Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A Day Out at Swines Meadow Farm Nursery

A great display of Begonias At Swines Meadow
When I first joined Twitter one of the first people I started to follow wasd @rareplants, who runs the wonderful Swines Meadow Farm Nursery in Market Deeping in Lincolnshire, along with his wonderful wife Karan. In time I came to learn that behind the Twitter name is Colin Ward, a brilliant plantsman who quite honestly knows more about plants in his little finger than I do in my entire body.

Last weekend Colin held the second of his two plantfairs this year. Lots of nurseries reasonably close to Colin had stalls and there were some excellent plants for sale as blogged by @papaver. However, as a plantaddict I was far more interested to see what Colin had on offer as he seems to be a master in finding slightly different varieties from the norm and growing them amazingly, as with the display of Begonia above.

Swines Meadow has a great selection of Ginkgo varieties for sale
In the outdoor beds there are a fantastic selection of herbaceous plants and grasses alongside some amazing trees such as the Ginkgo above, and a spectacular variegated Liriodendron. There are also lots of fruit trees and an incredible selection of bamboos. All the plants, whether large or small, are beautifully presented and look healthy and amazingly fresh which has been a difficult thing to achieve in the dreadful season we have had this year.

Once inside the greenhouse that is open to visitors there is an incredible range of  plants which range from annuals to perennial Begonias and ferns, along side some less hardy plants such as Fuchsia arborescens, which will need to be brought in over the winter months.

The greenhouse full of great finds.

Colin and Karan propagate lots of the more unusual plants at the nursery, growing lots from seeds, cuttings and division. If you get the chance to visit the inner sanctum, where all the plants are brought on, you will find a treasure trove of wonderful and unusual plants. I came away with an Akebia pentaphylla, a very rare and unusual Akebia which is an incredible plant and which Colin has propagated from his own stock plant.

I could go on and on about the plants which are available at Swines Meadow but rather than bore you I would implore you to go and have a look at www.swinesmeadowfarmnursery.co.uk, where you will see the range of plants that are available. Mail order is available too!!

To finish your visit please go and look at the amazing garden that Colin and Karan have created as it not only gives ideas on how to integrate plants bought at the nursery into your garden, but is an amazing and beautiful space to just be in. So I will finish this post with a selection of photos taken in the garden on Sunday.

Finally, please look out for nursery folk such as Colin and Karan. It's very easy to go to your local garden centre and buy plants that have been imported through Holland  but unless we support our British nurserymen and women and buy British grown plants, we will lose these wonderful folk and their knowledge.

An enormous Tetrapanax Rex

Cornus contraversa Variegata or the Wedding Cake Tree
Paulonia tomentosa cut back to create the huge leaves
Huge caulms of Bamboo

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Very Victorian Fantasy in Bournemouth

The dark side of Bournemouth Borough Council's planting scheme

Before you ridicule me for adoring this garden, stick with me and I will explain why. Although firstly, having spent some time talking with the ladies on the stand on Monday, who seemed genuinely amazed and entralled that the garden looked so great, I need to explain a little about the garden.

Bournemouth, the land of holidays at the beach, donkey rides and ice cream, has a darker literary side which I for one knew little about. Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" there  and is buried in a graveyard there, where the sculpture in the centre, by Bournemouth artist Andy Kirkby, will end up after the show is dismantled. Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote "Jekyll and Hyde" there and the two planting schemes are mirrored by those characters in ways which will become apparent.

The garden is split into two halves. In the half shown in the photo above there is very typical Victorian seaside parks and gardens planting, with Coleus, Ricinus, Cannas and countless more annual bedding varieties that the Victorians loved. The colour is deep and rich and screams of bedding schemes in the days where parks and gardens departments trained the horticulturalists of the future(it's where Alan Titchmarsh amongst others began his career), and draws the eye into it. It has a tropical feel that today can be seen in places such as The Exotic Garden at Great Dixter, but has been refined for today's taste, whereas this is true Victorian bedding at its best.

Both sides of the planting scheme
The opposite side of the bedding, or the opposite bed, is entirely white in its flower colour, calling in the lighter side of the Victorian arts such as Aubrey Beardsley's Art Nouveau works. It is gentle and innocent, with huge drifts of Cosmos, Orlaya grandiflora and Antirhinums amongst other species. The quantity of plants used gives the illusion of a huge billowing drift of white cloud atop a green background and is almost heavenly in appearance.

In both beds are willow sculptures by Stephan Jennings. In the sub-tropical, dark bed these are in dark willow figures, demonic in their appearance, whereas in the white bed they are of pale willow and are fairy like and innocent.

Victorian style bedding at its best

So why then, do I think this garden worthy of a blog post? Well its really simple. I stood in front of it saying"Oh look, seaside bedding" long before I knew that the garden had anything to do with Bournemouth Borough Council. It dragged me back to childhood holidays and days out at the seaside. The planting was stunning and all of the plants were produced in Dorset, continuing the tradition of producing your own plants for display. In essence, it was honest. And very beautiful.

These peacocks were planted with amazing succulents

My feeling with this garden was also that the gardener could get planting ideas from this garden that are actually steeped in the horticultural history of this country. Unfortunately due to budget cuts the vast majority of Parks and Gardens departments no longer exist in the way that they used to, meaning that our industry now really struggles to find young people good training schemes and has lead to a real lack of skills in horticulture in the UK. So this garden not only talks of the Victorian history of Bournemouth, but also of the horticultural history of the UK both in the history of gardeners and gardens. And when you look at this garden it is truly apparent that the loss of the Parks and Gardens departments throughout the country has lead to our outside town and city spaces being  poorer and sadder places. It was amazing to see this piece of horticultural history displayed in such a fantastic garden. Thanks Bournemouth.
Drifts of white

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Growing for Taste at Hampton Court

Panting to make you weep with joy at The Garlic Farm

I was immensely excited to be granted a press pass to Hampton Court Flower Show this year, mainly as I had never been to this show before and I was interested to compare it with Chelsea which I have been involved with at work for years.

The show at Hampton Court is enormous and I really was not prepared for the amount of stalls and stands selling what can, kindly, be described as garden accoutrements. But at least now if I need a metre tall dragon breathing fire and made of metal I shall know where to go. If I'm honest I felt a tad overwhelmed by the sheer size of it and was very glad to have Emma Bond with me.

Now I could go on all day about what I did and didn't enjoy, and there will be subsequent posting once I've finished giving it thought, but the marquee that I adored far beyond anything else was the Growing For Taste marquee.

Walking in the first thing seen was the garden created by The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight which went on to win a gold medal and best exhibit in the marquee. To quote Emma Bond, "the planting made me want to weep", as it was a stunning mix of Verbena bonariensis at the back, coming down to flowering Elephant Garlic and Ammi majus. There was a beautiful white rose in the mix as well and this all surrounded a seating area which was set for lunch. On the roof of the seating area were garlic bulbs drying in lines of different hues and all in all it was somewhere I could have sat for hours. It was amazing.

Garlic bulbs can be ordered for atumn delivery at www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk

Lunch at The Garlic Farm

Blackmoor Fruit

Blackmoor fruit also had created a wonderful display, showcasing how easy it is to include fruit growing in the smallest of spaces, such as a front garden. I really enjoyed seeing the different fruit training techniques used as well as the use of containers I also loved the use of the walls for training the plants against as its a very useful thing to remember is possible no matter how small the space you have is. They send out plants by mail order and I can personally vouch for them as I have bought several things all of which have arrived very quickly and established well. www.blackmoor.co.uk

Beehive composter and glasshouse at Pennards

Pennard Plants, as usual had a wonderful display of crops growing in raised beds in a real vintage style garden. It's no secret that I love this style but I have to say I often think Pennards are overlooked as their stands are always fantastically put together and the plant material always top quality.

Raised beds at Pennards

Plus I really believe that many people think that to grow food of any kind that you need lots of space and all the stands showed, very clearly, that that really isn't the case and that any space can be made suitable for some sort of edible plants.

Herbs and Beans Christmas cropping display
Herbs and Beans are a nursery that are new to me and I was particularly impressed by the way in which the stand was set out, showing what type of herbs and vegetable to grow for different purposes, for example to attract bees. The most brilliant section was the section that was named Leafy crops for Christmas which showed a variety of crops to plant in August/September that will crop throught to December and possibly beyond.

 But finally I must talk about the Otter Farm stand. Anyone who follows Mark Diacono on Twitter knows what a great and funny guy he is, and as I had hounded him to follow me, which bless him he did, I was excited to see what he had produced. Otter Farm is the countrys first climate change farm, growing crops which may end up being the norm in the years to come (as long as this year doesn't become the norm and we all revert to growing crops that enjoy the deluge). So I expected interesting plants, but I wasn't expecting the beauty and lushness of the planting. There were fruiting apricots and nectarines, lush growth from Japanese gingers, amazing Egyptian Walking Onions and the most amazing mature Sechuan Pepper that was at least 8ft tall and would make a beautiful multi stemmed tree in a small garden that couldn't cope with anything much larger.
Sechuan Pepper
But what The Otter Farm stand really showed is that Forest Gardening can be not just productive but absolutely beautiful as well and that an awful lot is possible in a relatively small space. So follow Mark on Twitter (@MarkDoc) and watch out for any talks or courses he gives as he's a very interesting chap who knows an awful lot as well as being quite funny, very amusing and charming.

Otter Farm provide mail order plants and seeds www.otterfarm.co.uk, where Mark also writes a great blog
The stunning Otter Farm Stand

Oreganum Beauty of Kent

And finally I would just like to show you this plant. It's called Origanum Beauty of Kent and the bracts look like hop flowers. And its available from Pennards Plants who do mail order at www.pennardsplants.com and is just absolutely stunning. They are also available at the show.