Book Review: American Gardens by Monty Don and Derry Moore

What is an American Garden? asks Monty Don in the introduction to this lavish volume. The images above give us a clue to his unsurprising conclusion: America is simply too vast. The varied landscapes, climate, and people are too mind bogglingly wide to provide a definitive answer. 

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find out and I'm pleased Monty Don did in both his TV series in January, and now in the follow-up book published earlier this week. I was due to visit America again for the latest Garden Bloggers' Fling, but of course Covid-19 put those plans on hold. It's great to do that from my armchair instead, especially as one of the gardens featured - The Lurie in Chicago - is one I was due to visit on my way to Wisconsin. Another garden - Dumbarton Oaks - was closed when I visited Washington DC in 2017, so I'm delighted to catch up with it here. Alongside these, a further 35 places feature, divided into three main chapters which roughly follow the three ep…

Floral fun at Malvern

I was holding a hope for Malvern's autumn show going ahead this weekend, but sadly the current situation meant it wasn't to be. However the fab team at the Three Counties Showground came up trumps with their Plant and Garden Fair earlier this month instead. Lots of the nurseries I'd planned to visit were there... and plants were indeed purchased, but the highlight of the day were the talks which took centre stage.I confess flower arranging hasn't really been my thing up to now - I'm more of a plonk and put sort of gal - but Georgie Newbery previously, and now Jonathan Moseley are helping me see there are possibilities in this line. As Jonathan explained in his talk, picking flowers encourages them to bloom more, thus dispelling the notion mine are better off in the garden instead of displayed in the vase.Jonathan shared plenty of ideas for autumnal arrangements. Simple yet effective jam jar style posies were much in evidence albeit framed and hung on display, or en…

Planting bulbs for #MillionPlantingMoments

"It's National Bulb Planting Week," announced cheerful BBC weather forecaster Sarah Lucas at Wisley this morning. I haven't managed to find out more about it since I came online, but I'm glad to add my own contribution today courtesy of Taylors bulbs and the HTA's #MillionPlantingMoments campaign.Here I am this morning deciding where to plant my allium bulbs. This variety and colour's new to me and I hope it'll do as well for me as its purple cousins have served so reliably - you may remember I showed you my terrace bed stuffed with spring blooms in last month's Blooms Day.

I've cleared out most of the bottom border and I'm slowly replanting this area as and when final bramble culling allows (it's proving to be persistent). I've decided to plant my bulbs amongst the pictured clump of Persicaria to provide some spring interest to this area. The other alliums have taught me they need to be placed amongst robust and/or later emerging p…

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Salvia 'Royal Bumble'

I confess it's third time lucky for my Salvia 'Royal Bumble' here at VP Gardens. Its predecessors have not survived the winter in two previous years and I thought this one had gone the same way. I was delighted to see some tiny signs of new growth when I cut it back in May and now it's beginning to take possession of its allotted spot. I'd be lying if I said its combination with its cotoneaster neighbour was by design, but now you come to mention it, I do like how the flowers of one and the berries of the other echo each other.
As you can see, the flowers are similar to those of Salvia 'Hot Lips' which I have in the terrace bed on the other side of the central steps. Unlike its cousin, the rich red flowers of 'Royal Bumble' stay a constant colour, and both are loved by bees (sadly not hummingbirds, we need to go across the pond for that). Both are listed as being semi hardy here in the UK and I'm pondering why 'Hot Lips' has survived many…

Salad Days: Happiness is a trip to Homeacres

Garden visits have been thin on the ground this year, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity this week to catch up with Charles Dowding at his (relatively) new property in Somerset and chat to him about his latest book. Rest assured that Covid guidance was adhered to and I found myself in a select group of bloggers, podcasters and garden writers for my visit, and not the 900-odd visitors who crowd into Homeacres for one of Charles's open days in normal years!Regular readers may remember I visited Charles at his previous property - Lower Farm - in 2012 for my VPs VIPs interview and 52 Week Salad Challenge strands. Then it was February and the start of the sowing season; what a difference a September visit makes with Charles's abundant produce and flowers positively glowing with good health everywhere. I needed no second invitation to munch on the tomatoes in the polytunnel; they were delicious.Homeacres is a smaller property of around a quarter of an acre. Here the initial…

The Wheelbarrow of Happiness

I thoroughly broke my plant buying duck at the weekend with a trip to the public plant sale at West Kington Nurseries. This usually happens in late April and early September, but this year's events meant both were combined into one sale spread over the longer Bank Holiday weekend instead. Like so many places these days there was lots of hand gel in evidence and sprays available to ensure safe wheelbarrow handling before I headed off to view the goodies on offer. Facemasks were the order of the day in the glasshouses and polytunnels, but thankfully not for coffee and cake time whilst I sorted out my plan of attack for the day.I was pretty good and stuck mainly to my list, though a rather nice Eupatorium* 'Chocolate' also leapt into my barrow, as well as a Hydrangea paniculata 'Diamant Rouge' and Actaea 'Hillside Black Beauty'. I was pleased to find the foxglove 'Glory of Roundway' and aster 'Little Carlow' as both originate from nearby Devize…

Wildflower Wednesday: Fox and Cubs

As promised last month, here's the latest wildflower addition I've found here at VP Gardens. We don't need to go far to see it because it's popped up at the edge of the front lawn, just a few feet away from our front door. There aren't that many orange wildflowers here in the UK in my experience*, so this time a simple Google of 'orange wildflower UK' came up with the instant answer. We're looking at Pilosella aurantiaca aka fox and cubs, the latter name is so much easier to remember! **  
I guess it was only a matter of time before this plant arrived in my garden, as I've admired quite a few broad swathes of it on the grassed areas on our estate here in Chippenham. I now have a dilemma; whether to leave or not as it's invasive. The site linked to above has dire warnings about it, despite its attractive appearance:
"This attractive member of the daisy family makes a wonderful display in summer when it appears on roadside verges and banks, b…

Postcard from Poole Harbour

I'm back from a few days in Dorset where we combined some clearance of NAH's aunt's house with using it as a Covid-safe holiday cottage for some much needed rest and relaxation. We both agreed it worked better than expected and plan to return again in a few weeks.It was a bittersweet time, especially on our final day when I set off to walk around the Holes Bay part of Poole Harbour and realised I was reprising the walk my aunt-in-law and I had undertaken over 30 years ago to Upton House, when she was around the same age as I am now.It made for a thoughtful and mindful walk. I love the relationship between sky, plants and water Poole Harbour provides - summed up in this postcard - and how easy it is to leave the centre of Old Poole behind in this particular walk, which started from the back door.It's a special place.

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Mind the Gap

I must admit I've not been that brilliant in the past at filling the gap that always appears in the top terrace bed mid summer. The alliums like it here so much the initial couple of packs I planted have grown into 150+ blooms this spring. Down on the lower terrace bed asters and anemone 'White Swan' manage to fill in admirably, but I've yet to get it right at the top. My attempts so far struggled to grow past the dense leaf cover the alliums throw out at the start of the year.Fast forward a few weeks and I was pondering a couple of gaps and thought some dahlias would fit in just right. I scoured the local nurseries and garden centres, but either their offerings had been snapped up, or the problems we've heard suppliers had during coronavirus meant they never actually appeared. Fast forward another couple of weeks and I never expected the perfect solution to leap out at me as soon as I entered the supermarket to do our weekly shop. It was the pictured dahlia, so won…

In the garden with Jane Moore and Planting for Butterflies

It's that time of the year again when there's the perfect excuse to pop into the garden for a break, a cuppa and to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. It's even better when your friend Jane Moore has written a book about them and invites you to join her where she works to do the count there in the hotel's meadow.
Of course mother nature conspired against us on Friday and produced the third hottest day of the year ever in the UK. As a result the butterflies decided to flutter off elsewhere with only the odd tired cabbage white or two plus a gatekeeper putting in a brief appearance during our time together. As you can see we retired to the gazebo instead to shelter from the heat and chat merrily away about the garden and all things butterfly.

There was also time for a cuppa, where I spotted Jane's handy butterfly guide pinned to her notice board in the greenhouse. I also got the full tour of the hotel's three acre garden (you can also read Jane's guide here)…