Thursday Thoughts

We've had a friend from Oz staying for a few days and whilst she's from the UK originally, she hasn't seen much of the wonders of our canal system. Therefore we deemed it necessary to take her to see the Caen Hill flight straight away. Besides, there's a jolly cafe towards the top where we could watch the narrowboats as they lock through the flight.

After lunch we walked along the canal to Devizes Wharf, speculating as we went on which of the moored boats are hired and those used for living. Which category do you think the photographed one belongs to? Whichever it is, I like the owner's philosophic musing together with the natty plant that echoes the paintwork.

On the way back we had the delight of following a majestic heron along the canal and the photo below shows our first sighting.

All in all, we had a wonderful afternoon together just wandering and not being lost. It's a philosophy I'd like to subscribe to more often.

May I introduce you to....

... well, we're not quite sure who as they haven't told us their names.

Ginger and Tabby* arrived yesterday and have been busy exploring their new home. Stairs are quite new to them as they spent the first 12 weeks of their lives in a bungalow. They're not very talkative yet, though we've had purrs from one and chirrups from the other.

NAH found them via a fellow volunteer at Midsomer Norton. He'd taken in their mother - only a kitten herself at around 1 year old - not realising she'd been 'seen to' already by the local tom. Whilst he'd enjoyed their antics, he knew it wasn't a long term option for him and was looking to rehome the pair together as they've bonded really well.

We adore them already.

* = these are the names they came with. We've toyed with Buster and Keaton as their new names, but we're not sure. I suggested Mac (for the mackerel tabby) and Sandy yesterday. The search for their 'proper' names continues...

Great ideas from the Denver Fling

In Denver I was asked why I come to the Garden Bloggers' Fling, especially as UK gardening is held in great esteem in the USA. Well, there's always the pull of seeing good friends and interesting places, plus I still have lots to learn and my visit was inspirational. Sometimes you have to get away from your own place to see things more clearly. Here are some of my key points from this year - many thanks to the organisers of this year's Fling and to all of the gardeners and organisations who made us so welcome.

Make an entrance...

This view has provided much food for thought since I've got back. I've seen large matching pots in doorways at many a Fling before, but these were exceptional. I have pots at my door too, but they don't match and they don't bring the front garden's planting nearer the front door. It's something to bear in mind as I plan my new front garden.

Here's a view which changed my plans for my front garden revamp. I'm planning…

Postcard from Colorado

I'm back from a fabulous week spent in Denver at this year's Garden Bloggers Fling. The gardens - as usual - were amazing, but many of us found other stars of the show in the shape of the ever present mountain views and huge skies over the plains we passed through. It's a deceptive landscape because the flatter looking land hides the fact we were at an altitude of over 5,000 feet. Now I'm back I can understand the benefits of living that high: my regular Zumba class yesterday felt much easier and I could work harder without getting puffed!

This is a view from one of the private gardens we visited in the Boulder area and illustrates perfectly the importance of using the borrowed view in garden design. The owners of this property and many more we saw ensured they made the best of their natural resources, both in terms of scenery and local geology.

You can see the clouds building up over the mountains which brought rumbles of thunder in the afternoon and just a few spots…

GBBD: Hanging Baskets the Easy Peasy Way

Most hanging basket guidance will give you a look that is burgeoning, beautiful, and relatively high maintenance. Last year's health woes meant I was not only later with planting up my hanging basket, there was also a limited choice of what I could actually put in there. Burgeoning was out and budget was in.

Then I remembered the clever use of Bidens I'd seen on holiday at Bishop's Castle a few years ago. Luckily there was still some left for sale, and the pictured basket was the result of just one plant. Not only that, it flowered right up to December. I learned later that Bidens can be grown as a perennial in the UK, though we tend to use it as an annual. Sadly my plant didn't survive past the first hard frost, though if I'd moved it from its north facing position to a warmer spot in the back garden, I may have had more success with overwintering.

Another accidental shortcut was my use of Dalefoot's Wool compost. Remember last year's drought? My basket f…

Spittle Spotting

I've walked around the garden with more of a purpose than usual lately because I'm on the lookout for any plants with spittle, commonly known as 'cuckoo spit'. It's a sign a froghopper nymph (aka spittlebug) has taken up residence within the protective froth just like you can see in the photo above.

Until recently I'd thought these sap-suckers were relatively harmless, but now I see they're of concern as they're a chief carrier of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which results in the disease and death of many popular garden plants.

It hasn't reached the UK yet and the RHS would like it to stay that way. They've teamed up with the University of Sussex and Forest Research, who need thousands of volunteers - like you and me - to help map the distribution of spittlebugs found in gardens, meadows, grasslands and woodlands from April to late June.

We're being asked to report sightings of spittle, in our gardens or on plants elsewhere, through iR…

Chelsea Memories

By now the Royal Hospital grounds should be back to normal and this year's Chelsea Flower Show is fading into memory. Quite a lot of my show coverage this year was elsewhere on social media, so I'm taking the opportunity to scoop it all up and keep a record of it on here.

Before I do that, I wanted to take the opportunity to congratulate Tom Hoblyn on his Dubai Majlis show garden. This was quite a different take on what the Middle East has to offer and I loved the rusty linking elements together with the planted highlights using my colour of this year's show, yellow.

There were a lot of innovative displays in the Great Pavilion and this gold medal winning one by Roualeyn Nurseries was a delight, especially as I bought a 'Garden News' from them at Malvern.

Staying in the Great Pavilion, Kirstenbosch's display was awash with their signature native flora.

Green walls were everywhere, and I particularly liked its use as a map.

I'm always on the lookout for unu…

The benefits of #NoMowMay

I cut a small posy of flowers for our kitchen on Sunday courtesy of the back lawn and keeping NAH away from it so we could have a #NoMowMay. I've talked about my Wild and Woolly Lawn before, and since then it's gone from strength to strength. I've enjoyed watching the large numbers of insects zooming around our garden this year* which I'm sure is the result of my relaxed attitude to the need for lawn perfection.

As well as the flowers on the windowsill, there are plenty more where they came from outside, and so I took part in Plantlife's Every Flower Counts lawn survey yesterday. With the decrease in wildlife habitats, there is an increasing recognition our gardens can provide much needed havens for wild flowers, which in turn support a wide variety of insects and other fauna.

Plantlife's survey aims to put a baseline figure on one aspect of this concept, by estimating how much our lawns can support honey bees when the grass is left to grow longer and the wild…

Exbury to the power of two

It was lovely to get reacquainted with Exbury Garden's rhododendrons at Chelsea Flower Show this week. I first saw them at a GMG study day earlier in the year and it was great to remember that visit and how special the Exbury hybrids are.

The Chelsea display is a joint production by Exbury Gardens and Millais Nurseries - who specialise in rhododendrons - to celebrate the garden's centenary. In that time, three generations of the garden's owners - the Rothschild family -have raised over 1,000 hybrids.

Now Head Gardener Tom Clarke and his team are working with the nursery to ensure the rarer and more threatened hybrids in the collection are conserved. Tom explained this has to be done by careful propagation as any seed from the garden specimens won't come true (the hybrids are first generation offspring; true seed comes several generations later).

The nursery launched a wide selection of new varieties at the show, many of which are part of the Exbury/Millais propagation…

Postcard from Chelsea Flower Show

I had a delightful day at Chelsea Flower Show yesterday. My head is still processing which stories to tell you, but in the meantime here's Paul Hervey-Brookes' exquisite 'The Art of Viking Garden' to enjoy from the Space to Grow category.

One of the questions most asked about Chelsea is 'what is this year's colour?' As usual purples and greens are in abundance as befits the time of year, but the colour for me this time is yellow. Paul used deft touches in his design to add highlights and ensure they stuck in my mind.

I had a lovely surprise whilst I admired this effect. Paul turned round to me and said 'Michelle, just go and have a good look around' and I was delighted to skip onto his garden. Whilst we've known each other for a while, I had no idea he'd remembered my name.

Update: the awards are out and the garden has deservedly won gold. Many, many congratulations Paul.