Gardeners celebrate their wartime roots

There will be more than a hint of wartime spirit this weekend as gardeners celebrate Cheltenham Horticultural Society’s 75th anniversary at the annual summer show.

cheltenham horticultural society

The present society was founded in the midst of the Second World War in 1942, partly in response to the Dig for Victory campaign although there had been a horticultural society in Cheltenham since at least 1832, which ran until the outbreak of the First World War.

And special classes at this year’s show will pay tribute to the gardeners of the past.

“We have tried to include items in each section that reflect the food that was grown, the food that was prepared and items made during those difficult times,” explains Cheltenham Horticultural Society chairman, Dot Ward.

These include contests for a low sugar and low fat carrot cake, a pair of parsnips and an embroidered tray cloth. Other wartime-themed sections include a loaf of potato bread and carrot tops grown in a bowl or dish.

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Growers will be showing off their best roses

The Pittville Pump Room will be decorated with bunting knitted by society members and there will be a display to explain the society’s history.

Among the special classes will be regular favourites including contests for roses, annuals, cut flowers, pelargoniums, runner beans, carrots and tomatoes.

There are also craft, photography and floral art sections and special competitions for youngsters.

As well as the exhibits, there will be plants for sale from both society members and local nurseries, homemade cakes and refreshments.

“We’re planning to make it a 75th anniversary show to be proud of,” added Dot.

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Nick Macer is the speaker for the anniversary lecture

The show runs from noon to 3.30pm at Pittville Pump Room on Sunday August 20, 2017. Admission is £2 with free admission for children under 16.

On Friday October 6, the society will host a special anniversary lecture at Balcarras School, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.

Gloucestershire nurseryman and BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Macer of Pan-Global Plants will talk about ‘Things that turn me on – confessions of a plant freak’.

The doors open at 6.30pm for the sale of refreshments and the talk starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are £6 and must be bought in advance as there will be none on the door; email Yvonne Gregory for details: yvonnetgregory@yahoo.co.uk They are also available from Dundry Nurseries. For more information, visit the Cheltenham Horticultural Society website.

Review: Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest by Caleb Warnock

There’s a commonly held view that growing veg is possible only if you have a large garden or access to an allotment. Tiny plots, courtyards or the balconies and window boxes of generation rent make grow your own impossible. Or do they? In Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest, Caleb Warnock sets out to prove otherwise.

tiny garden huge harvestThe American self-sufficiency expert believes it’s possible to grow in the tiniest of spaces, in fact he says a small space can be beneficial: “For busy families, a tiny garden creates a manageable and sustainable workload.”

And he tells us that in a garden of just 8ft by 8ft, he managed to harvest 207lbs of veg.

The key is choosing the right things to grow – and the best varieties – and making full use of the space available.

In Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest, Warnock, who is based in the Rocky Mountains, sets out how to achieve this and passes on the tips and tricks for using space efficiently that he’s learned over the years.

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The book has charts and lists to help

In a small garden, there’s no room for passengers so the first rule is to grow only what you like to eat: “This may seem obvious at first, but surprisingly, many people fail to take this into consideration.”

Crops that take up a lot of room for relatively small reward, such as sweetcorn, are also best avoided and it pays to look carefully at the time from sowing to harvesting when choosing varieties.

One good trick is to grow things that give a long season of cropping. Cut-and-come-again lettuce is an obvious example but you could do the same with many other crops, including chard, kale and celery.

He also points out that the leaves of beetroot and turnips can be harvested for weeks before the roots are used, giving two crops in one.

Every inch of a small plot needs to earn its keep and successional sowing is a good way of making sure ground is never idle. A chart giving four possible crop plans is just one of many handy charts and there are also suggestions for things that will grow in shade.

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Chard can be harvested over many weeks

Having outlined what to grow, the book turns to how to plan your space. This covers traditional small gardens, balconies, containers and even vertical gardens in a bookcase-sized area: “Imagine you are in a library standing in front of a shelf full of books – except instead of books, these shelves are lined with potted plants.” Even potatoes, cabbage and squash could be grown using this method, he says, while a trickle-down watering system is easy and efficient.

The book is small – just over 60 pages – pocket-sized, making it ideal for use outside, and easy to read with Warnock’s ideas clearly and simply explained. Unfortunately, while his ideas of sustainable, grow-your-own living are very current, the book has a rather dated feel due to the black-and-white photos, used, presumably, to keep production costs down.

It’s worth ignoring the initial impression this gives as the book has many easy and interesting ideas and, while it doesn’t cover how to grow, it would be ideal for novice or established gardeners who want to get more out of their garden.

Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest by Caleb Warnock is published by Familius, RRP £4.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Familius.

Read more book reviews here

Downsizing a garden in style

Moving to a smaller plot is never easy but it’s a problem that one Gloucestershire gardener has solved with style.

When it comes to plants I’m a greedy gardener. I want to grow something of everything and whatever’s in flower is my current must-have. Downsizing my garden is unthinkable.

But it’s something that many gardeners have to do – unless they have the money to employ help – and it can be challenging. What do you keep and what do you resign yourself to not growing? How do you plan a smaller plot when you’re used to the space to indulge your plant passion?

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Veg was the first thing to go into the new garden

It’s a dilemma Pamela Buckland faced when she moved from her cottage in Coalway in the Forest of Dean to a nearby bungalow. Well known in the Gloucestershire National Garden Scheme – she’s a former assistant county organiser – she swapped a third of an acre for a plot that’s roughly half the size.

Think ahead

The key is to downsizing a garden is planning ahead and don’t leave moving plants to the last minute: “I potted up my favourite perennials early in the year,” Pamela tells me.

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Grasses were one of the collections that moved with Pamela

Limit yourself to those favourites and unusual varieties; in Pamela’s case these included heucheras, geraniums, her collection of around 20 different varieties of hosta and several grasses.

She took on a garden that had obviously been loved but was badly in need of an overhaul. Paving slab paths criss-crossed the area – “Everywhere I moved something or cleared a space there were paths” – and the many shrubs were too large for the space, while a heather bed spread 8ft by 6ft and there was an enormous pampas grass.

“You really couldn’t see what was here,” she recalls.

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Bird cages add a decorative element

Pamela started by sorting out the sloping ground at the side of the bungalow, which became two distinct levels: vegetables in raised beds at the top and flowers below.

“The vegetable garden was the first thing I did.”

Putting in a small greenhouse came next – it’s used for tomatoes, cucumbers and raising seeds – and only then did Pamela start to think about the rest of the garden.

Plan carefully

It’s tempting to start by clearing a bit of space and getting on with planting but it’s far better to get rid of everything you don’t want first rather than doing it piecemeal.

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A large magnolia is one of the few original plants

In Pamela’s case, this included removing several large shrubs, including hydrangeas, weigela and choisya, the many paths and filling 10 green refuse bins with Spanish bluebells.

Once the garden was cleared, it was easier to see how to change the design.

Keep it simple

The danger with moving from a large garden to a smaller space is that you try to have a bit of everything with the result looking far from planned.

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Sticking to simple colour themes helps with planning

It’s a pitfall Pamela has avoided by grouping plants according to colour. Two side borders have distinct themes: one is pink and white with dierama, geraniums and astrantia; the other a hot bed of reds and oranges, including Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

Meanwhile, at the front, she’s ‘disguised’ the driveway by bringing planting into the gravel and putting many of her pots of hostas into one corner; the rest now occupy a side path.

“I like what you can do with pots,” she says, adding that not all are planted up but instead form a feature in their own right.

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Pots are used as a feature

The main area of garden at the back of the bungalow has a blue and green theme that’s reinforced not only with the planting but also with the hard landscaping. An ugly concrete path has been painted, as have the fence and a table and bench, while a necessary storage shed blends in thanks to a coat of blue paint. Even a breeze block wall has been painted and reused as a trough for lavender.

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An old wall has become a planter

“I find the greens and blues such a relaxing colour scheme.”

In one bed, her collection of grasses is a delightful mix of green and cream with touches of bronze, while Ammi majus and pink cosmos give some seasonal colour.

Height comes from a pergola, which also helps to draw the eye away from neighbouring properties, while climbers such as clematis along the fences blur the boundaries.

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The remodelled wall and painted path

Pamela’s also made a feature of what was a crumbling wall that divided the plot. The loose top and an end section have been removed and the ‘gap’ between bungalow and wall filled with a custom-made wrought iron gate and screen. The iron is continued over the top of the wall, creating a strong unifying effect.

“I like the fact you can see different areas.”

And that’s the real achievement: despite its size, this feels like a much bigger garden.

20 Forsdene Walk, Coalway, Gloucestershire, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme from May to September 2017. See NGS website for details.

How to keep your garden blooming while you holiday

Going on holiday during the summer can be difficult if you’re a gardener. With the British weather notoriously unpredictable, you could easily return to wind and rain-battered plants or containers full of dried up twigs.

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Pick courgettes unless you want marrows when you return

The perfect solution is to find a friend or neighbour to keep an eye on things, water if there’s a heatwave, pick sweet peas and beans to keep them producing and courgettes to stop them turning into marrows. But what if there’s no one to help?

Here are some steps you can take to make sure your garden survives the holiday separation.

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Group pots in the shade

Move plants in containers out of direct sun into somewhere shadier and make sure they’re not sheltered from the rain by overhanging porches or house eaves. Standing them in saucers or trays will help conserve moisture while grouping them together makes it easier if someone’s coming in to water.

• Invest in a drip irrigation system for thirsty crops, such as tomatoes, or make your own using plastic bottles with small holes punched into the lid. Water the soil well then fill the bottle with water, put the lid back on and place the bottle upside down into the pot making sure it won’t fall over.

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Deadheading will keep plants flowering

Deadhead thoroughly including any flowers that have opened but will be over before you return from holiday.

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Don’t leave weeds to seed around

Get on top of the weeding before you leave, especially weeds that seed freely such as dandelions and bitter cress.

Stake tall plants to prevent wind damage, in particular any with large flower heads, such as sunflowers or dahlias.

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Stake tall sunflowers to stop them snapping

Harvest your fruit and veg and either eat, freeze or give it away. If you’re on holiday for more than a few days, pick baby veg, including beans and courgettes, to keep the plants productive.

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Pick beans to keep the plants producing

Mow the lawn and do the edges as there’s nothing worse than coming home from holiday to a meadow.

Check the weather forecast: water everything thoroughly if it’s going to be dry and just the greenhouse if a monsoon is expected.

Ducks, stones and planting plans at Painswick Rococo

Painswick Rococo Garden is well known for its stunning snowdrop display but this quirky Cotswold favourite is more than a one-season wonder and summer is also a good time to visit.

Not that you will get the flowing herbaceous borders that are a feature of many gardens in the region, as new head gardener Roger Standley explains.

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The Eagle House is one of the striking follies

“There’s not much in the way of flower borders here,” says Roger, who started at Painswick Rococo two months ago. “It was not a big part of what they did.”

What they did do when the garden was laid out in the 1740s was big theatrical display and Painswick Rococo is well known for its eye-catching follies: the striking Red House, pale pink Eagle House and Exedra that stands like a curve of intricate icing in the garden.

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Marigolds in the vegetable garden

It’s the planting around the Exedra that’s occupying Roger when we meet. While the beds match the original shape – as shown on a 1748 painting of the garden by Thomas Robins – what’s in them doesn’t fit the period.

“The 18th century had a lot more space around the plants rather than a mass cottagey planting.”

Lavender has been forced to grow tall in some places and is flopping over its neighbours elsewhere; eupatorium is too big and is blocking views of the roses; Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is just the wrong plant.

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The lavender is going to be restricted to an avenue up to the Exedra

“Much as I love the crocosmia, it’s very much a Victorian introduction and a good 100 years too late for us.”

Not that this winter’s replanting will favour historical accuracy over gardening common sense: “Where the look of the plant fits we will use modern varieties of the species.”

Roger is planning to remove some things, drastically reduce the size of others and replant the lavender, restricting it to just to an avenue leading up to the Exedra and its reflection pool.

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The vegetable garden is in full swing

Next summer, he will also be using more annuals in the spaces that are created between perennials.

“We will possibly have a theme in these areas with one year lots of varieties of nicotiana and in another sunflowers.”

Spring bulbs are also going to be added to extend the display. And that’s the dilemma of somewhere like Painswick Rococo: while it aims to be historically accurate to fit its status as the only surviving garden of the period that’s open to the public, it is also a charity enterprise that needs to attract visitors year-round to fund its upkeep.

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Part of the stone display

As part of that drive to encourage people to visit out of snowdrop time, this summer sees a sculpture exhibition in the garden by stone balancer Adrian Gray, who put on an award-winning show at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Seven of his gravity-defying pieces are on display until the end of August and their almost mesmerising quality perfectly fits the Rococo Garden’s tranquil atmosphere.

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Wild flowers are being encouraged by letting grass grow long

Some of the sculptures are sited in the orchard where the grass is being allowed to grow long. A serpentine mown path enables visitors to wander through the meadow area, which is already attracting more insects.

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The garden’s newest residents

If the stone sculptures are a temporary feature, the ducks are now permanent residents. Brought in to manage the weed on the pond – which barley treatments had failed to shift – the group of Jemima Puddle-Duck look-alikes and their floating duck house are proving popular with visitors; the duck house is modelled on one in a painting by Thomas Robins of a Rococo-style garden at Honington.

Nearby, the plunge pool beds are another area Roger is keen to tackle: “It needs a new design and something a bit more in keeping with the 18th century.”

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The plunge pool border is going to be revamped

Shade planting under large trees is fine but the other beds are, we agree, a bit of a mish-mash of different things.

Meanwhile, the formal vegetable garden – part of the original layout – now supplies not only the garden’s café but also a bistro in the village and visitors can buy surplus produce and plants.

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The ducks have a floating house

Ultimately though it’s the sense of fun and discovery that draws people to Painswick Rococo.

“There’s a fantastic historical layout to the garden and the setting is incredible.”

For more details about Painswick Rococo Garden, visit the website

Turning a forgotten space into an outdoor delight

The chance to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products has transformed a sad spot in my garden.

Many of us have a part of the garden that is somewhat neglected. An area that you walk past, averting your eyes and muttering ‘I really must do something about that’. Usually, lack of inspiration or time means little gets done.

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‘The Courtyard’ has long been in need of a rethink

In my case, the neglected spot is what we refer to as ‘The Courtyard’. It’s actually a rather grand title for what is little more than a tucked away area outside our basement kitchen; the strange layout of the house, which is dug into a slope, means that although technically the kitchen is under the rest of the house, it is actually on ground level.

The courtyard has a high retaining wall on two sides that holds back the garden, the house forms the third boundary and on the fourth there’s a fence that separates us from our neighbours.

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The wall planters needed redoing

North-east facing, it gets a little morning sun – a very little – but it’s really a rather gloomy spot. And, with quite a lot of garden elsewhere, it’s always been low on my list of priorities.

The impetus to finally do something about it came when I was asked if I would like to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products. A suggestion was a table and chairs set, which looked perfect for this tiny space. Not only is it a half-table, ideal for putting against a wall, the table also folds down to free up space when it’s not in use.

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The table and chairs are easy to put up

Before I had even set it up, I was impressed: both the table and the two chairs were well packaged to ensure they weren’t damaged in transit.

It’s also easy to put up – no assembly and just a lift and click into place mechanism for the table flap. It has a grey, powder coated steel frame with a toughened glass top, while the folding seats have the same steel frame with a checked manmade fibre seat and back, which are water resistant. They have proved to be remarkably comfortable.

Of course, merely plonking somewhere to sit into the courtyard wasn’t going to be enough to transform it. There was definitely a need to revamp the planting as well. Not that there is much scope: the available soil amounts to little more than a narrow strip at the foot of the wall and fence and the lack of direct sunlight limits the choices.

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The euonymus needed cutting back

The first step was a good clean, using a wire brush to get rid of moss on the paving. A Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’, used to provide a screen between the courtyard and next door, had got out of hand, with some reverting to plain green. It’s been pruned hard to remove the green and reduce the overhang into the courtyard.

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The euonymus has been tidied up

The remains of a Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ that until this year was doing well, were removed and I’m planning to replace it in the autumn, though possibly elsewhere in the garden.

Deciding I needed some expert advice for the difficult narrow ‘borders’, I paid a visit to ShadyPlants.com in Painswick. Tony and Sylvia Marden specialise in plants for those tricky places and we spent a happy hour discussing possibilities and looking through their stock.

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The back of the Begonia evansiana leaves are beautiful

For the space against the fence, where there is marginally more soil, they recommended two evergreen ferns: Polystichum makinoi and Phyllitis scolopendrium cristatum.

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Begonia southerlandii has lovely orange flowers

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of begonias but I fell in love with the orange flowers of Begonia southerlandii and Tony suggested the white flowered Begonia evansiana ‘Snowpop’ would be a good partner. Both, he assured me, are fully hardy and well able to cope with the less than ideal conditions.

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Cardamine trifolia was suggested as ground cover

For the thin strip at the foot of the wall, they suggested Cardamine trifolia, which has what Sylvia describes as ‘clouds of white flowers’. It should spread happily to fill the space.

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New planting in the wall pots

Continuing with the begonia theme, wall planters that have in the past been used for violas, now have some cream-flowered begonias that I found at another local grower, Dundry Nurseries. I liked their long, tubular flowers and slight bronze tinge to the stems, which works well with the rusty planters and old bricks. The begonias are in plastic pots that sit inside the terracotta so that I can change the planting easily.

Finally, I shifted the old sink into a better position in the courtyard and planted it with mint while the chimney pot has been moved to another part of the garden.

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The courtyard has been transformed

I’m pleased with the transformation and the courtyard is already proving popular – especially as a cool place to escape the recent heat. I can see the table and chairs being well used.

Brundle Gardener’s table and chairs are available from garden centres and online stockists. The suggested retail price is £119.99.