Getting Better All The Time

We’ve been busy, again. Somehow the urge to blog has dwindled but with spring now in full flow the sap is rising both literally and naturally. WoodBlocX contacted us in January to ask if they could interview us for their blog…..read the full story here https://www.woodblocx.co.uk/blog/itv-woodblocx-garden-makeover/

This coincided with a repeat of Big Dreams Small Spaces series two. It was funny to see us building the garden all over again and reminded us how hard we had worked. I have changed jobs since the first showing and so my new colleagues all thought Glenn and I had been secretly working with Monty Don without telling them. They were all equally puzzled that we had got married without telling anyone! They were quite disappointed to discover that it had all taken place three (yes really) years ago.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came late last month when I had a text early one morning from my sister to say did I know we were on Netflix. Probably the most impressive bit of coverage ever. So now we can retire into our garden, happy in the knowledge that we have shared our story with the world several times over.

As I write this from our new conservatory (oooh, I’ve got something else to blog about now), the rain is tipping down onto the garden. Everything is coming up again and some things are already very different from last year. It likes to keep us on our toes. This year’s biggest change is that the 60 tulip bulbs I planted have all disappeared. There are some rather chubby squirrels about though…

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Rambling

November and the sun is shining. Well, to be fair this photo was taken at the weekend so it was technically October but what does a few days matter. One week off work yielded much activity but almost none of it was spent in the garden. We have had the builders round laying the base for a much awaited conservatory so that has dominated our outside time. As you can see the garden has been left to do its thing which I think is to be encouraged. Too much time is spent fussing and worrying plants. Sometimes you just have to let things go for it in their own space and time.

We were given a small cutting of Salvia Hot Lips two years ago when our garden was new. Today it is almost triffid like, not yielding to any amount of pruning, defying us with utterly vigorous regrowth, flowering furiously all year. It has overshadowed the Alchemilla Mollis and the dainty Geum. I have hacked it back three times and this has only encouraged it to grow more bullishly. I intend to be savage once it has finished flowering and have taken some cuttings just in case I finish it off.

The cosmos are raging still and I am cutting four vases of flowers each week. Not bad for a small garden. We haven’t planted any new bulbs this year so it will be interesting to see what comes up in a few month’s time. I am hoping for a field of black and pink tulips but fear squirrel action.

 A couple of weeks ago I picked all the crab apples from the little tree my mother gave me several years ago. I have managed to make one jar of jelly from it each year but this year I have four jars, a bumper crop. There are still some on the tree I didn’t pick them because at the time I was doing battle with a few garden spiders so rather than risk being covered in arachnids, I let the last few fruits stay where they were…for the birds….I tell myself.


The Good Life Gone Wild

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At some point in the spring we found ourselves having the conversation about adding to our empire. We had a great garden that was keeping us busy but not so busy we couldn’t  sit and look at it. We had all the planting planned, seedlings on the go, colour schemes and a succession of bits of gorgeousness waiting in the wings. The greenhouse was full and that may have been the tipping point. The greenhouse was full and we had nowhere to put anything else, at all. All the windowsills in the house were claimed by seed trays. The garden table was a nursery zone. We had nowhere to go, or did we?

So this is how we found ourselves discussing whether we were ready for an allotment. It was surprisingly easy really. Salisbury has many, many allotment sites and we were able to put our names down for one nearest our home. We didn’t have long to wait and within a couple of months we were skulking around our local site inspecting vacant plots, choosing our new piece of land.

In the end we chose Plot 51 purely because it was the least overgrown and had the least amount of rubble, bedsteads, concrete mixers and man traps. Oh and it was the only one with a free shed so we took it.

The very kiIMG_5372nd lady at the council said that we could start working on it straight away so off we went one Wednesday night to survey the land. The great news was that we had to clear it all by hand and it was all grass and thistles. Amazingly in one hour we met both our neighbours and the site warden who gave us some garlic plants and a massive amount of info about the soil and the flooding in the winter. Flooding?

So we set to work. After much plotting and planning about what to do with everything and how to go about it, we decided on the black plastic approach. According to our site warden, Terry, our plot had only been vacant for two years. We could just about make out the remnants of some old beds so we followed one to give us a starting point.

Our aim was to smother as much as we could in plastic and leave it to fester until early spring 2017 whilst cultivating a small bed this year. We had chard, courgettes, beans, chinese cabbage and squashes that needed a home. And then we uncovered a strawberry patch.

IMG_5415Glenn started planning some compost bins and we started ogling all our neighbours to see what they were growing and how. It was pretty impressive. Lots of flowers and fruit and chickens and show stopping soil condition but everyone we passed said hello and chatted and were terribly, terribly friendly. Within a week we had cleared a long lost bed and put in some basic crops. We had sourced a free mini poly tunnel from Gumtree and bought a ton of fantastic black plastic for the larger part of the plot. We weighed it down with junk and rubble we found around the allotment site and asked the warden if we could pillage vacant plots. Yes was the answer so we helped ourselves to a compost bin

There was still an issue of large amounts of grass which we couldn’t cut with shears and our mower is electric. So in a moment of sheer manliness Glenn went and hired a behemoth called a POWER SCYTHE.

Behold the POWER SCYTHE!

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I imagine this would be pretty effective at removing toes. The man at the hire shop persuaded Glenn this would be more demonic than a petrol strimmer and after Glenn had almost popped a vertebrae getting it into the back of the car I think he was in agreement. If you have uneven ground, do not hire one of these. It is very heavy and very unwieldy. Hire a strimmer. Our plot is uneven so this was no mean feat. However, after Glenn had mastered the beast we had well chopped land which was more under control and gave us a great starting point.

Our plan at this point was to grow veg and flowers on the bulk of the plot with an area for fruit down one side. Our layout was still a bit vague and we were going to just live it for a bit and then…..

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We went to the Lavender Farm in the New Forest. I had been there last year plant hunting while we were finishing our garden for the TV series. It was August and the flower meadow was in full cosmos phase. I took Glenn with me this time and after we had eaten cake and drunk coffee we immersed ourselves into wonderland and this is were we had our allotment epiphany.

So many of the species we love and are already growing in our home garden were here in massive amounts and so as we sat on a small bench on a mown path, with flowers up round our ears, we decided to try and create our own version on our allotment. Yeah, who needs potatoes?

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; July Has Busted Out All Over

 

 

Two Shows for the Price of Two – Part 2

IMG_5631Here’s an idea; get hundreds, possibly thousands of people in the gardening business, several huge tents, a load of land, every outside catering van known to man and some show gardens. Add gazillions of people and get them to pay for every step of their day and hey presto, you have an RHS garden show at Hampton Court.

Up until now we had had very little to do with the RHS. By the end of the day we had joined the RHS, had an RHS shopping bag and were marvelling at how much cash they must turnover. This is big business. Following on from Gardener’s World Live, we had made a promise NOT to buy any plants today. How would that pan out I wondered? It was the last day, the big sell off day. All the stands were offering their display plants for sale, 3 for £10, 4 for £10, 5 for £10. It got better as the day went on.

But no, we are made of sterner stuff. That and the fact that I couldn’t find the right shade of Achellia or any corydalis, at all. Instead we made a visual shopping list.

We paced ourselves and took plenty of breaks but eventually our heads hurt from the total overload of colour, beauty and new ideas. Thankfully there were plenty of places to sit down and do some serious people watching.

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We spent some time looking at the concept gardens and discussing their place in a garden show. Glenn was of the opinion that they appeared to have very little to do with horticulture and I had to agree. What they did show was how utterly crazy you can be with some bits of hard landscaping. It was the couture of gardening; horti – couture. Do you see what I did there?

Once we had taken as much conceptual thinking as we could handle for a day we looked around the other show gardens. The front gardens were of particular interest as we had entered a design ourselves back in March. Obviously we didn’t win but we appreciated the variety of the winning gardens which surprisingly had many similar elements to our design. The planting themes for this year certainly seem to be grasses and floaty, delicate dotted flowers in speckled and multicoloured frothing. All very wispy and dreamlike.

By the afternoon we had run out of cash and determined not to pay to withdraw any more we skulked around making sure we had seen everything. We agreed we had seen as much as we could handle and so escaped into the grounds of Hampton Court which in itself was a blissful experience. The sun had come out and we found two deck chairs. Time for some snoozing.

The drive back home was a chance to chat and dissect the ideas we had seen. It had been a wonderful day and one that we would carry with us as we enjoyed a whole year of visiting RHS gardens. We panned to make Wisley our next trip. However, our biggest inspiration for our next major project was to come from an unexpected place.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; The Good Life gone Wild

 

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

 

 

 

 

Opposites

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Relatively corny and predictable in a GCSE Art kind of way. The offering this week on the theme of opposites is Natural and Manmade. Two all time greats giving a relentless bounty. This was taken along our driveway. We actually planted a seed mix we won in a competition which has nobly fought to little avail with the stupendous poppies which came from nowhere and lined themselves up perfectly against the wall. Their huge verdant foliage is fleshy and robust while their rather delicately pathetic flowers cannot cope with a heavy downpour and quickly disappear. The colour of the petals is in competition with the hard red brick but although they weren’t ever meant to be together, they work. Like an ill fated love affair.

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

 

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