May 26, 2008

The Chelsea Chop

There is a gardening term that is used here in England called the Chelsea chop and this refers to cutting a plant back to half it's size and so you get a bushier and more fuller plant once it regrows. Coincidentally this technique is performed around this time of year so hence the name they have dubbed it. Give it the Chelsea chop......
So the Chelsea Flower Show was here last week and with that lots of gardeners from near and far (Laura from Chanticleer!) came out to see what plants would be on display and to come check out the highly anticipated designer gardens. People not only come to see the Chelsea Flower Show but take this week to go visit as many different gardens as possible in the surrounding areas. I was no exception to being a plant zombie, having hit the U.S. Ambassadors home and garden, Chelsea Flower Show, and visiting Kew in London in 3 days.

Once getting back to Great Dixter, the people were still flowing through checking the gardens out. Mark and I were responsible for giving out tours to our American Friends at Longwood, Paul and Dean, and also Bill Thomas and the kind trustees as Chanticleer.

Paul Redman came out to visit Chelsea as well and spent some time in London to do some work. We accompanied him to visit Winfield House, which is the home and garden of the U.S. Ambassador that lives in London, near Regent's Park.

Winfield House was originally owned by a lady named Barabara Hutton, who was the Woolworth heiress, and was built in 1936, completed in 1938. Less than 2 years after the house was built, the war was starting up and Barbara Hutton took off back to the U.S. for a few years. When she returned to London, she went to go see her house to decide what to do with it. It was in shambles from the war but was in great condition structurally. She decided to offer it to the U.S. government rather than sell it.

She then proceeded to write a letter to then President Harry S. Truman to formally offer him Winfield House. He kindly accepted and the house has been used as a home for American Ambassadors since. Very nice story of how it came to be I thought....

We took a tour with Stephen Crisp, who has been the head gardener there for 20 years. There are woodland gardens, formal gardens, mixed borders, a huge expanse of lawn in the back (used for entertaining) and beds planted in geometric forms. Here is the drive leading up to the front of the house with clipped Magnolia grandiflora against the walls.

Once inside, we were given a tour of the public areas of the house on the first floor. Here is a color combo that appealed to me, the yellow lemons against the purplish pink of the marble.

American artists were also feautured throug the house and in the gardens too. Here is a piece by Alexander Calder's, one of my favorite artists, on display near the back of the house with its colors set off by green turf. There were Mark Rothko's and a painting by Edward Hopper inside too. The house takes part in a program called Art in Embassies, where the American residents of the time will showcase American artists and the works will come from a loaning system through museums. Here is more on that-

Just so you know, Stephen said that he doesn't worry about the turf, as long as it's green, it's fine.........

Here is the back of the house with the large expanse of lawn. This area is pretty much flat but is hilly in some areas of it. This is to create the sense of being in the English countryside, away from the daily grind, when in actuality you are in the middle of the city. It was very effective, having a feeling of being miles away from anyone.

There are areas of the border that are left more natural to help with that country feeling.
Here are more of the mixed borders with trees planted to accentuate the hills and soften the boundary between the house and the surrounding Regent's Park which is open to the public. Laburnum x wateri in bloom over the path to take full advantage of it's pendulous yellow flowers.
Here is the mixed border...

Clipped yews in geometric forms, adding nice structure and form. A love and appreciation for topiaries has started.... This view later inspired a colored pencil drawing on a thank you card for Stephen.More of the clipped boxwood hedges against the house with a statue of Barbara Hutton, the original owner of the house.After the tour, a hired car was taken to bring us to the London Eye. This is a huge ferris wheel with pods right on the Thames River, giving amazing expansive views of the city. Kew Gardens was visited the next day and the first thing your eyes rest on are their astoundingly beautiful Victorian glass houses.

Here is their Palm house. This plant caught my eye in the Alpine House- Dichelostemma ida-maia.This is the oldest potted plant in the world, at Kew, Encephalartos altensteinii. It was collected in 1773 of the Eastern Cape of South Africa and arrived by boat in 1775. It was the first plant to be moved into the Palm House in 1848.

The large and disgustingly smelly Amorphophallus titanum which had finished blooming about a week earlier. I don't know if I was sad or relieved to have missed it. There is another one in full leaf right behind the collapsed one.
In 1986, there was a huge storm that hit England devastating many places along the way. Over 1000 trees at Kew were damaged or destroyed. So wood was taken from each of these trees and a mural was created of Kew being threatened by the wind. Another of their amazing Victorian glasshouses.

Finally we made it to the Chelsea Flower Show. Fergus was kind enough to give us free passes that he had received. Your first sight in was under a canopy of an allee of London plane trees. Their habit in London is really regal looking, this tree really agrees with the climate here.
The designer gardens were all very nice with some obviously standing out more than others. It is hard to sometimes get good photos of everything due to al of the people all vying for the best view. This garden helped put a smile on my face...... Though things are forced to bloom at the same time, which is common, it just made my day. I just stood there looking even though some evil old garden ladies kept trying to push me on. It reminded me of, and try to follow this , a prehistoric, futuristic, modern childrens garden... Makes sense? The colors and the textures were just great..... Maybe there's room for Meadowbrook Farms?

Mark and I would laugh because we would see things in some of the gardens that reminded us of fellow classmates and their signature garden plant or garden structure. This was clipped boxwood balls, Allium 'Purple Sensation' and Stipa tenuissima. This reminded us of our classmate Kathryn, who loved her Mexican Feather Grass. She grew it all from seed and grew it well. Remember, Kathryn? In the inner pavilion there were all sorts of plant nerd treats to feed the eyes. Booth after booth you could find any type of plant and see all of it's cultivars all at once. Here are Anthuriams and Alstromarias. And here different types of Chrysanthemums. Yoko, do you approve? You would have had a huge smile on your face. A friend and I were once talking about animals we liked and my cat and dog choice were hairless cats and greyhounds. My friend Heather said that I liked all of the strange things that nobody else liked and that I was weird. Well, I guess plants are no different. I have been fascinated with wanting to grow Droseras now, or Sundew plants. Here was a display that caught our eye, a few of you might know why, that incorporated flowers, fruit and vegetables... Very well done, with the colors and hues changing slightly throughout the exhibit. This was a crowd favorite.....

And here is one other view from that display......
It was a great time, with alot of new plants to see and to learn and new friends and with alot of inspiration gained along the way.
I want to wish my sister Congrats on getting her first full time teaching job with 1st graders, and only a year out of school.............. Congrats Jen!

May 15, 2008

Dixter delights....

Alot has been going on here at Great Dixter, with the gardens and the experiences. The weather has really warmed up now, to the point of the sun shortening our pants and pushing the plants along.

The meadows are looking like a kaleidoscope of color and moving with each little breeze that comes by. The bees are buzzing here and there and making the most of the open flowers, stealing the pollen to make their sweet nectar, not that i mind.

At night you can hear the bullfrogs with their throaty battle cries yelling out to one another in hopes of finding a mate, "the one".

Each day there are little bits of information that you learn from someone or something you do. When relying on some plants to self-sow in the garden (usually from the year before) the little seedlings need little competition for light to grow. So when you plant your bulbs, keep in mind the size or thickness of the foliage to let the light hit the soil in the garden bed to help those self-sowers along. Narcissus foliage is thin and strappy, while a tulip can be wide and thicker and this can have an effect of those self-sown seedlings if they will take off or not.

The garden beds are really starting to take off and there are some combinations that demand attention from anyone walking by. In the peacock garden there is Iris 'Berlin Tiger' that contrasts nicely with the dark blue-purple Columbine, Aquilegia 'Blue Barlow'.
Here in the long border we have Allium 'Purple Sensation', Campanula patula, Camassia leichtlinii, and Iris 'Saphire Blue'.
The peacock garden is pulsing with purple orbs of the alliums and the citrus colors of Meconopsis cambrica, otherwise known as the Welsh Poppy.
The front meadows are dominated by the blue hue of Camassia quamash with a few Narcissus poeticus, the last daffodils to come, in bloom.
The back meadows with a Craetagus ' Himalayan Scarlet' blooming red while the ground is ablaze in yellow of Ranunculus auricomis. The meadows are in a constant state of flux, from large changes of plants in bloom to subtle ones of plants dropping the seeds that have swelled up inside them such as Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Some of the colors and textures that are grouped together in pots in this weeks display.

Allium 'Puprle Sensation' and Miscanthus sinensis 'Cosmopolitan' in the barn garden. Meadow near the vegetable garden with a euphorbia adding a splash of color.
Some of the electric color combos that are happening in the barn garden.Here are the pea stakes (that is what the technique is called) that are used for staking here. They are smaller side branches of Hornbeam that have been cut from the coppiced woodland and are pushed into the ground at the base of the plants so they can stand up on their own. You can use any type of branch for this staking method but remember not to use anything that can root into the bed, such as any type of willow. This is what they look like when you first put them in the garden bed..

Now that the peas are taking off and growing at such a pace, you hardly notice the pea sticks. The vigorous climbers almost begin to take the shape of a shrub.
Here the technique seen more clearly in the vegetable garden.

There are loads of birds stopping by and passing through the English countryside. The swallows are back, flitting about here and there high above the garden and building nests in some of the old barns here.

The dawn chorus here is really loud with the birds. What happens is right as the sun is coming up the birds go wild and start a raucous morning concert, with their songs slowly fading away as the morning pushes on. The birds start here at 4:30 a.m. and continue for about an hour. They only pick up again to really sing as a group at around 10 in the evening. This is what you hear when you wake at this time.

May 14, 2008

Jack in the Green and the coastal scene....

There was a festival in Hastings called Jack in the Green ( the other weekend that I was able to go to. Fergus went away for holiday and let me use his home for the weekend since he lives right in "Old Town", which you can see below. It is seperated by hills on either side and leads you right through the town to the ocean. You can go from the one hill through the town to the old hill, or go right to the ocean in all in a matter of 10 minutes, it is fun to have so many views in such a short time.
It was a great time to see this small fishing town wake up and celebrate the beginning of summer with a festive parade that led through the town and ended up at the castle ruins. The large green shrub you see is Jack in the Green and represents what the celebration is all about. There were garlands that were made by different groups throughout the years of this parade but it was the chimney sweepers that made one so big it covered a whole man. This manshrub is now the official character of the celebration.There were large and beautifully crafted mannequins that were paraded down the small streets. One of the many participants with the proverbial green stripe that people will do to you through out the day. The costumes were creative and alot of fun to see.

After a long day of festivities, and people, and people with beer, the coastal footpaths looked very inviting. There are footpaths that run for miles along the coast with some of the most amazing views.
This is a path lined with Ulex europaeus, or Gorse as it is commonly known. It is an evergreen shrub that is all over England since it self seeds in lots of areas. It has thorns and stiff thin foliage on it and was used by farmers as a living fence for their livestock, and also as fuel for baker's ovens, as cattle food, for people to dry their washings, as a chimney brush and as a color dye for Easter eggs. There is a saying here that goes, 'When gorse is in bloom, kissing's in season' but what is funny is that it blooms from January through February. It is said that from the English Channel, when the light is hitting the yellow blooms just right, it looks like the cliffs are on fire.
Further down the footpath on top of some cliffs, about 400 ft. up, was this plant growing right up against the edge. It is called Thrift, Armeria maritima, and is a cushion forming perennial. We weren't sure if it was an allium of some kind or a dianthus but were both wrong.
Here is Thrift growing with English Stonecrop, Sedum anglicum (?) or Sedum acre also known as Biting Stonecrop (due to it's peppery taste). It was exciting to see sedum growing in the wild, but I am not sure which one it is because it was not in bloom. It should be blooming in May if it is Sedum acre. Having found these plants, and many others, and being curious to find out which Sedum it is, we have decided to do a two day hike from Brighton to Hastings. Plants of interest would be keyed out along the way, and we could follow an old sheep herding trail as well. The route will be figured out.