Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Visit to.....Hanham Court Garden

    


A few weeks ago we trundled off to see agarden that was opening for the National Garden Scheme, which many people in Bristol had told me was a must see. Hanham Court is just outside the city, so we set off, hoping everyone was right.

The most enormous Walnut!!


We arrived and began to wander around the garden, which is very large, and made into very specific areas. Walking along a herbaceous border we found ourselves led into the Orchard area, where the first tree you meet is the most enormous walnut I have ever seen. Wandering through the Orchard is quite wonderful, admiring old, gnarled trees with character and a stunning under planting of meadow. The meadow continues out into the wider landscape, whilst the garden leads you to a dell, with a pool surrounded by Gunnera and a slightly tropical planting that reminded me of the Jungle at Heligan only on a far smaller scale. Leading on from this is a canal, sadly depleted in water but surrounded by flag iris with signs of water lilies although I fear for them in the hot, dry season we are having.

The Dell.



Now it might seem that I am rushing through but I desperately want to speak to you of the treat we found at the end of the tour. Cleverly hidden at the back of the house is an area that at first looks like extraordinary herbaceous borders but then when you look further there are paths, bordered by box hedging, that are in fact, a kind of enormous knot garden. Walking into the area there were several things that absolutely amazed me. Firstly the beds were all buzzing with bees where Nectaroscordum, roses, Paeonias, poppies, irises and more were jostling for space. The planting is, I think, exquisite. Countless varieties of Paeonias and roses fill the areas surrounded by the box and then, hidden in the centre, is a pool and seating area with planting that made us gasp at beauty of it.

The herbaceous border at the front of the huge knot garden.



For me the garden brought together several of my favourite things. A fabulous Orchard, meadow, great herbaceous planting and some extraordinary topiary. It reminded me of several other gardens I really admire but equally has a character specifically of its own. I can recommend it and I am very much looking forward to seeing it as it moves through the seasons.



Topiary-might not be the in thing but I do love it when it's done well!!


The knot, filled with topiary as well as stunning planting and looking over the meadow and to the right, the orchard!

Just one of the many paeonias.


Monday, 26 June 2017

Today's favourite.......my Burgon and Ball Secateurs

So I am going to start this post with a piece of personal information that may surprise you all.......
I am only little!!
5 feet, 1 and three quarter inches if you want an exact measurement.
Even my dear mum was 5 feet two.
And with that littleness goes a ridiculously small pair of feet, (size 2 and a half if you want a real chuckle) and small hands.

I hear you wondering if I have again lost the plot but these are important facts for what I am about to talk about and here's why. Every now and again people berate the fact that people make ladies tools, that surely no one needs them and everyone can manage to use a general sized tool collection but actually no we can't! I need smaller tools to be able to hold them comfortably and be able to use them for any length of time. And if they are attractive at the same time then hooray, although it does annoy me if they are twice the price with a designer label, but that might be more about my budget than anything else!!

 


Anyway a few months ago Burgon and Ball contacted me via Twitter having seen that my prized 20 year old secateurs had "disappeared" and offered to send me a new pair of their Professional Range secateurs and when I saw that they do a smaller size I jumped at the chance. They arrived in a few days in the post and I realised that I had been struggling to use my Felcos and almost every pair I had ever had, because these just perfectly fitted into my somewhat tiny paw. They have been my faithful servants since that moment, both in the garden at home, on the allotment and in various Incredible Edible Bristol gardens across the city, and are still working as if they were new. I have obviously given them the odd clean and oiled them a few times, but they are such a pleasure to use I can hardly believe my luck!!

When I was sent them the lovely folk said they were happy for me just to have them as a gift and that there was no need to blog about them but I feel it's really important to say that for someone with small hands like me they have been a real eye opener and here's why that is important. Many a person in horticulture has issues with thumb joints and often that is around using secateurs for hours a day. From rheumatism to arthritis and all sorts of other nasty issues, using the wrong sized tools is never ideal for the body, and so it is really good to know that there is a business out there really looking to support all gardeners.

There is a link to the secateurs here in case you fancy a look.......

And while you're there take a look at the new Brie Harrison range which I think is beautiful. And I wasn't even asked to say that!!

 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Bear with me whilst I talk about......bus stops!!

Bus stops I hear you ask, quizzically. Some of you will think I have finally lost the plot but bus stops are, in my opinion, a real lost opportunity, and I have been thinking about this for a good while.

In Bristol, with a new bus service on it's way, lots and lots of new and upgraded bus stops have appeared. They take up large amounts of pavements with their perspex walls, Adshel advertising and often LED type advertising that moves through several advertisements in sequence. the colours used are bright and brash and there is a frightening amount of plastic used in them. They might be practical but without a doubt they are far from pretty.

A new Bristol bus stop in all its glory!!

There are several things that bother me about this design. The seating isn't really seating and is more about perching to wait for the bus. Arm rests appear to be in place, which limits the amount of people who can sit here, but more importantly stops anyone from sleeping here. In a city where rough sleeping is an enormous problem, this type of design seems harsh and unkind. Of course I am not suggesting bus stops are an ideal place to sleep, or that anyone should do anything other than access the excellent services for the homeless in the city, but people do slip through the net and there is a problem so let's not make it harder on those who are far more vulnerable than ourselves purposefully.

However, that isn't really my point! My point is that with all the talk we hear of how to make healthy cities, bus stops, street furniture and the practical appliances that make the city run in a better way, ought to be included in the plans for the healthy city. A healthy city needs, of course, a healthy and engaged population, as well as spaces where nature and health can meet and why on earth shouldn't that be a bus stop? Whilst the city is often grid locked and people are often left waiting for buses for far longer than they had planned, why not make that wait as pleasurable as possible? But also why not utilise that space for other things? For example, why not pop a green roof on top of them? Like this great example in Sheffield.....


Not only does can this help to stop any flooding issues around the stop itself, but it automatically adds summer shade and winter insulation. With clever use of planting it could also create a great place for pollinators to feed and although it is never easy keeping a green roof green for 12 months of the year, it can be done with appropriate planting for the city. This stop obviously has electricity running to it, so the installation of a water butt and a simple pump system for irrigating in really hot weather is easily within the bounds of possibility.

Of course along with the green roof it might be ideal to add a solar panel in order that the unit, for that is what town banners would call this, becomes self containing and managing. Most stops would easily hold 2/3 panels and if sheep can graze on grass under the fields of panels in Somerset, it must be possible to put them onto the green roof of a bus stop? The solar panels obviously, not the sheep!!

But could there be more? And could that more be made into best practise so that all authorities can look at their bus stops in a different, healthier or more holistic way? Recently I have been doing a lot of work with a railway line here in Bristol where both flower and vegetable beds are implemented, but where also the train partnership have seen the importance of what we are doing and have added water butts to the platforms. Of course everyones first reaction is the they will be vandalised, which they have not I must add, but shouldn't we stop looking at what might go wrong and concentrate on the positives? 

If you look closely at this to the left there is still an advertising board. 


So let's look at what those positives are.........

Firstly massive community engagement around those spaces and a feeling from the community that people care and are interested in supporting that community. Which in turn means vandalism is unlikely because people are engaged.

Second more beautiful areas of the city, often in spaces that are not known for their greenness or for being places full of anything other than concrete. Bringing nature into these spaces is a vital and welcome change and anyone who has ever planted a flowering lavender in a grey city space, will know just how quickly those bees and pollinators come along. In the Bearpit Garden it was within minutes, quite literally!!

But thirdly, and in my view most importantly, it supports a healthy city, for people, for planet and for ongoing life in general. Standing at a railway station or a bus stop full of flowers, food, the gentle buzz of bees, with birds flying about, has to be better for every single living thing in the city, than standing staring at an LED advertising board that wants you to eat bad burgers or use a particular brand of washing powder. 

Now I know I am, in many folks opinions, a dreamer, but this is only not happening because we allow that corporate ideal that they, who ever they are, are in charge. But who said so? Why can't we demand better and more exciting beginnings and ends to our journeys? Surely making greener and healthier pocket spaces across the city has to be a great way of supporting people to get their hit of nature and persuading folk to use the bus instead of getting into the car? Many of us will be familiar with the green Bus Stop in Norwood, in London, a project installed by the Edible Bus Stop Co, who have gone on to create other pocket green spaces across London, but surely in all seriousness we need these spaces to be designed and installed as the norm by whoever is in charge of installing and maintaining bus stops. Here in Bristol that is the local authority. Now I hear you say, but Sara there is no money to which my response is these stops are costing an enormous amount of cash, with their electric advertising, lights, and constant maintenance following tagging and vandalism issues. Entire paths have to be dug up and relaid, often losing areas of grass as they go, and these are spaces where our children gather. They gather and see adverts for fast food, in areas where obesity is already a burgeoning problem. They see adverts for sweets and cakes in a city where cases of diabetes are rising faster than the NHS can keep up with, and for exotic holidays that they fear they will never be able to afford. Adverts for supermarkets in a city full of fresh, local and affordable food that producers struggle to sell. Need I go on? So let's get these companies sponsoring these spaces properly, and allow them a small, permanent advertisement that just says they gave the money to make this possible. If they really are interested in the health of the nation I would ask why they wouldn't?

Now it's fair to say not every bus stop across the country can look like the Edible Bus Stop, but with a little bit of thought, some local authority by in and some clever technology there is no reason why they couldn't all be greener? If we are really trying to green grey Britain, would' this be a fantastic beginning? What do you think?

The Original Edible Bus Stop.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Today's Favourite........Roses.

Yesterday I went to an event at JW Blooms in Somerset and spent some time wandering around the Flower Field, a beautiful space full of flowers for cutting. There were billowing stands of larkspur, poppies gently swaying in the breeze, calendula and sweet peas growing happily together and then there were the roses.......

Rosa rugosa-the wild rose found in hedgerows and here in Bristol's Bearpit Garden.

Jan, the owner of JW Blooms keeps her roses in a polytunnel that at this time of year is really only a top as the sides are completely removed for good airflow. Because of this the roses are not battered badly by wind and the plants are all clean of debris and disease. I walked around the corner and what hit me before I had even seen the rose tunnel, was the scent of the blooms. It was intoxicating. The heat of the summers day, the stillness of the air and the birdsong and buzzing of the pollinators in this beautiful place just added to the joy of that stunning scent and it was as if I was back in my childhood garden, with my Grandma who was a bit of a rose enthusiast to say the least.

Rosa Ferdinand Pichard, very like the classic Rosa mundi only this one is repeat flowering!


Pulling myself out of my scent induced stupor I spent a good amount of time looking at the roses and wondering at just what a stunning plant they really are. Yes I know they get blackspot and can sulk if you look at them the wrong way, but this year I am really starting to fall back in love with them. whereas as a nurserywoman growing them can cause some stress, fighting off the disease and training the climbers to do what you want rather than what they want, can be a real challenge, but the more I study their blooms, cut them for the house and really get to know their personalities, the more I adore them.

The rose tunnel at JWBlooms!


Whereas once upon a time I adored the rich and dark reds of Dublin Bay and Munster Wood, I am know beginning to adore the paler colours with their more subtle nuances. Gentle Hermione, Claire Austen and my beloved Gertrude Jekyll are now all firm favourites and I can see my own collection will need to expand somewhat.....
The intricate detail of the petals and their pattern......

I always say it's unfair to ask a gardener what their favourite plant of any genus is but with roses I can absolutely tell you so I will. This is proof of the evocative nature of memory mixed with scents and beauty. My Grandma was and always will be one of my greatest garden influencers. The older I get the more I realise that she and I are peas from the very same pod and she adored her roses, of which she had many I know realise, including some stunning standards. And her favourite perfume, after Chanel 5 which was for best, was Yardley's L'aimant. How many of us remember that scent, with it's matching talc and creams? in 1994 to celebrate the rebranding of L'aimant, a stunning rose was bred and released to the public, whose scent was exactly like standing next to my Grandma. It has pinky coral flowers, is repeat flowering and reasonably good at remaining clear of disease if you keep it well fed and watered. It isn't one seen often but it is still produced and when Mum was making her rose garden I bought her 3 all of which flowered in their first season. Just thinking of those roses makes my eyes misty and reminds me I must replace the one I left in the south east.....

So todays favourite is definitely the rose.
Another from JWBlooms!!




Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The City Is My Garden.....

Bloom Fringe is an amazing event that I visited in the first weekend in June. it is the fringe event to Dublin's Bloom Festival, Ireland's premier garden show, and I was invited by the awesome ladies who run the event to spend three days in Dublin, talking visiting awesome community gardens, and generally just to get involved in the event.
On my first day in Dublin, somewhat tired from the journey, I found this piece of street art and it made me really think.........



What does that mean?
Well for me in particular the city is my garden. Supporting gardens and gardening is my thing and is what I do as a volunteer, giving my horticultural knowledge to folk who can use it to improve those lost and unloved spaces that most areas of cities have. Whilst what I do is, of course around creating those community spaces around food and growing, it is also more than that. For me it's a horticultural call to arms. A demand, if that is not too bold a word, for horticulture to be at the centre of the way we care for our cities. A request for good horticultural practices from all the stakeholders and contractors who work within the city. Why on earth shouldn't good planting, tree maintenance and planting, care for our parks and wilder spaces, be at the centre of what we see as a healthy city.
Now I am more than aware that most people think I am somewhat crazy in my thinking but let me explain.
81% of the UK population live in urban areas and that is an ever rising figure. Our cities are becoming full to the brim and it's a frightening scenario, as mental health issues rise and the NHS and others struggle to deal with the rising numbers of people needing support. We are constantly told that we need to get people into nature, but what on earth does that means? As discussed in a previous post, we can hardly bus people out to the countryside every weekend for their dose of nature, so what do we do?
Surely it's obvious? Surely we bring nature into the city? Surely we open the door and allow not just nature, but good horticultural practices into the city and allow people to feel that they have a voice in hat their city looks like?
But what do you mean Sara? Well........
So here in Bristol there are a few things that really get my goat. Over the years pollinator projects have meant that there are a lot of areas planted for pollinators, using a seed mix that was especially formulated for that. Now that project is over, sadly the beds are very poorly, if at all managed, and we see huge swathes of Welsh and Californian poppies that have taken over from the other species sown, peppered with willow herb and other weeds that have come in. They look sad and tatty. Like nobody owns them my grandmother would have said.
We also have some junctions that have been planted as herbaceous borders,. Now this is a wonderful idea and I salute it wholeheartedly, but these borders were planted without any thought for how they might be managed in uncertain times, and now we are in a city that needs to make 101 million pounds worth of savings this year, you can probably imagine the state of these spaces. They are trimmed once a year and wood chip is used as a mulch, which by this point in the year is failing and weeds are appearing through them. Whoever designed the spaces also didn't allow for failures or for some plants being more vivacious shall we say. Phlomis fruiticosa waves in enormous drifts across the city whilst other plants struggle. In some places Peonies have been used and their beautiful blooms fall all over the mulch as they are missing any form of staking and other plants surrounding them have died away.
Bindweed is also a massive issue in all these spaces as they are trimmed yearly, or cut with a brush cutter, that cuts back the bindweed and just makes it's roots stronger so that it very quickly takes over and strangles the rest of the plants in the space.

Wolfe Tone Square in Dublin

Now I realise here I am painting a picture of doom and gloom but of course there is another way. We all know that in days gone by councils parks departments were the way so many now esteemed horticulturalists began in the industry. Today we see, in most towns and cities, the parks teams hugely diminished, if they have survived at all, and hence this entry point is closed, or severely cut. Here in Bristol parks are set to become "budget neutral" and so the parks department has to be 100% self sustaining and so our incredible council nurseries, which we are lucky to still have, have to concentrate on growing plants for other areas in order to make themselves financially viable.
But surely we can change this? With Incredible Edible Bristol we have made gardens in the most unlikely of spaces, concentrating on growing food for sure, but also, and sometimes more importantly, focusing on the change a beautiful garden makes to those most unlikely spaces.
Whilst I was at Bloom Fringe, those fierce organisers of the event took two spaces and changed them with plants, effectively making gardens, all be they temporary spaces, in a car park and in a square in Dublin city centre.
Wolfe Tone Square is, I think, Dublin's equivalent of our Bearpit here in Bristol. A lost, unloved and underused space populated by a community that is in trauma. A space used for drinking, for anti social behaviour and a space avoided by many through fear. The aim of our Bearpit garden, is to support the creation of a more safe and inclusive space, with the addition of food being more of a side line although the vast majority of the plants used are edibles. By turning the space in Wolf Tone Square into a temporary garden, the atmosphere changed dramatically. children played in the mud kitchen, climbed on the copper cow and played chess with a chess master who was one of the spaces usual community. People stood in the space chatting, talking about plants, about gardens and about life. The seating available in the square is set in place and in a line so placing chairs around the space, making it beautiful with plants and grass, albeit fake, made people stop, slow down, take a seat and begin a conversation.
Now for me this is the power of good outdoor design. We cannot change the way our towns and cities have been designed. We certainly cannot change these lost or poorly used spaces but what we can do is put nature and good horticulture into our policies of managing these spaces, turning them from lost and unloved to beautiful, productive and healthy spaces. Investment now into this along with requests to other stakeholders who manage land in our towns and cities, and a change in how we design spaces into the future, will ensure healthier city as we head into the future, and can address not just physical and mental health of people, but also the health of the city itself, using SuDs, green roof and wall technologies, and bringing nature into the city for the health of the city.
So how do we do this?
Well in my experience, we just do it. Organise your community around that space and get on and make that change. Often it can be done for the price of a few seeds and the use of some old furniture that otherwise might end up in landfill. Clear those spaces, add some seats, spread some seeds and see what happens. Bur along with that, lobby your local councillors and ask them to begin to see the areas they support as a garden. Speak to your children schools and clubs. Find those people in your community who can help with gardening, carpentry, crafting skills.
And if you need proof that this works to make more coherent communities, use the examples across the country that are really supporting nature within cities to support the health and well being of both people and place.

Bristol's Bearpit Garden

Monday, 12 June 2017

Today's Favourite.........Nasturtiums


So Nasturtiums.........
What is not to love? They come in every flower colour from deepest crimson to pale tones of creamy yellow. Some of them have mottled leaves, some are green and some are even a bluey tone. They grow really easily from seed, and can be sown in situ and still be relied on to grow. The happily trail over a wall, or live in a hanging basket, asking only for watering and little else.  They are a great plant for those areas where you can see the bare earth and will clamber through other plants, making a border rich with colour. Of course they will also tempt the blackfly away from your roses and tomatoes, and will get going early in the season for companion planting in a polytunnel or glasshouse and be ready long before the traditional tagetes.
But what I love about them most is that in terms of edible plants they are amazingly good doers. The flowers offer their peppery taste to salads and also add that flash of beautiful colour to the bowl of mainly green. It adds a touch of glamour and decadence, and who doesn't like that? of course the leaves also offer a peppery hit to a salad and are not to be treated as second class citizens. In particular is the variety Blue Pepo, a unique variety bred for it's steel blue leaves, which are delicious and add another layer of colour to a summer salad.
And finally of course are the seeds which can be used to make what is known as "poor man's capers". They are delicious and can be used instead of capers in dishes and are amazingly simple to make. Below is the recipe from the River Cottage Preserved book, which has been my go to recipe book for all things pickled and preserved for many a year!!


Ingredients
15g salt
100g nasturtium seed pods
A few peppercorns (optional - I used them)
Herbs, such as dill or tarragon sprigs, or bay leaves (optional - I used bay leaves)
200ml white wine vinegar


Method
  1. Make a light brine by dissolving the salt in 300ml water 
  2. Separate out the seeds from any stalks or other plant parts and compost the latter. Also discard any seeds which are yellow or brown, these won't be tender and flavoursome after pickling
  3. Put the remaining seeds into a bowl and cover with the cold brine. Leave for 24 hours
  4. Drain the seed pods and dry well
  5. Pack them into small, sterilised jars with the peppercorns and herbs, if using, and leaving 1cm at the top so the vinegar will cover the seeds well
  6. Cover the seeds with vinegar and seal the jars with sterilised vinegar-proof lids
  7. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating. Use within a year.
Makes 2 x 115g jars. 


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Today's Favourite..........Bloom Fringe

I just got home from a weekend at Bloom Fringe in Dublin and I have to say I am reinvigorated and ready to really push change through good use of public realm land and through supporting people in that change!
Bloom Fringe is run by 3 fierce ladies, Esther, Marion and Roisin, all of whom completely understand the notion that if you make a space useable, beautiful, safe and accessible, people will use that space. 
 
It isn't rocket science. 
Some good planting. 
Somewhere to sit. 
A few activities. 
Something to occupy the kids. 
An easy learning opportunity.
 

Bloom Fringe made that happen in 2 spaces one the weekend and what a change we saw happen, before our very eyes......
From lost, unloved spaces came beauty and from that beauty came productivity and life. 
Children playing in soil. 
People talking about the plants that were there to give away. 
People playing and learning to play chess.
Communities meeting and connecting. 
Smiles, laughter and happiness.......
 

There is a lot more to say and that will come but what I brought away was hope. Hope for a new way. Hope for change. 
Hope for a future that puts kindness at it's centre. 
Hope that we can see a future where prosperity is measured in more than money.
The power of small actions at work.
Incredible.