Monthly Archives: October 2013


This weekend marks the first Cottesbrooke plant fair in Northamptonshire. Cleve West, James Alexander Sinclair, Camilla Swift and Phillippa May snuffling around the stalls. A lot of Chlesea Flower Show refusnics are exhibiting. High quality stuff. Chiltern Seeds …heavenly unusual plants. Woottens whose catalogue alone is swoonable. Odds swing seats, hats and pretty fabrics. Good food and an amble through James’ excellent double herbaceous border behind the garden monkey statue…which makes me think, once again, that James is the GM. He swears he isn’t.    

Chelsea Monday

Long chat with Ulf Nordfell on Monday as he tweaked and tickled his iris, stachys and pinkly scented Rosa X odorata ‘Mutabilis’ hours before his garden was awarded best in show. It’s the simplicity of his and all the other award winning gardens this year that appeals. But his inspiration is complex: English, Swedish, modernist (he talks about Hidcote in terms of its modernism) Renaissance and, more specifically Boticelli. It’s the latter’s exquisite paintings which prompted Ulf to plant against a dark background. Hence his jewelled grass. Mmmm    

Chelsea Cough

Chelsea Cough’s been worse than ever this year. Plane trees dominate the site and chuck down pollen that sandpapers eyes and makes victims cough and choke. It’s blocked the filters on James Wong’s Canary Islands garden. Mind you, The Cough is nothing beside the other complaints brought on by Chelsea. Quilted Velvet Gardener Tony Smith’s back’s gone(that’s him lolling about in the Lolling About area in the pic). Tom Hoblyn (redwood curves against the chemical yellow pitcher plants pictured below) is so exhausted he can barely speak. Designers, builders, horticulturists and plant checkers are wandering about in a state of sleep deprivation. Paul Stone of the Eden Project’s Key garden looked as if he was about to expire. Welcome to Chelsea or, as Chelsea widows and widowers sometimes call it, The Marriage Breaker.


Chelsea saint

Come across Paul Stone, Eden Project garden’s designer surrounded by some of the prisoners and homeless people who are creating this show garden. This is the stage where every designer is tired, anxious and bad tempered but, as one of his gardening ingénues, drags a hose pipe across about 100 plants, cracking stems as he does so, Paul breaks our conversation for a moment, says a gentle ‘excuse me’ to the miscreant and moves the hose away from the plants.
This pic shows Dean Stalham the ex prisoner turned poet who wrote on Eden’s wood henge.    

Patrick Blanc and the plant that nearly decapitated Tim

Run away to the Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly to drink champagne with one of my garden heros, Patrick Blanc and watch as Tim Richardson is nearly decapitated by a flying plant. It has been dislodged from the top Patrick’s stunning new planting on the outside walls of this otherwise lumpen building. Well, there’s a high wind. Tim, showing sang froid worthy of Queen Victoria, simply picks up the plant tries to replant it in the hotel’s window box. I bring Patrick over and tell him what’s just happened. Patrick is alarmed and says to Tim:

‘Be careful – that is a very special plant.’

Patrick is a consummate plantsman


Chelsea collision

Now I am shattered. First day of the Chelsea Gardening Matters forum. It started three years ago and I’ve chaired every year. This year the Royal Horticultural Society’s Bob Sweet has put two of us in per day to chair it. Today I am with Wesley Kerr.

The first time we met was in 2004 when I was presenting BBC2’s Gardens Through Time. We were filming at Chelsea. My director had told me to walk and talk in one direction, his director had told him to walk and talk in….a collision course. Neither of us saw the other coming and BANG we crashed.
This time we find a more collaborative way to work one on stage and the other cheer leading from the floor.


Wayne Hemingway

First up is Wayne Hemingway What a star. Why isn’t he better listened to? If local authorities and the government gave his housing scheme designs the attention they deserve we’d have a happier little island and far less crime and grimness. His methods are proven and, frankly, you don’t need to be a social scientist to work out why. His schemes give people lovely places to live with outside space where action and community spirit thrive alongside the plants and trees. It’s a no brainer given to us by someone with burgeoning grey matter and conviction.    

Chelsea rosearian

The great rosearian Michael Marriot is the next speaker. He reminds me about my love affair with roses. Years, ago when I bought my first David Austin roses, I reckoned that they were fashionable but useless but now….I would not be without their voluptuous scent and petals. And I certainly wouldn’t be without the advice of brilliant Michael

Not that we always agree. Michael once banned me from planting the thornless, heavily scented Zepherine Drouhin rose in a client’s garden. I have never really forgiven him but, on the other hand, David Austin’s … showr=5084 Young Lycidas is roughly the same colour – but deeper pink maybe – and the scent is mind blowing.


Chelsea wednesday James Alexander Sinclair Mark Gregory and Ian Dexter

Gorgeous pouting (GP) James Alexander Sinclair, author of outstanding garden blogs for the BBC and himself … ment_layer as well as being a famous, fabulous person, is co-chairing Chelsea’s Gardening Matters forum with me today.
Mark Gregory and Ian Dexter are first up to talk about the Marshalls garden – The Street The Street is buzzing.
I’ve admired Mark’s excellent Chelsea construction work (and more recently his own eco designs) for years. And I loved Ian’s Marshall’s garden last year with its clever climbing frame/ pavilion. But what I liked most about seeing these two on stage together is that they were still speaking – just a couple of days after the exhausting marathon of a Chelsea build which has a lot of designers and constructors ripping each other limb from limb .