Friday, 9 January 2015

Hooray, I've won an award.

Huzzah! I've won the Leibster Blog Award!

I'd like to thank my family and friends...

Oh wait, this isn't a real award? Well I can't say I'm not disappointed. Do you know how difficult it is to get champagne back into the bottle and the cork back on..?!
Dendranthema 'Rosy Igloo'
For anyone not in with the Leibster Blog award, it's essentially a chain message and marketing/promotion tool rolled into one. At the risk of sounding cynical and grumpier than normal I won't be forwarding it. Nonetheless the lovely Gill Heavens (@GillHeavens) nominated me for this 'award' and got my hopes up only to dash them just moments later, so I'll enter into the spirit of the whole thing by answering the questions I've been posed. Think of this as being like an interview....

1   What tool couldn’t you live without (ok you probably could but humour me!)?
Simply my spade. It's a fairly ordinary tool really, metal where it needs to be and wooden  elsewhere, but it's a tool that I enjoy using.

Do you ever listen to music when you work, if so what is your preference?
I'll listen to anything once! Most of the time I listen to more upbeat stuff, but as with gardening it's important to match intensity with calm, so I do have quieter stuff as well. I tend to pick and mix individual tracks, but when I'm driving (I almost never listen to music while I'm working) I listen to tracks from the mighty Bellowhead, AC/DC, Parov Stelar....

Cake of choice for tea time?
Fruit cake. Love a good fruit cake, but find them sadly scarce in summer, instead hidden in the shadows of flouncy sponge cakes. Bah! To be honest I've got to be in a particular mood for cake anyway, so can't say that tea with cake is a regular custom.

Favourite plant to grow from seed?
Circumstances mean that I don't sow many plants from seed at the moment, but I do enjoy the satisfaction of seeing seedlings emerge. I guess my favourite plant to grow from seed would be anything with rapid germination and a 100% success rate, but all to often the plants I grow are much slower and less predictable.

Is there a plant you don’t like?
Hmmm, probably not. My tastes are very diverse; I love all the antisocial plants that people reel away from, things with spines or bad smelling flowers. I guess there are plants that I wouldn't go out of my way to grow, like a lot of the bedding plants, but there aren't any that I have a strong dislike of.
Viburnum plicatum 'Popcorn'- definitely a plant I love!
6  What is the worst job in the garden?
Not being there! You can't say that gardening jobs are all easy and straightforward, or even always pleasant, but you have to knuckle down and do them. There is a train of thought that says that it's doing the crap jobs that helps you appreciate the good jobs, in the same way that being out in the rain helps you appreciate the sunshine. I can put up with a lot of hardships but the worst would be being away from plants and open spaces.

To lawn or not to lawn, that is the question?
Lawn, definitely. I love narrow paths, intimate spaces and the feeling of being overwhelmed by plants, but I've come to appreciate the importance of a quiet, open space to counter the intensity of exuberant planting. There are also practical issues; some plants can only be appreciated if you step back from them, like trees, shrubs with upward facing flowers and, strangely, short plants at your feet. A sense of space is important, and a lawn provides a soft and neutral open space in which to enjoy your plants. In a tiny garden though this goes out of the window! In a tiny garden I would lose the lawn straight away, but design and plant in such a way that access routes are comfortable or generous, and plan in such away that (at least in some parts of the garden) plants weren't able to form dense thickets, thus allowing a sense of space and openness without a lawn.

What is the best time of the day?
Morning. Nice, cool mornings, when the world hasn't really got going yet and it's just you, the garden and the wildlife.

What gardening “rules” do you break on a regular basis?
Most of them! In the South West we have to break the rules- the mild climate means that the grass tends to grow all year round, so needs mowing in winter even if it is wet. Hard and fast gardening rules espoused by TV gardeners, magazines and even the RHS annoy me. Every garden is different, and wherever you are in the UK you will quickly learn that planting your vegetable plants out when the media says is either too early or too late! Scotland can be 3 weeks behind Cornwall and Devon, and will see cooler temperatures quite a lot earlier than the mild South West. I can appreciate that people giving generalised advice to the whole UK will have to advise using a happy medium, but the fact is that we have a lot of different climates to deal with. You must garden for your own garden, your own climate and region, even if that means breaking the rules.

10  What do you prefer, cold and dry or warm and wet?
Cold and dry- much easier to work in! That said, I think many if not most of my plants, especially those with big leaves, would prefer their rainfall.

11 What other hobbies, not horticulturally related, do you have?
I do enjoy photography, although I tend you use my camera to take pictures of plants and gardens so I don't know if this classes and completely non-horticultural. I love to take my camera out, but wouldn't compare myself to the 'proper' photographers out there.

Have we finished now?

Sunday, 4 January 2015


Eureka! I've found it- the holy grail of gardening!

Ask anyone who owns or works for a garden centre or nursery about the plants that people ask for and sooner or later you'll get the following: “I/we want a plant that grows quickly but doesn't grow too big, is evergreen, preferably with strongly scented colourful flowers and all year round, has nice bark and is completely hardy (sometimes with the caveat that the plant will need to tolerate salt or wind as well).

Well I've found a plant that matches all of the criteria exactly, but sadly gardeners won't be rushing off to buy this particular plant.

The plant in question is gorse, or Ulex europaeus to give it its proper name. Native to many countries across Europe, this shrub is found in a wide range of often challenging habitats. Down here in Cornwall it's often found on moorland, including 'Goss (gorse) Moor', that formerly infamous bottleneck on the A30 west of Bodmin (which has now been diverted and turned into dual carriageway if you've not been to Cornwall for a while).

Gorse is a familiar sight in the field hedges near my home, where it shrugs off clipping with the farmer's flail and where its sharp prickly shoots are largely avoided by sheep and cows. This is a cheerful shrub, almost always showing at least a few flowers right through the year- in fact there's an old saying that “if gorse is out of flower, kissing's out of fashion!”. I myself have a love-hate relationship with gorse; I love it for the sweet coconut scent of its cheerful golden yellow flowers, but have to give it a wide berth when I'm out walking or if I'm looking for somewhere to set up my camera.
Cold temperatures won't put gorse off flowering!
But can this common native shrub be considered for a garden?

Typically Ulex europaeus can grow to 10 ft (3m) tall and probably about the same in width, although areas with extreme wind can certainly limit growth. It can be pruned, trimmed and shaped, and could make a useful hedge. If left to grow into a small tree Ulex europaeus develops a short, stout trunk with pale and flaking bark. Its hardiness cannot be doubted, and this is a plant for all but the wettest soils, growing everywhere from sand dunes to all but the boggiest bits of moorland. Salt and cold winds don't bother gorse at all, so this is a perfect plant for seaside planting. Yes, the common native gorse can self seed, but seedlings can be hoed out annually, or you might prefer the double flowered gorse, U. europaeus 'Flore Pleno' which has strange fluffy flowers and some suggestion of a more compact habit. Remember though that double flowers aren't as good for insects, so if you want to encourage bees then the straight species will be best, especially as its 12 month flowering season provides nectar when there's little else in flower.

Note though that rabbits love the soft young shoots, so if you plant this and have a rabbit problem then you will need to protect young plants while they get established.

So will this panacea plant be widely grown in gardens? Of course not. There's no way that any but the most adventurous gardener would allow gorse into their garden for fear of its razor sharp spines. Similarly this is a plant that just doesn't work as a small border shrub, so the fear of it getting too big would put gardeners off (and the fact that it grows to above 2ft (60cm) at all would put most garden centres off stocking it). This will forever be a shrub for the adventurous thrill seeking gardener with space, especially in difficult sites, but most gardeners will reel back in horror at the suggestion of allowing this common native plant anywhere near their garden.

Which is a real shame; the sweet coconut scent of massed gorse flowers on a spring day is one of the delights of living in the countryside.