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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Spring has well and truly sprung

It’s always wonderful to see gardens coming back to life. Last autumn some green-fingered volunteers planted 2,500 bulbs to beautify the tree pits along their street, Blenheim Gardens, in N.W. London. Now the crocuses and snowdrops are emerging, soon to be followed by jonquils and tulips. The project was supported by the local residents’ association, MapRA, and everyone is enjoying the colourful display.

Meanwhile, I’ve fallen in love with these snowdrops which have appeared at the end of our garden. I didn’t plant them (I suspect squirrels had something to do with this) but they look so delicate - the pure white flowers with green inner markings trembling in the slightest breeze. I’ve tentatively identified them as Galanthus ‘S.Arnott’ but would appreciate any more suggestions.

And if you’re anywhere near Chiswick House gardens in West London, I spotted this carpet of snowdrops there the other day. Their transience and fragility contrasts beautifully with the rough bark of the sheltering tree.
Chiswick House and Gardens Chiswick W4 2RP

Monday, 20 February 2012

My top garden products for 2012

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to a garden press event, where companies were showing their new products. There were lots on display, but here are some that caught my eye.

Biodegradable plant ties (Greenworthy). Pure cotton and biodegradable, these are woven so they stretch gently and don’t cut into growing plants. Come in a 25 metre roll or pack of 24 180mm precut ties. For UK stockists, contact

Pop up grow cloches from Greentree. These give ventilated protection to seedlings and tender plants, can be secured with ground pegs and fold flat when not in use. They come in three sizes. Also in the range are frost cloches, which protect to -6’C. Greentree director Gary Ackers is a keen gardener, and his products spring from personal experience and testing in his allotment. There’s also a grow cage, which can be assembled in different forms, vegetable grow frames,  planters that can also be stored flat out of season, and many more interesting ideas. Full range at Online stockists include Harrod Horticultural, The Gardener's Friend, Strawberryfield Crocus and Charlies Direct.

Garden shoes. I love these. They’re so much easier to slip on than boots, are comfortable, waterproof, have a grippy sole, and the innersole can go in the washing machine. Plus they come in lots of colourful designs.

Collapsible bucket. Brilliant space-saving idea. Wacky Practicals director Kay Glennie has also devised collapsible breakdown cones, funnels, cooking pots, kettles and bowls – ideal for camping or travelling. I especially like the lunch boxes, which can be pushed  down flat after you’ve eaten.

Easy-go Multi-purpose Cart from Keter. Takes up much less space than a wheelbarrow, is a doddle to manoeuvre and very strong. Mine is currently loaded with bricks which a neighbour was throwing out, but which will be perfect for edging a border. My only niggle is that when it’s empty, it can tip backwards.

Three products which look promising, and which I will be trying over the coming growing season:

Vitax Q4+, a pre-planting fertiliser for roses, trees and shrubs. It has added mycorrhizal fungi for stronger growth.

Squirrel Ban, said to be a bird food that squirrels won’t eat because of the added chilli.

Rockdust, natural vocanic minerals and trace elements to boost soil and compost fertility.

Happy gardening!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Chiswick House Camellia Festival

For anyone worried about the effect of the recent low temperatures on their early-blooming camellias, here's some heartening advice from world authority Jennifer Trehane (left): “Deadhead the flowers that have suffered, leave the rest and all should be well”.

I caught up with her in the conservatory of Chiswick House in west London, at the launch of its annual Camellia Festival 

The conservatory and its beautiful dome – designed by Samuel Ware in 1813 – house what is probably the oldest camellia collection in the western world. It was put together in 1828 for the 6th Duke of Devonshire, and now has 33 different varieties, including many of the earliest ones introduced to Britain. All were just coming into bloom.


Some are believed to be from the original planting, including, from top, Rubra Plena, Variegata, Elegans and Aitona.


Middlemist’s Red (left), was brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Londoner John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherds Bush. The only other known plant of this variety is on the other side of the world – at the Treaty House in Waitangi, New Zealand.

The bushes survived under the Duke's successors, but by the 1980’s were ailing and infested with mealy bug. Three local members of the International Camellia Society stepped in to tend them, and now, under the sheltering glass of the refurbished conservatory, they thrive.

Another of the Duke’s projects, a semi-circular Italian garden, adjoins the conservatory. This week volunteers were making the most of the watery sunshine to fill in the intricate patterns of the formal flower beds, ready for the expected rush of plant lovers.

The Chiswick House Camellia Festival runs from Feb 18 to March 18. Details at

And if you're inspired by the spectacular display, Trehane nursery, founded by Jennifer’s father and now run by her son, has some of its best-selling and more unusual camellias for sale at the show.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A snowy morning

I woke up to find the garden covered in a dusting of overnight snow - the second fall we've had in London in a week after a couple of very mild winter months.
Everything had been showing signs of growth much earlier that usual -  a camellia displayed its first blossom in January. This has now vanished, but it will be interesting to see how other plants, such as this yellow azalea, fare once the weather has warmed up again.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A genuine green carnation

It's always interesting to see what plant breeders have been working on, and these unusual flowers really caught my eye at a recent show. They’re actually carnations - ‘Green Trick’ (Dianthus barbatus) from Thompson and Morgan. The buds open into spheres the size of golf balls, and are said to last 4 – 6 weeks as a cut flower. New in the UK for 2012, they’d be great for flower arrangements and buttonholes. (Oscar would have gone wilde about them.)