Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Something for the Weekend? Try #gdnbloggers

Screen capture of part of the #gdnbloggers page on Twubs

Let's start with a short story (abridged and from a UK perspective)...

... Once upon a time there were loads of garden bloggers all typing away on the void, who were grateful if a handful of people (mostly their mums) stopped by to leave a comment.

Then along came Blotanical (RIP), where we found lots of garden blogs and friends from all over the world, and we happily talked to each other, left comments, even met up from time to time. We all learned lots from each other and all was well with the world.

Then everyone got busy with their lives instead (which is fine and quite natural), and in the meantime the online world fractured into more pieces where lots of other shiny things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest laid temptation in everyone's path. It meant we had plenty of ways of making virtual friends and sharing our stuff, though it often felt like a lot of frantic running on the spot was needed just to keep up with everything.

But somewhere along the line, most of the real conversation seemed to stop, or was drowned in a sea of links, dodgy questionnaires, and corporate-look-at-me kinda hype.

Thank goodness All Horts! came to the rescue, where there's the opportunity to talk to not just garden bloggers, but all kinds of horticulturally like-minded people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Jolly jaunts are arranged from time to time and the conversation flows on Twitter and Facebook.

Now to come full circle (ish)...

...Then one day recently a jolly chap called Andrew O'Brien asked if there were any other garden bloggers on All Horts!, and lo... he found there are loads. Not only that, many said they'd welcome the chance to get to know each other's blogs, and to help support each other through the many twisted turns of the internet.

So the hashtag #gdnbloggers was born, as the (not so) secret signal that a garden blogger is around.

Not only that, but Andrew has also set up a monthly #gdnbloggers chat on Twitter, where we can gather around the virtual water cooler for a good old chinwag. Chat, help and fun are compulsory; wine, nibbles and cake are optional (and BYO).

The first chat is tomorrow evening (28th February 2016), 7-8pm GMT. It'll cover "... we'll be introducing ourselves and our blogs, and discussing what we want from future chats." See you there?

You can follow the chat via the Twitter hashtag, or via the Twubs account Andrew's set up. If you want to join in as well you'll need either a Twitter or Twubs account to do so. NB #gdnbloggers is an ongoing conversation, so you can look out for the hashtag or at the Twubs page to find e.g. all kinds of blog posts to add to your reading list.

If anyone's unsure of how a Twitter chat works, then Andrew is pointing everyone to this guidance.

Hurrah for Andrew!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Karma Camellias

Chiswick House conservatoryfrom the Italian garden
View of the restored conservatory from the Italian garden at Chiswick House 

A couple of days ago I had an enjoyable afternoon finding out about the historic collection of Camellia japonica at Chiswick House.

This garden's been on my radar for a while. There's a restored walled kitchen garden and a most intriguing entrance to look out for when you whizz by on the coach to London. The invitation to a special Garden Media Guild study day was the nudge I needed to go and explore.

The collection is housed in an amazing 300 foot long conservatory, restored via a generous Heritage Lottery grant and public appeal in 2010. The original conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware and built in 1813 to house the usual production of fruit and vegetables a notable house of those times demanded.

Side view of Chiswick House conservatory

It was redeveloped in the 1840s to include improvements in glass and ironwork pioneered by Joseph Paxton, and the fruit and veg replaced with camellias. It's believed to be the oldest collection in the western world with some of it dating back to around 1828.

Why the change? Protection of assets is the answer. Chiswick House's owner - the 6th Duke of Devonshire - was an avid plant collector, who assembled 40 of the 50 or so known Camellia japonica varieties of the time, 33 of which are still present in the conservatory. Some of these plants were worth between £2,000 and £3,750 each in today's money.

View along the camellia collection at Chiswick House
A view along the collection

Also, collectors and their gardeners were unsure of the plant's hardiness at that time, so it's no wonder they were placed under glass. Besides, what better way is there to show them off to your visitors, than a nice warm promenade to view their exotic blooms in the depths of winter?

Thus the camellias were installed along the protective conservatory wall, with a wide path alongside for promenading and admiration, and wonderful stone benches on the other side for seasonal displays and decoration.

A member of staff cleans a camellia at Chiswick House
A member of staff washes the leaves with soap and water - from a Pimm's jug!

Whilst conditions are good for the camellias at this time of the year, growing them indoors gave the gardeners all kinds of problems. Firstly conditions in the summer can get far too hot, even with good ventilation and shading. We were told that during the conservatory's restoration, the plants had more exposure to the elements, and the rain and wind perked them up considerably.

Secondly there's a pest problem, particularly with mealy bugs. These were introduced when some imported citrus trees were overwintered alongside the camellias. A programme of picking them off by hand and washing off any resultant sooty mould is currently underway. Once the problem is under control, it's hoped pest management can be via biological treatment.

Finally, there's a double row of camellias planted, so the ones at the back are getting shaded out. The garden team are looking at ways of opening up the canopy at the front whilst minimising the impact on the display.

Camellia japonica 'Middlemist's Red'
A display of perfect Camellia japonica 'Middlemist's Red' blooms alongside flower and bud in situ

One of the notable camellias in the collection is C. Middlemist's Red', one of only two in original collections, the other is in New Zealand. I asked why it's called red when the bloom is actually pink. Apparently the original name was 'rosea' and there was some confusion at the time whether rosea meant red or pink in Latin. When the plant was renamed, it seems they weren't looking at the bloom - it's reassuring I'm not the only one who struggles with Latin names!

Geraldine King in the camellia propagation unit
Estates Manager Geraldine King explains the propagation process

There's a risk of losing such a precious collection, so there's an ongoing programme of propagation to provide duplicates for the garden and elsewhere (including for sale). The old melon house is used as the propagation unit and the photo shows some healthy rooted cuttings. Note the leaves are halved to reduce stress from transpiration during root formation.

Bottom heat of 70 degrees and misting is provided when needed. Geraldine explained that misting times vary depending on the time of the year - every few hours now, rising to every few minutes during the summer. Bottom heat isn't needed during the summer as the melon house easily heats up to that temperature.

There's around a 60% success rate with the cuttings and plants are nurtured for four years until they're ready for sale.

A selection of Camellia japonica blooms
A selection of camellias. In the dishes from left to right and top to bottom we have:
C. 'Parksii', C. 'In... I can't read the label, possibly Imbricata?', C. 'Elegans', C. 'Gray's Invincible' and C. 'Single Red'
The top middle camellia is C. 'Nitida' & middle left C. 'Welbankiana', sadly I didn't make a note of the rest

Research into the conservatory's history and the camellia collection is still ongoing and resembles archaeology sometimes. There are 8 unknown varieties left to identify and much patience required - Geraldine explained even where there are good botanically correct pictures available, they often have to wait for the precise moment when what's in flower actually looks like the painting.

This research also extends outside as part of the collection is there and unlabelled. Some further examples of C. 'Middlemist's Red' have been identified, so it's future in the collection is assured.

Note that the gardens at Chiswick House aren't just for camellias. It's an early example of an English Landscape garden, where William Kent first put some of his design ideas into practise. It's also where a young Joseph Paxton was 'poached' from the [Royal] Horticultural Society's display garden next door by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. The Duke offered him the post of Head Gardener at Chatsworth... and the rest is history.

At the back of the conservatory at Chiswick House
A peek round the back of the conservatory - I love the stacks of terracotta pots

Further Notes

The sixth Camellia Show runs until March 13th 2016. Opening hours are 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Entry to the show is free and last entry is 3.30pm.

Chiswick House Gardens are open daily from 7am to 4.30pm. Free entry.

Kitchen Garden Open Days are 22nd May and 26th June 2016, 11am to 3pm. Free entry.

For more information (including House opening times and prices) see the Chiswick House website.

The International Camellia Society were mentioned a lot during our visit. They've been thoroughly involved with the collection's conservation and research, and their website has lots of information on all things camellia if you're interested.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Product Review: From Photo to Cushion

A customised photo cushion produced via the Snapfish website
From garden photo, through posterization in Pic Monkey, to the finished product - a cushion 

I've wanted a new cushion for my study for a while, so I was delighted when Snapfish contacted me recently with the offer of an allowance to purchase something from their website. They have all kinds of options for customising products with your own digital photos, such as books, calendars, greetings cards, pictures, and more.

You may remember the middle photo from a previous Wordless Wednesday. I don't often play around with my images, but for once I did and I'm pleased with the result. It's a technique called posterization, where the subtle colours and tones of a photograph are reduced in number to produce a pop art style image.

I'd earmarked making a large picture from this photo a while ago, but I needed a cushion more, so it was the perfect option for my allowance. I found the website easy to use, if a little clunky* and I soon completed my order.

I'd recommend using photos with a high resolution for this type of product if you can - I took a risk with mine as the website displayed a warning about my image's quality**. I gambled the posterization process would outweigh any problems with enlarging to a 17x17 inch size.

The application guessed the crop position, then I easily made some slight adjustments to obtain the image I wanted. I would have liked the option to zoom out a touch, so the original and cushion images shown above are in the same proportion. That's a minor quibble and I'm really happy with the result.

Close up of cushion front, back and zip
As you can see from this close-up (click to enlarge if needed), the picture front is canvas-like and the back faux suede. The cover can be removed for cleaning, though I haven't tried it yet. Note the cushion comes complete with an inner, so you don't need to buy one***.

I ordered on Monday evening, it was dispatched on Tuesday, and arrived on Thursday morning, which is pretty fast. I'd say prices are around mid range (£24.99 + p&p in this instance) for this kind of product.

I'm now much more comfortable when I'm blogging - hurrah! This would make a thoughtful and individual gift for a friend or family member, or a good option if you're having difficulty in finding something to match your chosen decor.


Further notes

* = I've had an email this week to say their website is improved and about to be relaunched. NB Snapfish requires registration up front, which may or may not be an issue for you. I prefer sites which allow one-off customers as well as account holders, so I don't need to remember loads of different passwords to complete my shopping.

** = Most of my pictures uploaded to the web are of medium quality. This may cause problems e.g. image pixellation if they are enlarged to large sizes for e.g. cushions or pictures.

*** = the website doesn't make this clear. Thank goodness I didn't order one from elsewhere - I nearly did!

NB Other websites are available to do this, most of which have different options re price, sizing, material used, dual photos etc etc. I'm very happy with the results, but remember I didn't shop around.

Monday, 15 February 2016

GBBD: The Difference Between North and South

North facing garden crocuses with closed blooms because they're in shade

Things are returning to normal at VP Gardens this month, where most of the blooms are flowering at their allotted time. I'm relieved most of the summer flowers I found in January have started their winter slumbers.

Crocuses are making a fine show for February and I have several spots where the same [unknown] variety are clumping up nicely. A walk around the garden revealed they're a good sunshine indicator; the above photo was taken in the front garden, which faces north.

South facing garden crocuses fully open in the sunshine

What a difference position can make! This photo was taken a few minutes later, in my south facing back garden. Here the crocuses were thoroughly enjoying the sunshine in readiness for any foraging bee who just happens to pass by.

Are there any good sunshine indicators in your garden?

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Garden Visit: Avenues, Balls and Snowdrop Peeping

Lime Tree Avenue, Clumber Park
Part of the extraordinary 2 mile long Lime Tree Avenue at Clumber Park near Worksop
Once again I've found a garden visiting road trip is the perfect way to cheer up February, my least favourite month of the year.

I reprised part of last year's Snowdrops on Tour and added Clumber Park to my itinerary on Karen's recommendation. Just seeing Lime Tree Avenue, the longest in Europe with over 1,000 trees, ensured this part of my trip didn't disappoint.

Summerhouse and snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens
Our refuge from storm Imogen at Easton Walled Gardens

My trip started with storm Imogen flashing and rumbling a warning at me, and thankfully a swift escape north and eastwards meant I missed the worst of her ravages. Despite that, Naomi and I were mightily pleased Karen had arranged for us to take refuge in Easton Walled Gardens' summerhouse for a picnic before we toured the garden.

Kokedama (aka moss balls) used for a hanging display of snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens
As we were with Karen we were able to have a nose around doors which are usually kept closed, including the flower workshop.

Here Alexandra was busy getting arrangements ready for Easton's snowdrop event. I was particularly intrigued with these hanging snowdrop balls, created using a technique called Kokedama, from Japan.

It involves wrapping the plant in soil, followed by a layer of moss, then tying the bundle together ready for hanging, with string in this case.

If you'd like to make your own Kokedama, the link shows you how. When it feels light, soak the ball for 30 minutes (or until it feels heavy again) to keep the display looking fresh and more permanent.

A snowdrop tour around Easton Walled Gardens
Our garden guide was Easton's owner Ursula Cholmeley, which meant we could play Spot the dog again.
There were snowdrops and daffodils in combination, plus a 'giraffe' who wanted to see the snowdrops too.

We must have been in the calmer eye of the storm for our garden tour, because the drive up the A1 to Hodsock Priory in lashings of rain was horrendous. Luckily, the generous hospitality of the Buchanan family soon restored my jangled nerves.

An enticing clump of snowdrops - part of the collection rescued from Primrose Warburg's garden by John Grimshaw

Tuesday dawned fair and without a breath of wind; the perfect day for a spot of snowdrop peeping with Naomi, Karen and Alison. It was great to meet snowdrop expert John Grimshaw, listen to his insights and see which aspects of the garden caught his eye. Here's what caught mine...

Snowdrops and other winter garden delights at Hodsock Priory
Snowdrops and other winter garden delights. NB the snowdrops will be at their best for the next 10 days or so. 
Pictured snowdrop expert John Grimshaw tells the story of his day at Hodsock Priory over at his blog

This year marks the silver anniversary of the commencement of Hodsock Priory's snowdrop days, who were one of the first - if not the first - major snowdrop garden to start this popular activity.

George Buchanan (left in the picture) recounted it started with just one Sunday 25 years ago with a biscuit tin to collect entrance fees, a kettle, and much trepidation over whether anyone would come.

600 visitors gave them their answer and 'snowdrop day' now extends to 4 weeks. It was great to see the Buchanan family enjoying Tuesday's sunshine for their celebratory photo opportunity.

Some highlights of Clumber Park
Some of Clumber Park's highlights. I must return when the walled kitchen garden is open. 
Then I had a brief side trip on the way home to nearby Clumber Park. It's vast, which meant I only had time to trot round a small part of its 3,800 acres. It's well worth a visit despite the demolition of the huge country house which was once at its heart.

There's a pleasure garden with a collection of large specimen trees, a large serpentine lake which extends as far as the eye can see, and plenty of eyecatcher-style follies dotted around the grounds. There's a Grade I listed church too, which hints at the grandeur of previous times.

I can also heartily recommend the venison one pot stew I had for lunch. Charlecote Park's recipe looks the closest to the version I enjoyed.

Not bad for a couple of days spent 'oop north!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Plant Profiles: Snowdrops Update

Plant Profiles: self-sown snowdrops in my garden's gravel path
The snowdrops petals are opened wide, which means the temperature was above 10oC.
This allows the release of their scent and detection by foraging bees who won't fly below that temperature. 

It's time to update my Snowdrops Plant Profile, as there have been developments since last year. As you can see I have some snowdrops which have self-seeded themselves in the gravel path whilst I wasn't looking. They also deserve to join the ranks of Against the Odds, just like the wall-grown ones I found at Painswick Rococo Garden a few years ago.

I showed them to Naomi - she of snowdrop book and Snowdrops on Tour fame - as I wanted to know how long it takes to get from seed to flowering bulb. She peered at them and said:

From seed to flower, snowdrops take about 5 years. But many nivalis are clonal by preference – have you got yourself a hybrid? Are there other actual seedlings around? (Looks like nivalis to me but hard to tell from a pic!).

I confirmed it must be plain old Galanthus nivalis as there are several clumps just inches away. However, her remarks stuck with me and whilst I was out taking some more snowdrop photos in the front garden, I spotted this...

...can you see it bottom left - that double snowdrop amongst the singles?

I do have both in my garden, but none of them were planted in the same clump. So this must be a hybrid. Naomi's reply to my excited email clinched it:

Aha! J You know that Flore Pleno is infertile on the female side but it produces fertile pollen, right? 

I shall be keeping an eye on these to see what happens. As for my gravel-bound clump, I shall keep them there for a while. They're not in the way at the moment, and they're obviously quite happy where they are. Once they've bulked up, I'll have a think about where to move them to.

In the meantime, I need to pot on my special collection from last year into something a bit larger and permanent looking. I dithered and left them in their original pots as I was worried about them hybridising if I planted them out in the garden. Thank goodness Anna's recent post reassured me I can keep them happy in pots.

I've also found this fantastic website which has lots of cultivation notes (including how to grow them in pots) and other information about Galanthus. I particularly like the snippet in the growing from seed section on the role of ants in seed dispersal.

Here are more snowdrops from my front side garden. As you can see some of them have hopped 'over the fence' into the public land next door :)

Now, did they clone themselves and the clump creep under the fence, or are they self-sown (or ant-sown) from seed? Are there more hybrids lurking in there? I shall have to inspect them carefully...

Whitehall Garden Centre logo
Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers: Sponsorship covers my blogging costs; the words are my own. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Painting the Modern Garden: More than Monet and Lilies

Painting of Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911 by Joaquin Sorolla at the Painting the Modern Garden exhibition at the Royal Academy
Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911 by Joaquin Sorolla
An insight into how flowers inspired Tiffany's jewellery and stained glass work.

I promised I'd say more about the wonderful Painting the Modern Garden at the Royal Academy...

...there is so much to see and think about - more than just Monet and water lilies - and far too much for one blog post. Here are some of my absolute favourites in the hope you'll be tempted to make your own visit.

The paintings featured are selected from the 1860s to the 1920s - roughly the span of Monet's life. For me they helped fill one of the gaps in last year's Painting Paradise exhibition; the extension of the garden from the royal palaces and stately homes featured there and out into the world of ordinary people like you and me.

Painting of Claude Monet Painting in his Garden at Argenteuil 1873 by Renoir
Claude Monet Painting in his Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
This was the first painting that caught my eye - one of the artist at work, which has the picture Monet was painting exhibited alongside. This was his first garden and not a water lily in sight.

Painting the Modern Garden show catalogue
The exhibition's featured time period also coincided with an explosion of interest in horticulture. It was a hot topic and benefited from the Victorian need for scientific exploration and personal development.

Scientific monographs were published on many of the garden plants we enjoy today and read avidly by the artist-gardeners featured in the exhibition.

Lots of new hybrids were released onto the market and exhibited in key shows across Europe at that time. Imagine seeing a cactus dahlia for the first time, or the chrysanthemums featured opposite.

This was my favourite painting, but I couldn't photograph it on the day due to restrictions. I'm pleased to see it on the cover of the show's catalogue - one way of seeing the exhibition if you can't get to London.

Emil Nolde's colourful paintings at the Royal Academy's Painting the Modern Garden exhibition

We've seen already how much gardening and flowers informed the artists of that time via my Muse Day post earlier this week. Here another one - Emil Nolde - who admitted how much they inspired him: "The colour of the flowers drew me magically to them, and suddenly I was painting".

Pisarro's and Monet's plum tree paintings at the Royal Academy's Painting the Modern Garden exhibition
They may have discussed their art and gardens a lot, but it didn't prevent different styles.
Here's Pisarro's (left, 1877) and Monet's (right, 1879) approach to plum trees in blossom

It wasn't only gardens and gardening which inspired the artists featured. I saw in the exhibition how much they talked to each other. There were lots of visits to each other's gardens and an active correspondence across the artistic community. Despite seeing how the explosion in new hybrids stimulated artistic interest, I was surprised how much William Robinson's approach to gardening also featured as an influence. It struck me well before I found a copy of his The Wild Garden on display.

Gardens in Reverie - 2 of Edouard Vuillard's paintings
In the Gardens of Reverie room, looking at paintings by Edouard Vuillard
Woman  Reading on a Bench (left) and Woman Seated in an Armchair (right), 1898

Another strong theme was the garden as a sanctuary, and a place for relaxation or reverie. I found the same effect at the show too, as did some of my fellow attendees. This was shown particularly in Monet's later paintings at Giverny. He remained there during WW1, with the war booming all around him. His garden became a place of mental healing during that time and stimulated his frenzied outpouring of huge paintings of the garden.

Some of Monet's darker WW1 era paintings

... and of course that outpouring gave us those water lilies. I've always loved these paintings, but I never really appreciated until now just how huge they are. They fill your view and make you feel you're looking over Monet's shoulder at what he saw at the exact scale. Not bad for paintings classed as Impressionist.

One of Monet's huge water lily paintings painted after WW1
Water Lilies, after 1918 - 200.7 x 426.7 cm

The exhibition is open until 20th April 2016. Can't get to London? You can tour the exhibition from the comfort of a cinema in April (UK), or May (international release). I see Vue are advertising their screenings already.

Pisarro's kitchen garden painting
It wasn't all about flowers - kitchen gardens (and sheds) featured too.
This is Pisarro's Kitchen Gardens at L'Hermitage, Pontoise, 1874

You may also like

Two of the Friday Benches I've featured on my photography blog: View of a Garden and Willow and Water Lilies.

The Royal Academy's website has some wonderful short films of three of the gardens featured in the exhibition, with curator Ann Dumas as your guide. They're the gardens of three of the artists featured prominently: Pierre Bonnard, Henri le Sidaner and Claude Monet.

The website also has an interesting article (and great pictures) on how Monet created his garden at Giverny. For me, this was one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibition, with plans and letters revealing it wasn't a smooth process. Water lilies were regarded with suspicion by the local farmers who worried this unfamiliar plant would poison their livestock.

Also, explore six of the artist-gardeners featured in the exhibition, plus a discussion of the exhibition via Guardian Gardens' Sow, Grow, Repeat podcast.

Good luck to Wendy from Rooftop Veg Plot who's taking part in the RA's Contemporary Urban Gardening event on 27th February.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Puzzle Corner: Happy Families Solution

How did you get on matching the flowers, fruit and vegetables to their respective plant Families? I hope you had some fun whilst doing so.

The answers are:

  • Amaryllidaceae - snowdrop and onion
  • Apiaceae - Eryngium and parsnip
  • Asteraceae - dahlia and lettuce
  • Fabaceae - lupin and pea
  • Polygonaceae - Persicaria and rhubarb
  • Rosaceae - hawthorn and strawberry

Which pairing surprised you the most?

Well done if you spotted that by putting the pictures into alphabetical order, I'd given you three of the pairs already.

Monday, 1 February 2016

GBMD: Painting the Modern Garden - Monet to Matisse

Monet's extraordinary lilies triptych reunited for display at the Royal Academy's wonderful exhibition

This is the finale from the Royal Academy's extraordinary exhibition - Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.

It reunites the 3 canvases comprising Monet's lilies triptych from their separate museums in the USA, and displays them as Monet intended.

I have so much more to say on this exhibition, but the quote I saw when I entered the first gallery is well worth a solo view for today's Muse Day.

Here's the triptych again without the quotation, so you can drink it all in.

  Monet's lilies triptych reunited at the wonderful exhibition at the Royal Academy
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