Sunday, 15 July 2012

‘Is this the way to Amaryllis ?’

‘DaDa Daa  Da  Daa  Da  Da  Daa, Bom Bom

DaDa Daa  Da Daa  Da  Da  Daa, Bom Bom

DaDa Daa  Da  Daa  Da  Da  Daa

And sweet Marie who waits for me there. ‘

Welcome to my blog, ‘Is this the way to Amaryllis?’.  As this is  the first post I thought we would start with a musical introduction. Hope you enjoyed it.  
I had thought if it  goes well we might,   as well having an intro , also have  an  outro.   My first choice  was  Prince’s  ‘ Little Red Courgette’  but translating it into Da Das or La Las  proved too difficult.

This is in essence a gardening blog which I decided to write   more for the reaction it might elicit from readers  than for  me to pedal my thoughts and opinions. I might  veer  off the  garden  path now and then  if anything interesting comes along.

I’ve had it mind to   do this  blog  ( ugliest word in the world) for some time but I was finally   prompted to  put  finger to keyboard  after a  thoroughly enjoyable day out  with a group of students who I taught  RHS practical  classes  to earlier this year. They had a class get-together and they invited me along and I was glad they did. I was going to call them mature students  but thought that that  made them  sound like blocks of cheese  and  none of them were  so I will call them grown up students. It was  a Sunday and  possibly one of the only completely dry days we have had  for weeks. We visited Hidcote Manor garden  and Kiftsgate Court , two north Cotswold gardens  which are  about ten minutes walk from each other. They are two gardens with very different characters. Kiftsgate Court  is set on the steep edge of the Cotswold escarpment  and  has a very comfortable, approachable  feel to it. The only real challenges to the visitor  are the  very modern styled water garden which is in total contrast to anything else in the garden  and  then the  physical challenge  of the walk /climb back up  to the house  from the  lower garden   as you leave  behind  the spectacular  view over the Vale of Evesham.  It is family run and  has the intimacy that goes with  something that has   direct   personal involvement. We can’t leave the garden without mentioning the Kiftsgate Rose.  Anyone contemplating   growing this rose should first visit the garden and see the size of the several trees it has devoured.  It is a monster but a monster of overwhelming    magnificence   when  its   massed cascades  of  small   white flowers   steal  the  rose garden   limelight. A plus for  Kiftsgate Court garden  is that many  of the plants are labelled and a plant list is available.

Hidcote Manor is one of the top  National Trust gardens and was the first property taken on by the NT for its garden rather than  the house. Large,  anonymous   donations  meant  there has been an extensive refurbishment  programme   restoring many of the features that the original owner  had created and  the  garden  has come on in leaps and bounds in the last ten or eleven  years  after a spell in the doldrums.    Hidcote is a garden  made up of rooms, mostly with green walls, and   with  long axes  and enticing  views through  connecting  the  garden rooms  and leading you on. We were fortunate to meet head gardener Glyn Jones whose  irreverent sense of humour  steams  on unabated  and whose  enthusiasm and energy  is reflected  in  the rate of improvement  of the garden. (There seems to be some sort of story  about what is thought to  be an  alien spaceship landing  near the big Ha Ha at the top of the garden. Scorched foliage and symmetrical  marks  on the grass! Does anyone know anything about this, it sounds a bit far fetched to me?)

I was talking to Glyn near to what looked like the  most glorious,  small scale, wild flower meadow  but was in fact an effort to  create  a  corn  field  from the past  with  all  its  associated flora and then to harvest the wheat grains  and   children will   grind  it into  flour and  make some bread. What no one had  taken into consideration was that modern wheats have been  bread ( just kidding) to have short stalks and so were overwhelmed  by the taller cornfield  flowers.  The flour might be in short supply  and the children might have to rely on a loaves and fishes principal if they are all to get some  homespun bread.

This idea of wild flowers growing in the   cereal fields made me wonder how they came about. Many of them are annuals; cornflowers, corn cockle, poppies, corn marigold, and corn chamomile for example.  It stands to reason that there have not always been cornfields, if you go back far enough we were hunter gatherers with no settled settlements. Where were these annual flowers growing then? They thrived in cornfields because they  took   advantage of  the soil being disturbed  but who or what  was  disturbing the soil  before we started cultivating the land   and  furthermore, aren’t we always being told  that this land, the UK,  was  completely covered  with forest which is not good for  sun loving annuals.  Maybe wild boar or floods were doing the disturbing and giving these plants a chance to grow, I don’t know.  There has to be someone out there who can answer these questions and dispel my naïve view of this situation; please do.

Walking round gardens with students, mature or immature ,  keeps  you  on your mettle and sorely tests your plant knowledge  but  it also helps you look at things in a new way. One student , I’ll call her Jo ( You can call her Jo too but names have been changed to protect the innocent)  was asking have Alliums  had their day , are they becoming  a cliché? They are certainly easy, perhaps too easy,  to use. I have used them myself recently  in a prominent  , showy  planting  which used tulips followed by Alliums  then Agapanthus and Dahlias with Penstemons  also thrown in  the mix and the Alliums did what you expect them to, they stood proud, they lasted long and the seed heads gave   added interest plus their colour  worked well with  all the plants around them whatever colour they were. I might have fallen for  the Allium cliché .  Where I have found them to have a more subtle effect  is when they are planted in wilder parts of the garden  such as in   long grass or a meadow style garden. Sure they are not native   but if a few  are dotted around  randomly with other non natives   they can give a colourful lift  after  the early Cammasias are finished  and the tall white spikes of Ornithogalum magnum  have not quite got going. Let me know where you stand  on Alliums.

Prior to writing this blog   several people have  written  to me  with  gardening queries  and I hope  that  my answers will   give an insight into  similar problems you might have.   I would also like to hear your   questions but in the meantime here is one  of the correspondences I have received.

This one came from  Anton D’Eque  who has just moved to  England  from the south of France. He has, in true gardener style, hauled   all his  collection  of Agapanthus plants  with him but is worried  about how they will fair  in our cooler climate.  He has not  said where in the UK  he has moved to. For a long time  I avoided growing anything but Headbourne Hybrids    believing they were the hardiest  for my South Warwickshire garden and they did survive  many cold winters. They were grown in the ground.  However  since then I have  tried other varieties  including  the slightly dirty white ‘Ardenei Hybrid’ and  small, dark flowered  ‘Lilliput’  both  of which have  come through the last two cold winters  outdoors in the ground uncovered. The least hardy is  the evergreen Agapanthus africanus.  This tenderness  means  it will often  lose its leaves in a  squishy mess after the first few frosts   but  if the  soils is  fairly free draining it could well survive most winters.  Plant them deep in a soil that does not become waterlogged and   give them a covering of straw or scrunched up fleece under an upturned hanging basket  for winter   and I think you will  find Agapanthus are hardier than  we usually imagine.

That’s it. The end of this first posting. What I would like from you is any gardening queries  or  original ideas you might have, any ideas for   songs with   some sort of  plant /garden  connection  and perhaps some suggestion for outro songs complete with La La las or Da da das – perhaps you could send  in  the la la las with a clue and we can have  a guess at what it is, yeah?

Paul Williams

A quick P.S. If  you have read this and are thinking  Argh?!  I can’t take anymore , give me something decent to read, can I suggest you check out Hortus at    

Plants looking good in the garden now.................

Eremurus  but I don't know which one. Can anyone  tell me how to make them flower every year? I had heard that giving plenty of water in February was the trick  but of course I didn't and we had the driest February and March for long time  and hey presto, they flowered.

Can you guess what this is? No prizes just  some smug satisfaction when you get it right.

Anthemis tinctoria but which one? 'ECBuxton' ? I think it is.

                 Eryngium agavifolium and it is an umbellifer which  means it is  a close relative of the carrot and cow parsley. 

Buddleja 'Snowball' About a metre high, three  years old and never been pruned.

Sedum 'Purple Emperor' and Molinia  caerulea 'Variegata' with
a bit of Nepeta grandiflora 'Bramdean' in the background. Mmm, nice.