Sunday, 18 April 2010

RHS Cardiff: The first show of the season

Welsh dragon sculpture at the show entrance by Dragonswood Forge
This weekend brought the first RHS garden show of the season and with it being my local show I could not resist popping along and buying a few bits and bobs.  Of course I’m talking about RHS Cardiff and when I say bits and bobs what I really mean is that I spent an absolute fortune on plants, obelisks, and the like.  You may remember my post on RHS Cardiff 2009 and many of the opinions aired there still remain.

This years show, much like last years, lacked emphasis on garden design and show gardens.  In total there were only four and I hope that this part of the show develops in future in line with the rapid increase in food stalls.  Despite this there were a couple of good designs one of them being ‘Irene’s Garden’ designed by Gaynor Witchard, which won best in show and rightly so.  
Irene's garden
Inspired by a love of Sally Page books and her mother’s love of pastel and white flowers Gaynor’s garden fused elements of cottage garden design, shabby chic style and functionality.  It was greatly received by the public and the judges alike.  I met up with Gaynor and her mum, who inspired the colour scheme and choice of plants. Gaynor was incredibly proud of what she had produced and when I spoke to her on the Saturday most of the garden had been sold already.  What I didn’t photograph were her rather fancy bird feeders, something that Sarah Raven would be jealous of.  Each feeder was made from a bone china cup and saucer attached to a metal spike and added a quirky touch to the garden. 

Cardiff’s County Council ranger service had created a coastal garden to highlight the biodiversity of a unique landscape and the threats it faces. 
The childrens wheelbarrow competition was a hit again this year and I especially enjoyed this barrow inspired by the Taj Mahal.
And the floral marquees were awash with every colour of the rainbow.
During the show I managed to buy two metal obelisks, some drip irrigation, an Auricula, Narcissus, Chocolate Mint, Red Veined Sorrel, Martagon Lilies and some Comfrey.   All in all the show was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  

A full write up of the show is available on the Dobbies blog and you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below.

Guest Blog: RHS Cardiff review for Dobbies Garden Centre

Please click the screenshot above to be transported to the blog post at

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Fascinated with Forsythia

At this time of year we cannot escape the vast sea of yellow produced by many spring flowering plants.  Initially a welcome sight and long awaited, it is soon taken for granted and later detested.  Forsythia has become a victim of its own success and is nowadays often met with a snobbish distain, the horticultural equivalent of Katie Price, for it is loud, has enhanced features and can be seen absolutely everywhere.  Robert and Lesley of the Hegarty Webber Partnership discuss this point perfectly.  

The main reason I write of course is not to join the growing army of Forsythia haters, that army is large enough, but to discuss a much more interesting point.  The phenomenon of fasciation, as illustrated by the above image.  I stumbled upon this particular plant in a neighbours garden and I could not resist taking a quick photograph, with the stealth and speed of a meerkat I must add.  As you can see, one stem of this Forsythia has taken on an abnormal shape.  It has become flattened and is much wider than surrounding stems.  It is difficult to say what exactly caused this mutation as there are many causes of fasciation, including bacterial infection by the bacterium Rhodococcus fascians, attack from plant pests, application of chemicals, physical damage and a mutation of the apical meristem.  It is also possible for plants to inherit the trait, something that has made some willow varieties, such as Salix sachalinensis "Sekka", very popular within the cut flower industry.

Many plants including Digitalis, Acer, Cotoneaster, Primula and Prunus have been observed to be susceptible to the phenomen and you may witness this is your own garden.  Over the past couple of years I have seen a fasciated Foxglove, Cotoneaster and Fritillary and it is something that is sure to invite questions and spark interest.

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Marriage of Gardening and Realism

A recent Irish Times article by Ann Marie Hourihane titled ‘Planting seeds of doubt about gardening’ discusses our predisposition to view gardens and gardening as something that everyone will succeed at, with a particular focus on the ‘grow your own’ movement.  In fact many sources would suggest that we are guaranteed to arise victorious when venturing in to growing plants and produce.  A fluffy notion portrayed by the media and the government alike that was set to foster hope and motivation but inevitably dash dreams for others and quite possibly put people off growing fruit, vegetables and ornamentals for life. Ann Marie highlights how we see this type of ‘you can do it’ language day in, day out and quite frankly, although it was good to start with and very encouraging, it seems to have lost some of its lustre. Should we come back down to earth now?

Several initiatives added gusto and an infectious drive towards another ‘grow your own’ movement, freeing up space for communities, individuals and even national trust staff.  It all looked rosy to begin with and early signs were promising. Once again gardening was in vogue.  The mass media bandwagon had worked quite well and sales figures for the sector were looking extremely healthy in a climate that has brought devastation to many others.  

As we are very much aware, everything works with cyclical motion and this trend, if that’s what it is, will surely loose momentum at some point.  Just when is anyone’s guess and a study is underway to monitor allotment waiting lists that is sure to shed more light on the situation.  The study has already shown that for every 100 established plots another 49 people had registered their interest and were waiting in the wings ready to take on a small piece of earth.  In 1997 this figure was around 4 for every 100 plots in England.  The next set of results should prove to be an interesting read.

From my own experience I can say that allotment waiting lists in my area appear to be moving quickly.  There are two reasons for this, allotment plots are being handed back to the council and people are losing interest in gaining a plot altogether. In the space of a single week I moved from twenty-something on the waiting list to second.  This was unheard of only a few months ago. Is this a sign that there could be a change on the horizon?  There has certainly been a change in my locality, although it may not be representative of the rest of the nation.  

Another uninspiring piece of recent news focused on the National Trust flagship plot, which has recently emerged as a complete disaster.  Not boding well for the movement at all.  This empty gesture lacked thought, preparation, planning and discussion with the workforce, or so it seems. It represents how fluffy notions often end up and this vision of reality may be something we don’t see enough of?  After all, gardening is hard work at times and isn’t always sunshine and roses.  

Should gardening come with a warning?

In every other sphere of society there is an element of education that precedes decision-making and in a similar ilk surely gardening, be it ornamental or edible, should incorporate an element of realism and offer an informed view, allowing individuals to weigh up the pros and cons of whatever it is they wish to pursue.  To expand on Ann Marie Hourihane’s example of Cabbages, it would appear that these delicious Brassicas are fair game for any newbie gardener, when in fact there are a whole world of pests and diseases that are very likely to raise their ugly heads.   Birds, caterpillars, club root and a whole host of others are all waiting to snap up your prized seedlings/plants and you didn’t even know? 

A balance of advice would be a good starting point from which to launch in to gardening.  Lets move away from fluffy notions and biased information on the part of the media, retailer or enthusiastic “celebrity” gardener.  We know that to sustain engagement people need to see results or at least a degree of success as this helps to breed interest and motivation. A balanced approach, based in reality and possibility, will enable new gardeners to ‘go prepared’ as opposed to merely reacting or not knowing what to do when a problem arises.  

Will the next generation of gardeners see a realistic and informed approach to gardening? Or will they become victims of the movement’s own success? 
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