Friday, 29 June 2012

Sock n Trollop Road Trip Part III - Easton Walled Gardens


Easton Walled Gardens has been on my 'must visit' list for a while.  This is another good thing about twitter - it wasn't somewhere that would have come under my radar if it hadn't of been for Lady Ursula Cholmeley tweeting as EWGardens about some of the events and work that has been happening there.  Easton was lined up for the second series of the thoroughly enjoyable Landscape Man which disappointingly was never taken up.  [This absolutely amazes me when you get such rubbish as Titchmarsh's  'Love Your Garden' on TV which has now become like a poor man's Groundforce - and given that Groundforce ended up very downmarket it is like being the equivalent of a poor man's Poundland!]  Anyway I could tell Ursula was a fun person because, having met Matthew Wilson, she has always laughed at my Landscape Man teases.  When my invite to a Press Lunch at Easton (along with pals LazyTrollop and Helen Reeley) arrived we knew we must do everything possible to ensure we could attend - not least because it's not often I get to mix with eminent gardeners and landed gentry even despite my title as Countess of Cashmere!

Serendipity decreed that Nigel Colborn's home lay a mere 20 minute drive from Easton Walled Gardens and that he and the PG had also been invited to lunch. So our little party set off in convoy to follow Nigel's 'short-cut' route. I opted to ride with Helen so I could fill her in on (the potted version) of my life story and get up-to-speed on any gossip.  We followed Nigel down some pretty country lanes and then around a service station off the A1 wondering if perhaps Nigel hadn't realised we were 'doing lunch' and had stopped for a 'Burger King'.  But he drove on out of the exit and back to where we had turned off.  Eventually we arrived at Easton - a little late but then some 'short cuts' are longer than others.

Easton Walled Gardens are set in pretty Lincolnshire countryside - 400 years old they were 'lost' during the wars and eventually inherited by Ursula and her husband. Ignoring her husband's advice that it was an impossible task, Ursula has been successfully restoring them since 2001.  I won't repeat the details as other attendees have written about them but I do urge you to read about them here and James A Sinclair also mentioned them in a recent blog.  The beautiful house had originally been requisitioned during WWII but left in such a state by grenade tossing, gun firing soldiers letting off steam that it had to be bulldozed after the war.   In some ways I wished I hadn't known this as lamenting the lack of house in some ways detracts from the beauty of the fabulous gardenscape and in any case, there are still some lovely buildings left housing the gift shop, cafe, meeting rooms and information areas.  We just had time for a quick peek at the view from the top terrace, our first glass of fizz of the day and then we were whisked off into a charming courtyard for our lunch.

Warm enough to sit outside we joined the rest of the throng enjoying a buffet of chicken, mayonnaise and melon which was absolutely delish (so good that Helen R. has been trying to replicate it since but has so far failed) and some fabulous meringues topped with strawberry which were just how they should be - crisp on the outside, melting into a slight chewiness on the inside, so mouthwatering that I stuffed at least one into my mouth before even returning to my seat.  This manoeuvre no doubt left me with crumbs in my hair, the Bedsock is always having to remove crumbs from my hair which just appear from nowhere.  The same is true of the dirt that I seem to permanently attract under my fingernails despite constant scrubbing at them before I go out.  I feel like 'Pig Pen' from Charlie Brown - a natural, untidy, dirt collector!

The same cannot be said for Ursula, who despite her hands on work in restoring the gardens looks immaculate in a way that I am deeply envious of and will never achieve.  Ursula had organised several short talks for us - an audience referred to as eminent gardeners which included us, the usual suspects, who love to enjoy these events!

First up a short talk from David Austin Roses who have provided plants for the gardens since 2004.

Haxnicks man

Then Damian Cardozo from Haxnicks a man of such cheerful enthusiasm it was impossible not to join him in it.

I love Haxnicks' stuff - it reminds me of a gardening's version of Lakeland Plastics (purveyors of such enjoyable necessities as soft grip pegs and Klippets - you can't have too many Klippets).  Haxnicks' made my absolute favourite, greenhouse plant pots out of biodegradable bamboo and rice in a range of nice colours and with a feel of bakelite. Perfect for colour co-ordinating my seedlings in.  I spent some time earlier this year searching for more of these and was about to find out why I have not been able to find them.  Damian said that they are always looking at new innovations, some that they think will sell (the plant pots) don't and have been discontinued!!!!!!! whilst others that they are not sure about like the soft-tie wire sell like hot cakes.  The man from Franchi seeds rounds the talks off. I am already sold on their range of interesting veg in particular the tomatoes - too many tomato types too small a greenhouse...

The lovely Ursula  and man with Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

It was at this point that the Sock, Trollop and Helen R. make their fatal mistake! Unused to these events we missed the bit where someone said "Help yourself to the goodies left on the table" and by the time we realised what was going on all the best stuff had been nabbed! The more seasoned press-goers made off with a variety of roses, bell jars, pots and other gardening accoutrements leaving some left-overs for us to pick through. Actually we didn't do too badly, Helen got one of their new mini Speedhoes although she would have preferred the larger one she could have ended up like the lady in the loos who having bagged a big hoe then had to negotiate getting it in and out of the toilet cubicle presumably in case any of us made off with it if she left it outside. I ended up with a Haxnicks courgette planting bag which apparently air prunes the roots or something (should be fun to test) and the Trollop grabbed some Bell Boy Mini Propragators but when she realised that these incorporated the discontinued pots I love she gave them to me! (Not so much that she is kind but she knew that otherwise she would never hear the last of it!)  Instead she made do with something for keeping flies off carrots on her allotment.

Reasonably content with our haul and the fact that we were also given 'goody bags' with more bits in, including some of the sweet pea seeds that Easton is famed for, we wander off for a tour of the gardens.
love this pretty plant what is it?

They are lovely and it is quite astonishing to think of the amount of work Ursula and team have put in in such a short time to achieve something that feels as if it has been there for decades.

I would put an infinity pool where the house would have been and spend my time floating in the water and peering over the edge and down the terrraces to the stream, beautiful borders and walled garden on the opposite side of the valley.

This would make a wonderful setting for outdoor theatre or concerts with players emerging from the yew tunnel and onto the bridge.  I once went to see Midsummer Night's Dream at Arundel Castle where all the fairies ran along the battlements holding sparklers.  It was quite magical and if I hadn't been half frozen and damp on an English summer evening I would have enjoyed it.

We wandered down to stream running through the valley.  It bothered me as it seemed to be flowing North and in my mind I would always expect rivers to flow downhill which is obviously South. I confused everyone with this bit of non-logic and eventually got my compass out to ensure it really was flowing in the wrong direction. (Handy hint: Never go anywhere without a compass, whistle and torch in your handbag - plus a couple of klippets of course.)  Nigel produced his mobile with compass application and then the PG produced her handbag which had a magnetic clip on it throwing out all our readings.   You might think this is all a complete irrelevance but I have to disagree - it is very important to know where you are in the world.

What I liked about the gardens is that Ursula is restoring them with a modern interpretation instead of trying to totally recreate them as they were.  Looking at the old pictures it all seems very tight, prim, formal and overly structured whereas now it seems to morph gently into the rather lovely surrounding countryside.  I wanted to follow the wrong flowing stream out of the gate and into the beyond and just keep exploring but it was time to go.  Thank you to Ursula for the invite and a hugely enjoyable afternoon.

 Back to the Colborn's for more cake and a refreshing cuppa and then a quick zoom down the motorway to our respective homes.  The road trip is over but the memories of a fab fun time with friends remains.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Sock n Trollop Road Trip Part II - Colborning


The Colborn's

Day two of the road trip dawns to another lovely sunny day and after a refreshing night's sleep at the Inn, broken only by the sight of a full moon, the Sock and Trollop sit down to a rather good Full English breakfast - "hold the beans"!  Whose idea was it ever to have beans slopped on to your plate engulfing the fried egg, tomato, mushroom, sausage, bacon and black pudding in  pool of thin, orange mucilaginous liquid.  There is a time and a place for baked beans and breakfast isn't it - a sentiment entirely agreed on by PlantmadNige and the PG over coffee later that morning.. for it is they we are about to visit!

Foxgloves peeping through the open gate an enticement for things to come

All those of you who think Twitter an evil time-waster should understand that it is a great facilitator of nice things.  A chance remark to Nigel Colborn (aka twittername PlantmadNige) on how we would love to see his garden, produced an immediate open invitation! Seizing the opportunity to make good this invite before Nigel got cold feet I checked he was really up for it, arranged a date that suited - and sorted! And so it was that the Sock n Trollop came to be driving around the attractive town of Stamford en route to Nigel's Lincolnshire village home. Unfamiliar with this area of the country we had found the countryside around Rutland Water surprisingly attractive with Cotswold's-like villages, mellow brick stonework but with a feel of proper 'working' villages not overly pretty chocolate box ones.  Stamford, a small town often used in Jane Austen type period dramas, was quite charming - so good we saw it twice, driving doubly around the one-way system after missing the huge sign saying "Through Traffic".  This made us slightly late for our visit - I hate being late but anything involving a car journey is very difficult to get right these days.

We arrived to find Nigel and the PG (Photographer General - real name Ros but I'm afraid she will always be 'The PG' to me) already serving coffee and cake to fellow visitor VP on the gorgeous brick patio. The LazyTrollop had also bought cake (her trademark calling card) so we made fast work of that. If I'd have thought I would have taken Nigel a present of a nice caramel coloured heuchera for his garden. The 'also slightly late not quite so organised as usual' Helen Reeley joined us with her tiny poodlette Obi Wan in tow and we were off for our wander around.

Nigel doing his Beardshaw impersonation

I'm not going to give you a commentary on Nigel's garden, suffice to say it was everything I have always wanted for my own dream garden. Crammed with flowers, colour, interest - you could tell this was a well-loved garden and who wouldn't love it? It glowed in the first sunshine we have had for so long, it's beauty and warmth inducing a  relaxed well being and a feeling that all (despite the owner being famed for his blogging 'grumps') was really quite right with this world.

I left it to the others to ask intelligent questions and drifted along as is my wont just absorbing the colours, the smells, and the atmosphere. It's not a huge garden - wrapping around three sides of the house and outbuildings - but it manages to combine something of everything, shade, woodland, meadow, gravel garden, veg patch, and every plant you have ever lusted over including the dianthus cruentus which Nigel gave a proud place to in his garden well before Cleve West made it must have plant of the year at Chelsea 2011.

And at last we got to meet Wendy, Nigel's greenhouse we have heard much about on his blog.

There are three of us in this marriage - Nigel, Ros and Wendy the greenhouse!

An absolutely marvellous visit - not just seeing the garden but the delightful company of Nigel and Ros, warm, wonderful, witty, with a tiny hint of wickedness. I've been feeling a bit down this year with various neighbour and general 'people' problems whatever and it is not an exaggeration to say that they went a long way to restore my faith in humanity.

I got two hugs by the way - one each on arrival and departure.  Nigel gets 9 out of 10 on the hugging scale because unlike other more practiced huggers I don't think these hugs are given out as freely and are therefore doubly precious!

Coming soon In Part III we travel to Easton Walled Gardens and I tell you about short cuts, lunch and streams that flow north

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Sock and Trollop Road Trip - a journey in three parts


Sock 'n' Trollop

Seven thirty on Tuesday morning the Bedsock deposited me at Lazy Trollop's Wimbledon manor with strict instructions that she was to be the 'responsible adult' in our Thelma and Louise scenario. I had already bagged the role of Louise who, as the Bedsock had noted, was the one who talks all the time and causes trouble.  The Trollop was already up and busy (in a Lazy kind of way) baking cakes for our forthcoming visit to a very lovely, interesting, couple - only one of whom excels at the art of grumping. But more of that later... for now we are about to set off on our road trip. Soft-top down, headscarves and sunglasses on, Lazy Thelma at the wheel driving diligently in the slow lane of the motorway whilst I fulfil the Louise role by recounting my entire life story - not drawing breath until we pass South Mimms and stop for our first coffee.  We are on our way Oop North to Barnsdale Gardens created by the late and great Geoff Hamilton.

Geoff Hamilton
I have a confession to make - I don't think I ever saw Geoff Hamilton presenting Gardener's World - my first memory of that would be Percy Throwup. (Boy did my brother and I ever laugh at that little joke as we routinely escaped to the pub of a Friday night leaving OldmaSock avidly watching what we described as her 'boyfriend' presenting GW).  After that, all my Friday nights no doubt passed in a haze of alcohol until some decades later I would occasionally catch Alan Titchmarsh's stint as my love of gardening started to reignite.  In messageboardland Geoff was seen as a saint and 'bestest ever presenter of GW' who no-one, not even His Montyness the Lord of Cord could live up to. But, dear reader, I have heard rumours in the past that Geoff's halo quite often slipped and he was more than ruthless in his dealings!  Still, apart from me, none of us are perfect and it was with a sense of growing excitement the Sock and Trollop entered the hallowed domain.

As you enter a sign proclaims

You are now entering the main garden that was used by Geoff when presenting 
Gardener's World ... from 1983 until 1996

and then into a hedged corridor which is one in the eye for all those who do nothing but moan about Monty's hedges and say that Geoff would never have had hedges like that!

Hedges not invented by MontyDon

After that there were a series of small gardens each having been made to demonstrate something for the viewer, the Cottage Garden - I think deep inside most of us love a cottage garden because they ARE pretty, wildlife friendly, informal and relaxing

The beginners garden - we thought this dull even for a beginner

The Japanese garden.

We laughed over the raked gravel remarking that the Japanese would never allow their gravel to be covered in bird shit.  Shortly after a young man appeared and raked it all clean so he may have been lurking behind a hedge and overheard us.

A Garden of Tranquillity, a Rose Garden a Damp Shade garden and my favourite a mediterranean garden (although we hoped the brightness of the wood chippings forming the path would eventually fade!) were among the many small gardens designed to give the viewer different ideas.

Mediterranean style garden

What struck me was that these ideas have all been re-done on GW since but somehow more recent TV versions have lacked the 'accessibility' we found here.  Every garden gave some sort of inspiration and more importantly every garden looked attainable and somehow 'real'.

A massive mistake in this border!!!! There's a time and a place for heucheras and this was not it!!!

 And to prove that there is nothing new under the sun and that all those of us who laughed at Joe Swift's triangular veg beds were wrong... Geoff Hamilton did them first!!!!!

Barnsdale was a lovely place to visit with plenty to see and ideas to take home from the large organic vegetable garden to the small courtyard designs. Designer gardening it was not and the snail-chewed hostas were less than pristine - but it all felt tried, tested and solid gardening.

What I took home from the nursery shop was a rather lovely eryngium planum jade frost I had envied in the mediterranean garden.  I was rather disappointed that there was only one of these left - a forlorn specimen and that some woman had just grabbed the only other slightly less forlorn one.  On Lazy Thelma's advice I asked one of the staff if they had any more and he found and potted up a much brighter looking specimen for me! When we got to the till the woman who had  grabbed the other eryngium before me was most put out that I had got a better plant!!!   Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

All that was left was to drive on to the very pleasant pub we were staying at and revive ourselves with a couple of glasses of champagne, a nice meal and a good nights sleep to refresh ourselves for the next exciting stage of our journey.

Coming soon...

In the Sock and Trollop Road Trip Part II you will learn whose lovely garden we visit and how to get the most goodies in your goody bag at a Press lunch....

Friday, 15 June 2012

Memories are made of this - RHS Chelsea 2012

No Chelsea is complete without a Pensioner!

A last blog about Chelsea. This is mainly for my benefit, not yours, because I'm sure you are heartily sick of the whole thing by now and have moved on to the next horticultural delights. However, I find I increasingly use my blog as a personal diary to post my pictures and memories as well as my more 'creative' stuff.

 So Chelsea - I nearly didn't go, my health has been crap this year and I'd already had to miss Malvern which had made me miserable. I couldn't see how I could find the energy to get there, trail around with my heavy cameras, get home and generally cope on my own. But with the wave of his magic wand my exquisitely gorgeous fairy godfather stepped in and arranged a pass for the Bedsock to come along as my carer photographer.  I gave the Bedsock charge of the telephoto lens and instructions on how to act as a Sockerazzi - a role that he took to only too well becoming rather enthusiastic (perhaps overly enthusiastic) disappearing off to get the up close and personal shots instead of keeping an eye out for champagne for me!

In my mind I had decided that if I only had the energy to see one garden it must be Jo Thompson's Caravan Club garden (see previous blog here) and that I would be grateful to do that.  By the time we were on the train I was thinking maybe Cleve's garden as well, and then of course Joe Swift's and Diarmuid's monstrousity and of course I would have to say hello to my Heucheraholic friends Sean and Jooles and...

Buoyed up with champagne and excitement I did manage to do pretty much everything and meet a lot of folk along the way.  Here are a few of my favourite things..

Chris's hut
First up the lovely Chris Beardshaw smartly togged up in his best suit. - all the little Beardibums in my handbag got quite excited when they felt the call of the 'mothership'.  Chris and his interviewers retreated to the hut at the back of the garden and a seasoned hack (mistaking me for a proper press person) asked "Is there anyone important in the hut?"  - "Oh yes" I said knowledgeably "there is Chris Beardshaw".  "Uh" replied the hack with a complete lack of interest as he walked off in the other direction to join the gaggle gawping at Diarmuid's pyramid! Humph! I may not be a proper press person but at least I know who the real designers are.

Diarmuid's pyramid might have been monstrous but he certainly knows how to orchestrate a show with the opposites on the colour spectrum red Chelsea pensioners and green foliage.

Along with everyone else I took loads of photos of them whilst the Bedsock snapped photos of the excited crowd with the calm and collected Trevor McDonut stuck in the middle of the melée.

All the hoo-ha over the pyramid made me miss the DMZ Forbidden  garden - I walked right past it thinking it was some extension of Diarmuid's 'garden' where he had dumped the stuff he hadn't used. Brain really wasn't in gear at all.

A sudden thirst for champagne came upon us so we hotfooted into the Plant Marquee where the lovely David Austin Roses people happily gave us a glass

I love David Austin - they always put on a very elegant and gracious display.  Last year was the fabulously behatted models and this year a string quartet.  The stand people are really friendly too and it goes without saying the roses are gorgeous.

I didn't see all of the marquee as we were concentrating on champagne and celebs - I know, I know, it's disgraceful but to be honest we can see plants and gardens any old time its not every day you get to within two feet of Sir Cliff (looking in great nick!)

Roger Daltrey (not quite such good nick)

and Matthew Wilson (looking like he'd nicked something).

OK - I quite often get within two feet of Matthew Wilson but it is still always an incredible thrill!.

I don't know whether it was me but the Plant Marquee somehow lacked the exuberance of last year - perhaps a mark of the recession - although I didn't see all of it which was a shame. The champagne wasn't flowing quite as freely either!  Hillier's (who always have an interesting plant display with a lot of work put into it) provided a show of two swordsmen from the Olympic team.  Sadly for us, this drew such a crowd that although they had some fizz they had run out of glasses!!

South African National Biodiversity Institute again provided my favourite stand 'Gateways' got gold with mini-landscapes representing their rich botanical diversity against paintings of their picturesque locations.  It reignited my wish to go to South Africa for our next long-haul hols.

If the general feel was a lack of exuberance then Grenada's gold-winning 'Tropical Paradise' made up for it with their bright and cheerful band and a rather good rum-punch!

But beware every Paradise has a snake hanging around...

I haven't a great deal to say about the big show gardens. I liked Jo Thompson's, Joe Swift's and Cleve's which is not to say I didn't like the others but there wasn't anything that really grabbed me or that I hadn't seen before.

Joe Swift's garden - lovely warm tones of wood and irises

 I wished the Trailfinder's garden hadn't felt the need to use simpering bikini girls as their attraction I've seen that before too.

These gorgeous girlies were much more to my liking..

Ann-Marie Powell and Dawn Isaac

Out of the Artisan gardens Kazuyuki Ishihara's 'Satoyama Life' Japanese garden was the stand out and if  was going to be picky one criticism would be that there was just too many gorgeous things going on so it looked a bit 'Gingerbread Cottage done with moss'.

 That having been said you can't have too much moss when it looks like this..

Otherwise although several of them were very attractive and beautifully crafted it was still same old, same old and actually too many gardens going for the nostalgic old and worn vintage look.  I guess that's where Diarmuid excels .. it might not be good but it's definitely original!
Carol Klein

As we were making our final wander a tiny whirling dervish of pure energy suddenly appeared from the plant marquee.  It was Carol Klein come to say hello and how much she enjoyed reading my blog!  I have to say this made my day - comments on the blog are much fewer and far between these days when there are too many blogs to read and it is easier to feedback on twitter - so I really value the fact that Carol took the time to tell me.  Although I blog mostly for my own amusement it is still very gratifying to feel there is an appreciative audience out there!

We moved on to the 'Fresh' gardens a new category.  The minute I looked at the garden below (can't find a name for it?) a memory surfaced of the scrubby landscape behind a Sardinian beach where a glittering-eyed snake was trying to snatch chicks from a nest and a frightened and irate bird was swooping around trying to see it off.

A small drama unfolded as we tried to frighten the snake off with our camera-flash and an Italian woman with kids in tow turned up to see what was going on.  The Italian started shrieking and flapping "bambini pericolo, bambini pericolo!" whilst her husband whacked the tree with a stick causing the babies to fall out of the nest straight into the snakes open maw! (At which point the Italian woman shrugged her shoulders saying 'questa è la vita' and wandered off quite happily.)
Whilst I don't suppose that was the story this garden was supposed to tell it was the one it told to me.

I thought this garden of Tony Smith's was rubbish and didn't get it at all.

This wasn't surprising as it wasn't in fact his garden - it was the Easigrass trade stand which actually I don't think was finished and eventually got an award for Best Trade Stand.  So I missed Tony Smith's garden which is a shame as I invariably like his stuff and it got Best Fresh Garden in Show.

Ooh look there's the smoulderingly gorgeous, mean and moody Mark Diacono wearing one of Georgie the Flower Farmer's beautiful buttonholes. No blog of any merit is ever complete these days without a mention of Climate Change Farmer, Mark Diacono!

So just time left to stand a while and watch the (possibly not so) fragrant Rachella and (surely shortly a Sir) Alan Tichmarsh filming

Another great Chelsea day out - I just hope I recover from it in time for RHS Hampton Court!!