerful...

Mick Soft's new gardening video

in case you haven't already followed the link on Cleve West's blog.