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May 2007

April 2007

Garsons – An excellent garden centre just outside London

Garsons500 Yesterday I went with my Mum to buy some shrubs and sweet pea plants at her favourite garden centre. Twenty five years ago Garsons, in Esher, Surrey, started as pick-your-own farm and my parents were early customers. Over the years Garsons have added an excellent farm shop, huge garden centre, a water garden centre and a restaurant and my parents have been regular shoppers. And the place is always changing.

For some years they’ve been building up their range of gifts and this year clothes feature strongly. Their Christmas displays are huge and spectacular and last year they went for Halloween in a big way.

So they’ve developed a range of income streams, to cope with the unpredictablities of selling plants and pick-your-own, while at the same time keeping the quality and price of their plants very competitive. Eight or ten years ago, as Gardening Correspondent of the London Evening Standard, I drove all over London buying plants of Forsythia ‘Lynwood’ to find which garden centre had the best plants at the best price. Garsons came out top – especially impressive with the Royal Horticultural Society’s plant centre at Wisley just a few miles down the road.

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Sculpture in the garden

Rosstoddart500 So often, still, people think that the only sculpture which works in the garden is statuary, traditional sundials, cherubs… – especially in weathered stone. No.

I’ve just returned from the private view of an exhibition of paintings and prints by Alex Calinescu at fermynwoods gallery in Northamptonshire. The large paintings were especially engaging, a blending of the organic and the abstract reminiscent of the work of Andy Goldsworthy.Alexcalinescuimage

And in the gallery’s garden is a piece of sculpture by Ros Stoddart, the gallery owner, which is entirely different from traditional garden sculpture. Determinedly modern in materials and design, you look through it to the distinctly contrasting bullrushes at the edge of the garden pond and rural landscape outside the garden with the field of yellow rape in far distance.

The colour, the smooth clean lines, contrasting with the verdant detail in the grass and the yew hedges and the oak behind, makes a striking impression yet the sculpture is an integral part of the place. Give me this over more bloody cherubs any day!

Flower Show in Cardiff

Cardiffccgarden400 Back in England and my first excursion is to the Royal Horticulutral Society’s flower show in Cardiff (which, for the benefit of American readers, is in South Wales, not in England at all, 150 miles west of London). I’ll be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow – my fellow judges and I begin work at 7am – but this afternoon I had wander round as the exhibitors were putting the finishing touches to their stands.

I’ve not been to this show before but I can tell you it’s well worth a visit. Laid out in an attractive park right alongside the ancient and rather eccentric Cardiff Castle, there are ten delightful outdoor show gardens and, the main attraction, two capacious floral marquees filled with plants of all kinds. There are sixty four exibits in all plus some non-competing nurseries selling even more plants as well as a range of other stands.

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Who Does Your Garden Grow? by Alex Pankhurst

Whodoesyourgardengrow Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow, Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’, rose ‘Madame Hardy’, Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’, rosemary Miss Jessup’s Upright’, Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’… who were these people and how did their names come to be attached to these plants?

Back in 1992 Alex Pankhurst wrote, and published herself, a little book called Who Does Your Garden Grow? I remember seeing the boxes and boxes of copies of this fascinating book about the people behind the names on some of our flowers stacked in her garage in Essex in England. Well, they quickly sold and the book was reprinted twice in its first year, but for some time it’s been unavailable. Now it’s back thanks to a small American publishing house, B. B. Mackey Books.

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The Royal Horticultural Society's PlantFinder

Plantfinder20072008 The new edition of the Royal Horticultural Society’s PlantFinder is now out both in book form and free online.

This is one of the most important horticultural works ever published – and a new edition appears each April. This year it lists over 75,000 plants, with 4,000 new entries in this edition, all with the correct, up-to-date, botanist-verified names. For British and European gardeners primarily (though not exclusively), it also lists which nurseries sell each and every plant.

No serious gardener can be without each annual edition. Need I say more?

In Britain the RHS PlantFinder is available direct from the RHS. It’s also available from I urge you to buy from the RHS as this will more effectively support their work – that is, they make more money that way.

In North America, the RHS PlantFinder has not been available from for some years. You can order it from the RHS, but I’m afraid they'll have to charge you about $15 shipping. But remember, it’s free online.

And perhaps this is the point to say: I enthusiastically commend the Royal Horticultural Society for continuing to make their PlantFinder available online to everyone at no charge. Making such information available free to everyone helps unify plant names – which makes life so much simpler for all gardeners, amateur or professional.


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Gardening in America (and Britain)

Traceyspinkseat500 People often ask me why fewer people garden in the States compared with Britain. There’s just one main factor: the climate.

This was brought home to me yesterday – here in PA we’ve had more than 3in/5cm of rain in the last twenty four hours, other parts of the country have had much more. Some have had snow. Aand we’re now in the second half of April. In one part of the garden the soil is still frozen down below so, because the water can’t drain away, puddles are forming in one border (those poor epimediums, cyclamen and daphne) and all along the side of a raised bed (see picture below).

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Top sellers from Plant Delights Nursery

Colocasiathailandgiant Plant Delights Nursery is one of the best on the country. Founded and run by plantsman and Tony Avent, who peddles strong, often controversial, though well-respected opinion along with his extraordinary plants, Tony’s just sent out a list of his bestselling plants, a Top Thirty for this spring.

There are some great plants on this list – and some I’d never heard of, perhapsClematisstolwijkgold because his mail order catalog never came this year. I’ve pasted in the full list at the end. The top seller is  Colocasia gigantea Thailand Giant Strain, a monstrous and dramatic tropical wonder for warmer areas. It's straight from the wild in Thailand, and much larger than the form usually seen.

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Anger on global warming - off the record

I've had a couple of angry emails - rather than public comments - from American readers about my remarks on global warming. Basically saying it's all a fuss about nothing and why am I supporting the unpatriotic lefty pinkos etc etc.

Well, the recent report was the result of a consensus amongst a large group of scientists - and so, necessarily, rather conservative; they all had to agree, after all.

Then the politicians waded in with the scissors. American political representatives cut this crucial sentence: "North America is expected to experience locally severe economic damage, plus substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption from climate change related events." It could hardly be more clear.

You can download the full report and you can also read this piece on the political and other influences on the science in the report, and in other coverage, from The Guardian.

Next time... back to plants in the garden, perhaps.

Studying natives and invasives

Yuccarecurvifolia500 After sounding off about the plant police yesterday, I’m struck by the contrast between this attitude and a note I came across on the website of the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI). Here, they list six non-native plants and remark that they seem to be “turning up more frequently than expected”. But they don’t get in a panic and warn us to rip them out in case they take over.

The BSBI has a scheme in which expert plant recorders, professional and amateur, regularly send in plant records from observations in the wild all over the British Isles. These are plotted on maps which are updated weekly, one map for each plant, native and non-native, and they’re free available online.

This scheme has been running for over 50 years and the database now contains 3.2 million records! In conjunction with earlier less comprehensive recording going back centuries, it provides an impressively accurate picture of the way in which plants increase their range and decline. That staggeringly impressive book, The New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora, was based on these records. You can access distribution maps for individual plants at the BSBI Maps Scheme website.

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The plant police are on patrol

Phyllostachysaurea400 Spring is upon us (well, most of us: here in PA winter’s back, 20F last night)  and in the plant police as well as in the maples and oaks the sap is rising. There’s been a spring outbreak of outrage amongst the plant police against Time magazine who, in a familiar excess of trivialization, recently published 51 Things We Can Do to Save the Environment. And of course it has to be 51… only 49 or 50 and we’re doomed.

Number 26 “Plant a bamboo fence” recommends exactly that, planting bamboo. “Most homeowners have to restrict its growth, lest it get out of control,” we’re told. “Do this, however, and you reduce bamboo's capacity as a carbon sink. Only large-scale plantings, which absorb CO2 faster than they release it, can favorably tip the scales. How big is your yard?”

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