Gwyneth Paltrow

My mum always used to say that if the Queen went past the bottom of our road, she wouldn’t wouldn’t so much as leave the house to give her a wave. And then one day the Queen did go past the bottom of our road. And who was at the front of the crowd, angling for a better view and waving furiously? My mum.

Celebrity is a curious and powerful thing. At the Chelsea Flower Show the other day I noticed that a crowd of photographers had gathered around the B&Q garden. It turned out that Gwyneth Paltrow was expected there in about ten minutes.

Now up to that point, I had not been particularly interested in Gwyneth Paltrow. I knew she was married to Chris Martin. I knew she had children with strange names. I even knew that she had a cookbook out. But that’s as far as my interest went – until I realised that I might see her, in the flesh, very close to where I was standing. All of a sudden, I was very interested in Gwyneth Paltrow.

It took a while for Gwynnie to appear. First of all we got Lorraine Kelly. Then Kirstie Allsopp. All the while the scary lady in the orange jacket was desperately trying to keep photographers and rubberneckers away from the judges in Diarmuid Gavin’s garden next door. WILL YOU PLEASE RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF THE JUDGES!?! she cried, in vain.

Then the scary lady’s day got a whole lot worse, because just at the very moment when the hallowed judges moved over to begin their critique of the B&Q garden, along came Gwyneth. The crowds moved in, a few hundred flashbulbs went off and the judges were completely sidelined.

At this point I underwent a bizarre transformation, from starstruck bystander to full-blown paparazzo. As luck would have it, I found myself quite near Gwyneth as she listened politely to the B&Q man and got quite a good shot of her then. Not content with that, I then squeezed to the front of the crowd of paps and took some more pics. And then I edged my way along and took some more. All the while photographers were shouting GYWNETH! TURN AROUND GWYNETH! OVER HERE GWYNETH! from all angles as she paraded around, shamelessly clutching her new book. I took an ironic and knowing shot of Gwynnie and all the paps opposite.

And then as quickly as she came, Gwyneth was gone, and I reverted back to the serious gardening journalist that I really am.

The following day, a friend emailed me a pic that he’d spotted on the BBC News website. In the crowd you’ll see a serious gardening journalist looking ridiculously pleased with herself as she paps a celebrity. Oh dearie me.





Chelsea – the verdict

Cleve West's Daily Telegraph Garden
Sarah Eberle's Monaco Garden
The Cancer Research Garden
Diarmuid Gavin's Irish Sky Garden
Cornish Memories Garden

What to say about the ‘greatest flower show on earth’ (as Alan Titchmarsh says year after year)? For what it’s worth, I liked Cleve West’s garden best (and not just because it won Best in Show).  But I still prefer the one he did for SAGA a few years back – one of my all-time favourites. I also liked Sarah Eberle’s Monaco garden (light and airy and sustainable too) and the Cancer Research one  (lovely seaside planting). And surprisingly, Diarmuid Gavin’s – but more for the lush planting than the pink pod hanging from a crane.

The small artisan gardens at Chelsea can be a bit cutesy but I always like to see them as they show how much can be achieved in a tiny space. My favourite was the garden with a rather unfortunate brief (pardon the pun): an evocation of a Korean toilet. I couldn’t get a shot of it of that due to the aforementioned lady in national costume and a TV crew but you can see it here. And I loved the pots in the Cornish Memories garden.


Press day at Chelsea

Take one freezing, scantily clad model…

Alan Titchmarsh looking dapper…

Rachel de Thame looking fetching…

Some judges looking serious…

A scary lady in a high-vis jacket keeping everyone away from the judges…

A lady in national dress playing an unrecognisable instrument…

Some lovely Chelsea pensioners…

A great star spot…

And Floella Benjamin

… And you have a typical press day at Chelsea. Oh, and there were some gardens too, but more about them soon.

Plant sale


Church plant sales aren’t uncommon but I’ve never seen one in London before, especially in a location as grand as the St Pancras Parish Church. There were all kinds of plants on sale – roses, African violets, dahlias etc – and the man selling them told me that the money goes towards planting the church garden.

I was charged a rather steep £7 for a houseplant for my desk, but we’ll gloss over that as it’s for a good cause.

Mum’s garden

St Albans

‘The garden’s looking terrible!’ said my Mum when I went back home last weekend. This is a familiar refrain on my mum’s part but no one else can ever see what the problem is. The garden is complimented by anyone who visits and the front garden once won a ‘front garden of the year’ competition without Mum even entering it.

I found Dad painting the beehive, which isn’t really a beehive but a tool bin made by my Uncle Ian, who isn’t really my uncle but a family friend. I think even Mum would have to admit that it looks nice amid the cow parsley under the trees at the bottom of the garden.

Garden Organic

Ryton Gardens, nr Coventry

I went to a conference at Garden Organic the other day, at which the topic was gardening and sustainability. Gardening is not necessarily a ‘green activity’ – dodgy wood, peat, pesticides, herbicides etc all play their part.

The day was thought provoking and mind boggling and inevitably threw up more questions than answers. I’d like to add Alan Knight, Tim Lang and Chris Baines to my fantasy dinner party guest list so I can grill them about their inconvenient truths and ingenious ideas.

The gardens at Ryton are really abundant and immaculately kept. This is deliberate – Garden Organic want to show that gardening organically doesn’t have to be messy and unattractive. It’s just… gardening, but without the nasty add-ons.

Abbey Road part II

St John's Wood

I somehow managed to miss my turning on my walk home yesterday and ended up by the Beatles zebra crossing. Sometimes I quite like crossing it as it’s so iconic, but yesterday there were lots of tourists holding up the traffic and doing silly poses so I crossed the road further up. It meant that I got to walk past this garden, which I first saw in January.

It was pretty impressive then but it looks totally different now. It’s exploded into a haze of purple: perennial wallflowers and hardy geraniums. Bees were buzzing all over it. And I reckon it will look good for a while yet – there are lots of other plants lurking under the wallflowers, ready to do their thing. The residents of the apartment block are very fortunate to have such an amazing entrance.

Purple haze

Maida Vale

This is the garden of a client of my friend Naomi and I sometimes help her with it. This was the sight that greeted me when I first walked through the gate in May last year, and I was dead impressed. Alliums are flowering so early this year that I was worried I’d miss them in their prime.

The rest of the garden is pretty huge and divided into rooms. It’s Italianate in style, based on the grand gardens currently being toured in Monty Don’s TV series.

Much as I love it, the pond is a nightmare to mow around with an electric mower.

Super Mario Bros

North London

For a few months in spring and summer, Super Mario Bros (or the Caledonian Road Garden Centre as it’s actually called) opens up on a busy corner of the Caledonian Road in north London. It’s run by two brothers, Mario and Chris. I can never remember which one is which, but one is considerably friendlier than the other. It’s always doing a brisk trade and has a host of colourful London characters visiting it  – this time around there was a woman wearing some crazy glasses (apparently she’s a well known potter) and an old lady with a beard.

The plants aren’t especially cheap and some of them maybe shouldn’t be on sale (dahlias in full flower were on sale last week – should they have been?!). But it’s always a pleasure to see it open its doors because it means that spring has arrived.

The brothers do not use a calculator so adding up can take some time. And they’re not that free with their advice either. My friend asked if a hollyhock she was buying would flower this year, and one of the brothers said: ‘If it’s happy’. It’s a line I’m going to start using whenever I don’t know the answer to a horticultural question.

A view, a brew and a loo

North Wales

When we arrived at the gate of Caerynwch near Dolgellau,  I was worried. The nice man who took our money told us a bit about the gardens, mentioned that some local artists were exhibiting and told us that there were plants for sale – all very nice. But he failed to mention two things that are crucial when visiting a garden: 1) tea and 2) cake. This was all the more significant because we’d cycled for about two hours to get there, mostly uphill, and our alternative refreshment options on a bank holiday afternoon in north Wales were non-existent.

It was a tense moment, I don’t mind telling you, but fortunately Caerynwch offered what they say all gardens should – a view, a brew and a loo (plus some warm scones and bara brith). The grounds are home to some huge rhododendrons and azaleas (all in acid colours – very SS ’11), and bluebell-filled woodland. My favourite spot was the boggy area, where the candelabra primulas were looking good. But it’s the view that really stole the show: gently rolling fields, a stream and grazing sheep, all in the shadow of the mighty Cadair Idris.