Garden visits


It’s bloody freezing outside. The snow melted and froze into ice, and then it snowed on top of the ice, which melted a bit, and now it’s freezing outside. Not good. Time then, for a little ray of sunshine.

But before that, some outstanding business to wrap up. Last week saw the inaugural Drooling Vegetable competition, and my underlings are still picking through the postbag. Some heroic suggestions, along with some truly awful gags from Mal, and a discovery that in the States the swede is known as Rutabaga.

The winner, though, is Amy, for her identification of a whole page of swede recipes, and in particular the Indian Spiced Swede Cakes.  Hurrah!

Anyway, back to the sunshine. Back at the beginning of October I had a day off and took myself off to Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d read about it for ages but never quite managed to visit.

It’s a little garden square just over the road from the Thames, founded in 1673, and dedicated to growing medicinal herbs and plants. It’s also only open four days a week, nowhere near a tube station and ringed by traffic wardens. Unsurprisingly, when you finally get there you’ll find it’s quite quiet.

It’s £8 to get in, which when you cost it up as a price per square metre of garden probably makes it the most expensive garden in Britain. It’s also full of posh old people. I know! Posh people in Chelsea! I was gobsmacked!

You do get a handset with your admission, which has a commentary narrated by John Snow, but most importantly, it has a very nice café, staffed by some more posh people, and selling a range of very tasty cakes.

Now you may have noticed that this is a gardening blog, and we’ve got this far into a post about a garden, and there’s nothing mentioned about the…um…actual garden. Well, truth be told I didn’t find it that inspiring. Yes, the setting was beautiful, the beds were packed full of plants and the labels suggested they were all hugely important or extremely rare, but as a visual spectacle (shallow, shallow me) it didn’t really do it for me.

Still, nice cakes. And full of posh people.

On the ipod while adjusting the monocle: Pulp / Common People.  I said pretend you’ve got no money. She just laughed and said “well how are we going to get into the garden then?”

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The back garden

A little diversion for this post: instead of waffling on about my vegetables I thought I’d give you a little tour of the back garden.

In the background you can see the East Wing of Drooling Towers, and in the foreground is my herbaceous border.

I know what you’re thinking. “Drooling old bean, the alliums are looking a bit shabby. And what were you thinking with that yellow-purple colour combination in the background?” Truth is, I’d just had a minor altercation with one  of the servants when I was sorting out the planting scheme and I wasn’t really paying attention.

No? Fair enough. I had a spare day last week so I took myself off to Great Dixter, home of the late Christohper Lloyd, professional gardener and contrarian. And very beautiful it was too.

The garden is famed for many things, but most notably for being innovative and somewhat iconoclastic in the choice of planting combinations. I’m going to struggle to tell you anything intelligent or insightful about the design or planting, other than to say it was all eye-wateringly beautiful.

The garden consists of a series of “outdoor rooms”, demarcated by yew hedges and encircling a gorgeous 15th century manor. Each garden is packed full of plants notable – to me, anyway – for their colour and architectural structure. For such a traditional setting the gardens are much more interesting than your average English country garden – much more variety.

Great Dixter

If you go to enough National Trust properties you can pretty much predict what you’ll find in the garden – lupins, roses, hemerocallis, foxgloves and so on. Nothing wrong with ’em, all gorgeous, but not a great deal of variety. No bamboo, for example, let alone an exotic garden with gingers, cannas and bananas.

I never read Christopher Lloyd’s column in The Observer, but I gather he had something of a repuation as an endearingly grumpy old sod. He may not be around any more, but the spirit clearly lives on: I wanted to know the names of several plants, but couldn’t see any labels for love nor money. All was revealed when I got to the shop and saw a sign, written by the great man, that stated that he didn’t bother with labels because it was his garden (although he happily takes everyone else’s cash to look at it) and anyway people trample over flowers to read the labels and they pick them up and put them back in the wrong place and they put them in their handbag instead of writing down the names and there’s always someone around to ask so yar boo sucks.

I paraphrase slightly but you get the gist. Naturally there were loads of plants I wanted to get named and hardly anyone around to ask on a quiet midweek day. And when I found someone I didn’t feel I could drag them round half the garden asking “just one more plant, it’s round here somewhere…”

So, if anyone has any idea what this beauty below is, I’d be very grateful…

Insert name of plant here

Still, this did prove inspirational in another respect. It turns out that you can treat your paying customers with open contempt and they will love you for it! This has encouraged me to take a slightly different tack with the blog.

Look out therefore for the next post: “What’s growing on my allotment? None of your @£!*ing business!” in which I shall give you lots of exciting…

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On the ipod while planning how to spend my first million: The Wonder Stuff / It’s yer money I’m after baby