Autumn

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The benefit of having designed a garden to reach it’s peak during October is that every Autumn it is in full bloom and we are over run with stunning colour begging to be picked.

When we decided to overhaul the bare patch we inherited we didn’t really think about the seasons and flowers or colour schemes or anything really. Other than the fact we needed to be able to walk down it without breaking our necks.

Being on TV gave us a focus and that fact we got married in October meant that we had to aim for something. So quite quickly we planned flowers that would still be going strong as the big day loomed. We also discovered that late sowing of annuals yielded late colour thanks to consistent dead heading or actually, live heading. So we combined two gardens into one. A cutting garden which gave us a lot of blooms for the house throughout the summer but also a prolonged flowering season thanks to forcing plants to keep making flowers and a herbaceous border with an established feel.

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This year, our second season, has seen us popping outside to be blown away by the riot of colour. Our garden is quite sheltered so unaffected by wind and rain and cold snaps. The dahlias, salvias, fuchsia, verbena, roses, cosmos are still going strong. We still have plenty of alpine strawberries and nasturtiums. Oranges and reds are predominant colours as are the purples and whites in the bottom bed. Separating the colours has proved even more impressive year on year. The hot colours in the top bed, catching the sun and burning bright whilst the blues, violets, soft pinks and whites glow in the shade of the neighbouring trees.

Next year we are focusing on the woodland area at the base of the garden and finally, the conservatory we have planned and longed for is looking like happening so we can sit and gaze at the glory of it all.

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April Fools

So here we are on the first of April and it’s a weekend and we are both at home. Somehow does not seemed to have happened for along time and if you also throw in some fiendishly good weather you have everything for a great start to the day. People have been asking us how our garden is a lot recently. Our stock answer for the past couple of months has been that it isn’t doing much and there isn’t a lot to see. However, a couple of hours out there today has proved us both wrong. There is a lot happening.

At first glance there is a lot of bare soil but the tulips have popped up, albeit very sparsely. I seem to remember planting hundreds and hundreds of bulbs. Gradually everything is coming back, the geraniums, the verbena, alliums, reum, gaura, geum all making their way back into our lives. In addition the roses are in glossy leaf and the wallflowers Glenn grew from seed are so bushy and perfumed you never would have thought it possible. I am heartened that a few things I thought were dead are showing me they most certainly are not. We gave everything a mulch last month which has helped to keep things looking neat and cushioned against a cold night. The woodland area at the bottom of the garden still needs work and despite lots of primroses, anemones, hellebores, primulas and snowdrops, there is still space for them all to stretch out and be wild.


Our favourite spot, the boat seat, is back in action too now that it’s warm enough to be able to sit outside and have a cup of tea and stare at the world. The plum tree has more blossom on it than last year but it’s growing in a really bad place, right in the shadow of the sycamore and will never give us the glut of fruit we want. Right now it’s smothered which is promising but we both know it’s all for show.
So we are back in the swing of it, weeding, seed sowing, moving things, planning things, cutting things but mostly sitting and looking at it which was the plan all a long really. And all the while in the back of our minds is…….the allotment.

Two Shows for the Price of Two – Part 1

IMG_5614We had promised ourselves some garden treats this year and so after much shopping on the internet and even more diarising, we decided on two trips to garden shows. For some reason Chelsea still escapes us. I think the timing just doesn’t sit easily with our work commitments. Dear RHS, please could you move it into half term?

We started off with Gardener’s World Live at the NEC in Birmingham. It was our first event of this kind together, another first. A swift getaway on a Saturday morning in June, sausage sandwiches and a flask of tea in the car on our way up the M40 saw us in a breezy Birmingham at 8.30am. Well, it’s always best to be early. I don’t know about you but I always get theme park-itis on days like this, you want to see everything, in one day but have no idea where to start. However, we had a map and a growing bag of freebies. Getting a coffee and a planning session was our priority.

OK, Good Food Show first; we stormed in, realised no one was up and running with the free samples, marched out and went into the gardening hall to gaze at massively pricey but beautiful, powder coated greenhouses, dumpy fairy tale summer houses, seeds, tools, wellies and everything gadgety. We wandered towards the food and entered a twilight zone of stalls which offered bizarre exercise options, jewellery to make your eyes hurt, scarves, wind chimes and face cream. Yes, face cream. A man offered us a sample ‘for the bags under your eyes’. Great sales pitch. I don’t have eye bags, don’t address my eye bags. Anyway, I took up his offer, just in case I ever do get eye bags. How did that feel? Can I feel a tightening? ‘No’, I reply, ‘I can feel it stinging’ ‘Oh,’ says man ‘You have to suffer to look beautiful….how would you like to pay, cash or card?’ ‘Neither thanks, it stings.’ We leave.

A swift graze around the food. It seems every independent food retailer in Britain is making either sausages, fudge, cheese, gin or flavoured vodka. We collected many free samples including much toothpaste and then head out to tackle the plants. The floral marquee was wondrous, we bought some bunny tail grass, ultra cute and some carnivorous plants, less cute. We also picked up a Streptocarpus ‘Falling Stars’ from Dibleys and a pretty Briza Media. By now we were flagging but there was very limited seating. If you ever plan on going either take your own seat, share a seat with a stranger or be prepared to flop down on the grass which could be mud dependant on the weather. It was all we could do to lick an ice-cream. Dear NEC, please can you put out some more chairs?

The afternoon whizzed by in a flurry of ogling show gardens (not as many as we hoped for), lots of stalls selling many many plants and sculptural objects. I succumbed to a three for £10 offer and we took home a pretty Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’, a wonderful Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ and a Salvia ‘Amistad’. I have a growing obsession for umbellifers and the dark stems of this variety of Queen Anne’s Lace set off the pinkish flower heads so sweetly. The saliva replaced two magnificent plants we had right up until the first frost last December. I vow to take cuttings this year.

At 3.30 we admitted defeat and returned home to plant up and regroup before RHS Hampton Court. Oh yes, we were messing with the big boys now.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; Two Shows for the Price of Two – Part 2

Actual, Proper, Real Gardening

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We had come through the winter with not a great deal happening in the garden. We had a couple of months to enjoy being newly weds so we did just that. We had also plotted and schemed, pouring over catalogues and bought many packets of seeds in readiness for a full growing season which we hoped to stretch out as long as possible based on our new found knowledge. Our colour scheme was going to remain for a second year and having planted hundreds of bulbs which we bought on honeymoon in the Lake District, we were anticipatory for spring.

Following the showing of our episode of Big Dreams, Small Spaces we were asked to give a series of talks on how we made our garden and our involvement with the BBC and Monty Don. March saw us in our own gazebo in Salisbury Market Square at the Homes and Gardens Show. We had a wonderful day, met some lovely people and had a free pizza. What’s not to like?!IMG_5072

Oddly enough, most of the members of the great British public who we spoke to were convinced were were garden designers which gave us plenty to think about and talk about. Could we? Should we? How on earth would that even work out if we did?

Totally non-plussed but enthused with all things garden we got back to work at home. There was so much to do and the first thing we needed to get sorted was chopping back the overhanging trees at the bottom of our plot.image1

Sadly we do not own the trees but there is enough branching out over us that we can get them hacked back. They are an Ash and a Sycamore, both late coming into leaf and quick to lose them again in the Autumn so as trees go, it’s a pretty good combination.

And while that was going on the garden came into life. To be honest, the planned swathe of daffodils never happened. Slugs, squirrels, too wet, planted too late, R in the month, sheer bad luck. Who knows the reason but the pink and black tulip ocean I had planned didn’t really take off either. However, all was forgiven by the appearance of the alliums. They started in April and some are still coming into bloom as I type this in July. Utter value for money. We planted five different varieties and they vary hugely in size but are all either purple, blue or white. I cannot remember their names but we love them all equally and the seed heads are just as perfect and delightful against the roses which are now in full bosomy bluster.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; Two Shows for the Price of Two

 

 

 

 

Our Big Dream Just Got Bigger

IMG_4881I am not sure how we managed to keep ourselves busy on the day in February our episode went out but we lasted until the evening. A week earlier we had received an email saying that our episode would be the first in the new series and then it occurred to us that we might be in the Radio Times. THE RADIO TIMES! The actual Radio Times, bible of the TV watcher. For us that was enough, we found ourselves in print. It snowballed from there. We had an email from Lion TV asking for photos for a Daily Mail article. Glenn’s mum rang us to say she had seen our photo in The Times and before we knew it we were standing in our local Co-op rummaging through every newspaper, laughing at all our photos and reviews.

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Our worst fear was that we would be pilloried but thankfully we weren’t. No sarcastic comments, nothing. This filled us with relief as it meant the programme must be ok. If the preview copy had passed the critics’  judgement then we were possibly safe.

So to while away the hours and hours and hours we read the papers and did some light gardening, what else? I sorted out a mass of seeds I had collected back in the Autumn. I had no idea what they were but my intention was to set up a small seed lab on the kitchen window and see what grew. The way they had been collected was something between a jumble sale frenzy and a trolly dash. Most ended up in the bottom of my handbag but after a while all order was restored.

We needed food and drink so this also took up some time. I seem to remember we had IMG_4879drunk all the wine before kick off so we just had all the food to feverishly nibble on as we watched ourselves moving and HEARD ourselves speaking. Oh my lord, if this ever happens to you prepare yourselves for the fact that the people you are looking at and hearing are not the same as the people you think you are – at all.

We were inundated with phone calls, emails, texts, tweets and amongst it all there we were slightly dazed and pretty smiley. Phew! Rather wonderfully we had made contact with some of the other gardeners on the series and some serious messaging was taking place. Up until now we had only a few comments from the film crew to go by. It seemed really odd that there were many other people out there who had had the same experience as us as yet we knew nothing about them. It was so lovely to be finally able to freely discuss all that had happened. Solidarity in horticulture.

WoodblocX got rather excited by the coverage as you can see below and all of a sudden we found ourselves the inadvertent advocates of their products. Happy to oblige, we were overwhelmed by a beautiful (and very alcoholic) package that arrived from Scotland courtesy of Woodblocx. We could get used to this.

So there you have it, full circle. We had been booked to give some talks and had the spring to look forward to. We had so much positivity to keep us going and so much growing in the garden to look forward to. Our garden was just starting to come back to life and we had loads to be getting on with.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; Actual, Proper, Real Gardening

A Marriage Made in Salisbury

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The dust had settled on our garden after the frenzy of filming and all the excitement of working to a tight schedule. Of course, we had another deadline to meet, October 24, our wedding day. It had started out as a rather cavalier claim by Glenn that it would be nice to have something from the garden on the table at our reception but we now found ourselves in an unexpected position. It was September and the garden was looking incredible. Neither of us had ever experienced this before and we realised that not only would we have our own flowers on the table but I would be able to make bouquets for myself and my daughters and Glenn and his children would have buttonholes. Timing was tight but we fed, watered and dead headed often and things were looking very, very healthy.

In a way it was a shame that our reveal day hadn’t been a month later as the garden really settled into itself. The rudbeckia went mad as did the nasturtiums. Roses bloomed, asters finally did their thing. The calendula took hold and the euphorbia and pelargonium from Sarah Raven did us proud. There were some surprises too, sweet peas in October and thankfully the very late sown cerinthe came into flower the week before the wedding.

My plan was to cut all the flowers we needed two days before, in the evening. I had to condition everything and then plunge the lot into water to have a long, cool drink. There were buckets and vases everywhere. The table decorations were made two days before as they were delivered to our venue in advance, crossing my fingers that it didn’t all wilt. The bouquets were tied the night before and given their final ribbon hand holds on the morning whilst I stuffed a croissant down me, waiting for my rollers to take hold.

The crazy thing was that despite us cutting all the flowers for our big day, the garden looked untouched. As if it had happily yielded as much as we needed and then filled in all the gaps. We wandered around every night after work, in the dark sometimes, just breathing it all in. It grew and wouldn’t give up. All the digging, weeding, soil improving, feeding, dead heading, staking, caterpillar ‘removal’, snail ‘cleansing’ was paying off and mercifully, no frosts. This was the best bit. This was better than anything we had ever done.

October 24 was here. Glenn had spent the night before away from home with his family, my family had arrived and we had eaten, drunk, laughed and danced. And now the hairdresser was here and I was fiddling with flowers in the kitchen and getting ready to get married. Glenn had taken the buttonholes with him with instructions to keep them in water and before we knew it, it was time.

Ever since Glenn had proposed to me in Salisbury cathedral, in the chapel of St Edmund, with a ring he bought from the gift shop, we had been looking forward to this day. We had planned a very quiet, very personal day and as exciting as it was, I for one was super calm. No nerves, just huge joy and certainty that I was marrying one heck of a man. Oh and that we had some pretty damn beautiful flowers too. So sit back and enjoy some floral highlights.

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So there we are, married and off on honeymoon to a surprise location which turned out to be the Lake District, staying at The Belsfield Hotel which is code for WOW. We did of course manage to buy a car load of bulbs which strictly speaking were a little late for going into the ground but what the heck, everything we had planted this year had been late and yet had turned out fine in the end.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea;  Our Big Dream Just Got Bigger

 

Glenn & Zoe Reveal It All – On Camera

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It is possible that what we were looking forward to most of all was the chance of getting our sleep patterns back to some form of normality. The night before the reveal day for us for example, was probably more how Christmas Eve feels for a six year old. We were thrilled, full of anticipation, happy, proud, curious, full of lists of small jobs to be done in the morning. My parents and the film crew had come over the day before. Their reaction had been more than enough for both of us. We felt surprisingly impressed. Even though we had witnessed every shovel load of soil that had been moved in that garden, it took other people’s comments to bring it home. They were swearingly complimentary. Quite right too, it looked fantastic.

The basic running order of the day was thus; we get up very early and faff around the house and garden, the film crew arrive and set up, they chat to us and film us, Monty arrives, we film his first impression – many times. Our guests arrive, we film their reaction – many times. We have cake and champagne and speeches – many times. Monty grabs slice of cake, kisses us goodbye, dashes off to next garden. Crew pack up and go, guests filter off, the end.

Monty was charm itself, as ever. Full of compliments and very keen to know how on earth we had finished on time. He spoke generously with our guests and discussed the finer points of champagne versus prosecco. Our family and friends were perfectly behaved, despite my dad getting in the way of the filming with his enthusiastic photo taking. It all felt a bit flat after everyone had gone. So that was it, see you around sometime, that whole ‘keep in touch’ promise that you know is well meant but unlikely. The date for the series to go out was in the air, changing all the time so we would just get on with life and not worry too much about it.

IMG_4943But without wishing to sound too romantic, it wasn’t the end, it really was just the beginning. We had something we had made together, something we had never thought we would or could do. A garden which would never have happened had we not met Monty Don or Sarah Raven. For all the utter excitement of being involved with a TV series we were left with two things, a beautiful garden which was set to grow with us and a new found passion for gardening, together.

Of course we also had a wedding to finalise and focus on. The driving force for the planting had been the flowers for October 24th. Now all we had to do was tend and encourage our stock to burgeon, despite the onset of Autumn. We had initially thought table decorations only but we expanded to bride’s bouquet and now it was looking as though we could cater for the whole shebang. Oh and could Lion TV have some wedding photos please.

 

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea;   A Marriage Made in Salisbury

The Big Push

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There is nothing like a deadline to get you seriously in gear. Don’t get us wrong, we had worked on the garden every single day. We had discussed it at every opportunity, planned, shopped, researched and yet somehow it all went into overdrive. There was still a lot to do, several little spaces that had gone un-loved in the grand terrace building. So we swiftly built;

  • a dry stone retaining wall (pictured above)
  • a floating deck/viewing platform
  • a paved seating area
  • a rubble filled gabion which cunningly doubled up as a seat
  • a small seating area at the top of the garden
  • a sink garden
  • a stone sculpture

All of which were made with existing materials apart from the floating deck which we made with reclaimed scaffold boards. Smug? You bet. When we started this project we didn’t think we had anything to work with in the garden and neither did Monty. We were partly right but we didn’t have to look far for plenty of materials which we could reuse.

And so to plant. Lots had gone in already and we had been feeding everything like mad. Guess what? It works. The tiny specimens we had planted were now romping away thanks to the blue powdery stuff we were watering on in large doses. We had also imported a lot of very juicy compost courtesy of the council. Having bought many bags of organic compost from garden centres we had found that our local council sells their own compost for £1 a bag. All you need are the bags and a shovel. It made a considerable difference to the beds and they continue to be rich and most importantly, easy to dig.

We were fortunate in that by now, every plant shop in the area was trying to get rid of stock and we were trying to fill in the gaps. Lots and lots of bargain plants found their way into our garden. The seeds we had sown were doing well but we lost quite a lot due to either not having the space for them to grow enough at the right time or in the case of the sweet peas, just not had much love despite Monty forcing me to pinch them out. This year I have planted three times the amount in an attempt to prove I can nurture them into long blooming loveliness.

Oh yes and then we had to accommodate everyone for the reveal day, which was in effect two days. We had family arriving from afar, we had friends who had helped in the garden with Monty. We had a larger film crew than usual and they came the day before to film all the quiet bits. So a lot of cake was needed and biscuits and more cake and cups of tea and champagne. It was feeling like a wedding already.

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Next time on Sowing Growing and Cups of Tea; Glenn & Zoe Reveal It All – On Camera

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like a Garden

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Several factors were helping us through July; the WoodBlocx were giving our garden structure and we could finally see our plans becoming a reality; the advice from Sarah Raven meant we could push on with sowing seeds and buying plants; Lion TV who kept in close contact and were now pushing for a finish date and our friends and family who were all good listeners as we rambled on and on about what we had done so far.

The weather was also on our side. I am pretty sure we only lost three days due to rain which was a huge bonus. With the ground so exposed, all would have become a bit Amazonian had we had a downpour. Glenn was a complete devotee of all things wood and every angle and level was checked and double checked. The WoodBlocx were turning out far better than we had imagined. We had designed the layout and it had all been delivered with very clear instructions. We did have to make a few adjustments which took into account the gradient and the height we had estimated. We hadn’t considered just how much soil we would need to remove in order to build our terraces and at one point it was easier to adjust the WoodBlocx than dig down yet further.

This meant we had something I adore, leftovers. Glenn is a creative type with an engineering background and one morning he announced he was making steps and making them out of WoodBlocx and not only that we had enough leftovers to make an entire run the length of the garden. Hip hoorah! It is possible that this next part was harder than building the terraces but it happened and they work and they are as sturdy as anything.

The best part for me was that each WoodBlocx section has predrilled holes. They needed filling. We considered lights but time was against us. What luck, more leftovers to the rescue in the form of small blue glass containers which my sister had given me. They happened to fit exactly into the holes. More cheering! We were able to reuse some cobbles from another part of the garden to fill in one side of the steps. Things were coming together nicely.

Now all we needed were plants, lots and lots of plants. Our plan was to have a colour theme in each bed, hot colours at the top in the sunshine. Cooler colours half way down in the dappled shade and a woodland area at the bottom which would naturalise over time and run wild (ish). Monty had suggested limiting the number of varieties we used and we could see the sense in this but it is the hardest thing to do when faced with oceans of beautiful plants to choose from. I am not sure we limited ourselves that much in the end.

We shopped every garden centre and nursery in the area but our top favourites are

  • Wilton Garden Centre
  • Haskins Garden Centre
  • Wyevale Garden Centre
  • Stewarts Garden Centre
  • New Forest Lavender Farm
  • Courtens Garden Centre
  • Longstock Nursery
  • Gilberts Nursery

Also great for unexpected purchases were Tesco, Lidl, B&Q and Waitrose which yielded fabulous end of season bargains. The last week in July saw us prowling these places with a plant hungry look in our eye and a serious shopping list.

Longstock Nursery, probably the poshest plant place in the world.

New Forest Lavender Farm, meadow and a lavender cream tea

Then all of a sudden it was August and we had two weeks left until the film crew were coming back with Monty for the big reveal. Could we assemble a group of friends please, some refreshments and could I make a wedding cake?

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; The Big Push

 

A Floral Fantasy

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Perch Hill in Sussex is the home and empire of the divine Sarah Raven. Rather glamorously we met her just after we had been to the loo. It was a long long way to her place from ours.

The first thing she asked us what which colours we wanted in our wedding flowers. Totally thrown as we hadn’t even thought about this up until now,  we suggested purples and blues and off she went. Our job today was to film a section for our episode which involved us getting ‘inspiration’ for our own garden. The film crew had kept our day out as a secret but we had worked it out and had been secretly thrilled for weeks. Sarah Raven has been a gardening icon for me personally for many years. She was the main reason I got an allotment, to grow cut flowers. I was envious of her lifestyle as it appeared to me, wafting around fields of pretty flowers picking them for the house. Of course, Sarah Raven the business is a different matter. However, we were charmed and delighted and simply blown away by her home and gardens. She generously chatted to us despite having several other commitments that day and was ultimately calm and cheerful.

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We filmed all day, we talked flowers, annuals, choosing things to grow, pinching out cosmos. Firstly we were amazed by what she had to tell us about growing annuals. We honestly thought we had missed the boat for October as it was now late June. Not at all; big piece of news is you can sow seed anytime you like, just work backwards from when you want the flowers. This revelation meant we had a whole world of varieties to choose from which would just about make it to the first frosts. Sarah gave us a list and we scrabbled to remember it all. Second huge revelation is the more you pick annuals, the more you get. Again, we felt like floral dunces but so happy to realise that our wedding would be colourful and vibrant not seed head city.

We filmed some varieties that Sarah had picked for us based on our colour choices and then we were whisked into her greenhouse, well, green palace really. And then, Sarah Raven showed us how to tie the perfect bouquet. First she did it, perfectly, then she took it all apart and I had a go, almost perfectly. It was a real confidence boost. The varieties we used were; euphorbia oblongata; rose Rhapsody in Blue; penstemon Heavenly Blue; geranium Attar of Roses; salvia Amistad and cerinthe.

Then, Sarah Raven MADE US A CUP OF TEA. Well, she probably asked someone else to make it but she went and got it. So we stood around, drinking tea, looking at the beautiful view, watching the film crew fussing over shots and just soaking it all up in all its perfectness.

We had the most delicious picnic lunch sitting on Sarah’s lawn, talking and laughing with the crew and spent the rest of the afternoon filming more plant know how. We were given a tray of amazing plants to take home with us, the euphorbia and the stunningly scented geranium, enough to get us started. Both are still going strong in the garden, the euphorbia is superb and is the backbone of all my bouquets and the geranium has overwintered well in the greenhouse smelling stupendous.

We had a lovely chat with Sarah’s husband Adam Nicholson who asked after ‘Montague’ and asked us to pass on his best. We said we would of course. It wasn’t until we were well on our way home we realised who Adam Nicolson is (historian, Sackville-West stock, so well connected it’s painful).

However, we were empowered. Despite the chaos at home, we had plants to grow, flowers to find and a real structure to our garden as far as planting went. The bouquet we made was so beautiful we decided to use all the varieties in our garden and work around them. We needed to get on with making the beds so we could get some annuals on the go, and fast.

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Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; It’s Beginning to Feel A Lot Like a Garden