Hastings part 2


Here’s a corner of Hastings Old Town that could have been neglected and ignored but has been planted up and loved. There’s a bench in front of it, on which three elderly people were sitting when I took this pic. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation:

‘What have they put that sign there for?’
‘Everyone knows that the B259 is left, not that way.’
‘Bloody council. They can’t get anything right.’
‘God, look at that girl.’
‘The fat one?’
‘No, the one in the shorts. Look at her.’
‘Call that fashion?’
‘She looks bad enough now, what’s she going to look like in 20 years time?’
‘Bloody awful, that’s what.’
‘God, it’s hot.’
‘Too bloody hot.’
‘Still, we mustn’t complain.’



I love Hastings, and it was looking especially lovely this weekend. The sky was blue, the sea was like a mill pond and the beach was almost empty. There was a perfect Instagram photo op at every turn.

My favourite view, from above Hastings Old Town, is currently embellished by a swathe of calendulas. Apparently they weren’t there this time last year, so I can only assume that some guerilla-style gardening has gone on.

Mary Berry’s garden


I’ve been on quite a few work awaydays over the years, and one – a day trip to Ghent, Belgium, for the Floralies in 2010 – will be forever etched into the memory of those involved. Sadly I can’t divulge what happened (what happened in Ghent, stays in Ghent) but let’s just say that it’s strictly UK-only trips from now on.

This year we went to Buckinghamshire (nothing bad ever happens in Buckinghamshire) for a brainstorming session. We discussed the schedule for 2014 (that’s how far ahead gardening magazines work) and then we visited Mary Berry’s garden.

As you can see, it’s rather large. The highlight is most definitely the pond, designed with the help of the former head gardener at Longstock Park Water Garden (Mary has friends in all the right places). It also has a rose walk, tennis court, meadow, lots of herbaceous borders and, not surprisingly, a large kitchen garden. Mary is a knowledgeable gardener and highly recommends Rose ‘Chandos Beauty’ (below) for scent, disease-resistance and flowers until November. I had a sniff and wasn’t disappointed.

And yes, there was cake. Mary was going to give us tea in the conservatory but as it was so cold and wet, she invited us into her kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat. She’s got the biggest Aga I’ve ever seen and the biggest teapot, too.

Apart from us cleaning Mary out of lemon drizzle and chocolate cakes (both delicious, of course), I’m pleased to say that the afternoon passed without incident. Clearly the new awayday policy of venturing no further than 30 minutes from London with no need for foreign currency/a working knowledge of Flemish/valid passports/train tickets/tram tickets/timetables/maps/ash cloud diversions has paid off.

Gilbert White’s house


Last year I fell for the charms of E.A Bowles, plantsman and philanthropist (deceased), and a year later I find myself smitten with Gilbert White, plantsman, naturalist and philanthropist, who departed this life in 1793. I must start gathering some role models who are actually alive.

I hadn’t heard of Gilbert until recently, when I went to his house in Hampshire. It turns out he wrote one of the most widely published books of all time, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. He’s often referred to as the first ever ecologist, and liked to observe wildlife that was actually alive, which was pretty unusual at the time (dead things were usually dissected instead).

He was a compulsive gardener too. No plan of the garden exists, but the head gardener has pieced it together by looking at journals, household accounts and a diary called the Garden Kalendar, in which Gilbert recorded all that he sowed and reaped.

Against his south-facing Fruit Wall, Gilbert grew greengages, apricots, peaches, nectarines and grapes – crops we’d struggle to get a reliable harvest from today. And he was one of the first people to grow potatoes, which were pretty unusual at the time.

He also collected plants, and many of them were shown off in a garden of ‘six quarters’. These were six large flowerbeds that peak at different times of year: spring (snowdrops, aconites, Jerusalem sage and primroses), late spring (oriental poppies, goat’s rue and iris), early summer (Rosa gallica, viper’s bugloss), summer (everlasting peas and Arundo donax in one bed, Rosa mundi, tradescantia, eryngium and Rosa ‘Maiden’s Blush‘ in another – pictured at the top of this post) and early autumn (asters, sunflowers, hardy hibiscus and evening primrose). This year, acid-pink poppies had self seeded everywhere.

Gilbert also designed a wine-pipe seat, made out of an old port barrel. It could be turned in any direction to face the sun/shade and I can confirm that it keeps out the wind and rain perfectly.

He probably needed this seat for all weathers. According to his diaries, the weather in the 1700s was as bizarre as it is now. In one particular year it was freezing cold, followed by a drought, then a heatwave, then downpours. Sounds familiar…

Vicky’s house


West Sussex

My friend Vicky disappears off to her parents’ place in Sussex at every opportunity, and now I know why. It’s gorgeous.

The house has an Aga, a pantry, window seats in almost every room and a little turret(!) with a weather vane on top. The garden wraps around it, and has a summer house that’s framed by a rose and an apple tree.

I’ll probably never have an Aga, a pantry, a turret or even a window seat, but I reckon I might manage a little summerhouse like this one one day. In the meantime I’m going to let Vicky’s folks know that I am available for adoption.

Locanda Locatelli


Now, here’s a window box with a difference. It’s around 10m long, a foot wide and deep and runs down the entire length of Locanda Locatelli.

It looks as if a meadow has been transplanted to central London – very Chelsea 2012 – and contains cow parsley, nepeta, penstemon, Stipa tenuissima, Allium sphaerocephalon and sedums. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’d love to know who designed it.

The restaurant is within the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and around the corner, the same building is adorned with window boxes filed with the red, white and blue bedding that’s everywhere at the moment. All very nice, but not a patch on this.

Roger’s Rough


Roger’s Rough is a mighty strange name for a house, and I didn’t know what to expect from this Yellow Book garden. It turns out that the house isn’t even owned by anyone called Roger, but Richard Bird, who is a garden writer and author of several books including The Propagation of Hardy Perennials.

The front garden is a cottage garden on steroids, and the huge back garden, divided into rooms, is like a mini Merriments (see below). It’s overflowing with plants, many of which I realised I didn’t recognise.

Richard collects unusual plants, many of them given to him garden writer pals, and was more than happy to tell us about them. So I discovered Buddleia loricata (silver leafed, South African), Hieracium lanatum (leafy hawkweed) and Delphinium staphisagria.

Whether I would recognise them again is another matter.


East Sussex

Merriments is the kind of garden that must throw American visitors into raptures – it’s so classically English. The immaculate lawns are bordered by flower beds that are stuffed to the gills with roses, foxgloves, poppies and pretty much everything else.

Top tip: visit on a Sunday lunchtime. That’s what we did, and had the gardens to ourselves while everyone was in the restaurant. And then visit the garden centre, and spend far too much on plants that you’ve just admired in the garden…

South Bank

South Bank

I love it when I find an area that you wouldn’t expect to have been planted up, but is. This walkway at the South Bank Centre could be forgiven for just being a link to one part of a concrete building to another, but care has been taken to line it with lots of tough little plants such as thrift.

The walkway leads from the Hayward Gallery to the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden, which is looking better than ever this year – the wildflower meadows are currently at their peak and the raised beds are already full to bursting with herbs, salad and beans. If the weather ever improves, it’s the best place to hang out in London.

Hampton Court Flower Show 2012

The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is very different to its older, cooler, classier sister, the Chelsea Flower Show. Personally, I prefer Chelsea for its sheer unattainable perfection, but Hampton Court comes at a more interesting time of year plant-wise so the gardens, while more modest, look more varied. You can buy plants, children are welcomed, and there are plenty of places to put your feet up.

Some of the exhibits and stands seemed a little off the mark for 2012: do people seriously buy hot tubs and savannah-style lodges during a recession (and in the worst summer in living memory)? But there was lots of grow-your-own inspiration (after a notable absence of anything edible at Chelsea), and a new area of urban planting ideas.

There was also a ‘High Impact, Low Cost’ category of gardens created on a small budget. I heard several people mutter that budgets of £7K, £10K and £13K are not exactly ‘low’, but I liked the spirit behind these gardens. They were all an average size and showed what you can do with a bit of ambition and a willingness to forgo a traditional lawn.

My favourite was ‘A Compromising Situation’ by Twigs Gardens (above). It wasn’t at all flash or fancy, just a simple layout that broke the garden into sections. It squeezed in two seating areas, a pond, lawns, lots of plants (including wildlife-friendly ones) and a meandering path. Classic design textbook stuff, and perfect for any smallish garden. I’m going to bear this vision in mind when an estate agent next shows me around a house with a small garden that I’m struggling to see the potential of.

Many of the grow-your-own exhibitors had eschewed the ‘harvest festival’ look this year. If I had more space here I’d show you the Garlic Farm stand, which was a delight – garlic and leek flowers mixing with cow parsley etc in a meadowy, billowy mass – or the Seeds of Italy display which took its inspiration from the Italian Alps.

But instead I’ll bring you the Otter Farm stand (above), a ‘forest garden’ created by Mark Diacono. It had a few plants that you might recognise – eg apricots and lemon verbena – and many more unfamilar delights, such as a Szechuan pepper tree (very pretty), Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), the rhubarb-like sweet coltsfoot, (Petasites japonicus var. giganteus) and Japanese ginger (Zingiber mioga, whose name I think Mark might have made up). The stand was original and refreshing and I wanted to buy all of it.

I fell in love with my friend Mark’s garden, A Coral Desert (above), before I realised his company designed it. Cacti and succulents were used to create a ‘coral reef’, housed within a walk-in blue box. I almost expected the plants to wave around gently in the water, that’s how realistic it was. A genius idea that won a Silver Gilt.

Dan Shea, who you last saw on this blog shaking Camilla Parker-Bowles’ hand at the Oranges & Lemons garden for the Chelsea Fringe, designed the ‘Uprising’ garden (above). It was inspired by the riots in Tottenham, where Dan lives. Orange and yellow have most definitely been Dan’s signature colours this year, and late last week he was still driving around the country trying to source flame-coloured plants such as Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ and Asphodeline liburnica (Jacob’s Rod). Luckily he found them, and he won a Silver medal for his efforts.

Last but not least, the prize for ‘best bench’ must surely go to the Edible Bus Stop garden. If the designer, Will Sandy, hasn’t patented the idea already, then he should. It could catch on…