28 Jun 2015

Still GROWing ...

More loveliness that caught my attention!
Top: Thomas Broom in action; watering cans à la mode; natural brush and pan
Middle: Ash wall planter (using wood from Ash dieback felled trees); Erigeron planter; Ash wall planters
Bottom: Succulents; Oak swing seats from Green Oak Furniture; Rabbit cushion (Thornback&Peel)


At the risk of over-egging the pudding, I've got to reiterate what an utterly brilliant time I had at the Grow London show last weekend. I chatted to design gods of the gardening world, Cleve West and Tom Stuart-Smith, quaffed some very nice wine, learned which flowers will make an edible bouquet, had my head filled with so many good ideas, watched how to make a delicious nasturtium pesto which I sampled over a huge tomato and an edible flower salad and then came home with a car boot full of beautiful plants.

Purchased plants! (Hosta flowers are  top right corner; bright pink Bletilla is centre.)

I'd just finished cataloguing all the plants I'd bought at the show and was back indoors when the heavens opened and rain poured down. Win:win - I was dry, the plants were watered.  The plants will live outside until I can plant them at the end of the week; they're destined for a client's part shady garden. I can't tell you how much joy I've had researching and choosing plants without spending any of my own money.  Beauty without penury - bliss.  I've been smiling all week.

I thought the real bonus of the show was the talks and demonstrations. I cherry-picked the ones of special interest to me - Cleve West talking about healing gardens, referencing his past work, specifically Horatio's Garden in Salisbury which he designed for patients with spinal injuries. Thomas Broom, the highly respected florist and Horticultural Manager at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, was another must see. He was putting together a bouquet made up entirely of edible flowers. Definitely one not to miss! Many anecdotes were told and tips given as he worked. He made it look so easy and yet the result was masterful and beautiful. (There will be a short follow up post soon on this subject.)

Thomas and the finished bouquet

I also dipped into Helen Yemm's talk about problems in the garden but the thought of plant shopping was distracting me.  Sooooo many gorgeous plants!  This is one of the brilliant things about attending a show like this - the growers are there to advise you so there's no guesswork - you tell them the site and situation of the planting area and suggestions are made. Looking at the size and condition of the plants, you know exactly what you're buying - something you don't get with mail order.  The nurseries at the show were all specialists, offering plants that you're unlikely to come across in your local garden centre. I came home with my car boot stuffed with Astrantia 'Roma', Adiantum and Dryopteris ferns, an Abutilon vitifolium, Astilbes and Aruncus, Penstemons, Lavatera maritima, Bletilla striata and an Anemonopsis macrophylla. Whaaat? It took me a good half hour just to learn how to say it! The must-have plant though is Hosta rectifolia, a Japanese woodland plant said to be able to withstand slug onslaught - I was more than slightly sceptical but I'll be happy to be proved wrong. It's a pretty little thing, with long slender ribbed leaves and purpley-pink flowers so I hope it makes it. Wool pellets and gravel at the ready.


Damian's pesto and salad demonstration

Shall we have one last mention of the edible flowers cookery demonstration from Petersham Nurseries?Petersham restaurant's Head Chef, no less, Damien Clisby, showed us the ease of making a pesto from nasturtium leaves. Tiny baby leaves, a pinch of salt, some excellent flavoursome olive oil, some parmesan and pine nuts.  Ground together with pestle and mortar and spooned over a huge beefsteak tomato. It was stunningly delicious. A salad of thinly sliced raw beetroot, broad beans, radish, leaves, pea shoots and coriander was dressed with olive oil and lemon - and a complete lack of vinegar. That guy really knows how to make fresh food sing. It was sublime. Sadly the prices at Petersham's restaurant are way beyond my budget but I can take inspiration from this demo and look with fresh eyes and interest at the food growing in my garden. More of which in my next post … :o)


My unusual plants came from Evolution Plants, a nursery I was very impressed with and would say is well worth visiting online or in person. A few more of my plants came from Glendon Plant Nursery and Hardy's Plants.



19 Jun 2015

GROW London: All the fun of the Fair!

Peony 'Vision of Sugar Plums' on Evolution Plants stand

Yesterday's weather was gorgeous - clear blue skies with just enough breeze to keep things from getting overheated - and what better way to end such a day than with a glass of chilled sparkling wine courtesy of a visit to London's own garden show, GROW London. The show officially opens today, Friday, but kicked off on Thursday night with a garden party charity evening in aid of NGS (National Gardens Scheme).

It was lovely to bump into old friends - and be introduced to new ones - but I didn't spend the entire evening schmoozing. I was there in my blogger/press guise so as I wandered the vast showroom, I took note of the exquisite products displayed and stopped to chat to a few of the exhibitors. As usual, I was too busy asking questions and not taking enough photos (something that I'll remedy later today) but here's a sample of what crossed my path …

Top: Corten steel fire pit from The Pot Co; NordEco chairs.
Middle: Julia Clarke willow nest in Hardy Plant garden; pots and cubes from The Pot Co.
Bottom: Niwaki pruners and garden scissors; Barbed hosereel

Niwaki Japanese garden and kitchen tools. Jake Hobson, master of the art of cloud pruning, kindly chatted to me for several minutes about living in Japan and learning his craft.

The Green Wood Guild. Demonstrations and workshops in carving spoons and plant markers. I might even have a go myself.

Hardy Cottage Garden Plants. Setting the standard for herbaceous perennials - they won a Gold at Chelsea for their display; their space for GROW is another stunner. Plants and seeds available at the show. I swore I wouldn't buy more plants but a plant I have long lusted after (Eryngium 'Neptune's Gold') came home with me. :o)

The Posh Shed company - Bespoke sheds and a very enticing child's gypsy caravan to be won!

Gardenista were there with their pop up shop offering a tempting array of beautiful objects for home and garden. (And lovely to chat to Christine Chang Hanway again after her talk last year.)

Julia Clarke willow sculptures - not exhibiting but on display at the Hardy Plant garden space. I think/hope that I may have persuaded Julia to offer willow weaving workshops at her Crouch End studio next spring.

The Pot Company - pits, pots and shelving. Stunning - and useful - corten steel fire pits.

Architectural Heritage - Cast iron gates don't do it for me but their zinc (?) planters stole my heart. Especially when planted up with Sanguisorba, so so beautiful.

NordEco. Beautifully crafted wooden chairs. I was tempted to sit but wasn't sure I'd want to stand up again.

Barbed.  Contemporary and fun outdoor furniture including these bling bling hosepipes in shades of gold, silver and Barbie pink and a rather fetching red metal bench with matching pooch. I could definitely visualise that bench in a modern urban garden. *makes mental note*

Top: The Green Wood Guild's carvings; Child's gypsy caravan from The Posh Shed Co.
Middle: Barbed red bench and friend; Barbed barbie pink hosereel.
Bottom:  Eryngium from Hardy Plants; Architectural Heritage planters.


For household artefacts, Maud and Mabel's exhibits were breathtakingly beautiful. Exquisite artisan ceramics from their Hampstead craft space but, sadly, beyond my budget. Doesn't stop me wanting them though. Instead I'll treasure the tiny ceramic star included on the raffia wrapped around their press handouts.

All Maud and Mabel's objects of desire.


But there was so much more than this little taster. I'm going back today (on another complimentary pass as I'm on the GROW mailing list, sign up and be prepared for next year) specifically to look at the nursery exhibitors Crugfarmplants, Boma (my local garden centre), Evolution plants, Hortus Loci, Hardy Plants, to get plant advice from the Society of Garden Designers and Mark Gardner (the fair founder's own gardener!) and to take in a couple of the talks - notably Thomas Broome on creating an edible bouquet.

I had a definite impression of the show building on last year's success.  This is only its second year but the exhibitors and speakers are top notch. Talks go on over the three days of the show with speakers including Cleve West (The Healing Garden), Fergus Garrett (Designing with plants), Sarah Raven, Mark Diacono, Laetitia Maklouf, Helen Yemm and Mark Risdill-Smith who used to live round the corner from me.  Nice chap and nice to see him doing well.

This is definitely a show not to be missed and I predict will go on getting better.

GROW London is on this weekend, Friday 19th to Sunday 21st. Open from 11 am - 6pm.

17 May 2015

In search of elders



It's that time of year again when the race is on to see who can get to the elderflowers first. I spotted promising looking buds three days ago so, waking up ridiculously early yesterday, I instantly put foraging at the top of the day's agenda. I suspected there would only be a few flower heads but I was on the Heath by 7.00 a.m., just me and a few lone runners jogging past.

I knew where I needed to go but couldn't resist the opportunity to dawdle in magical green glades, creep under branches in secret copses to get close to banks of bluebells, be thankful for logs laid to pinpoint the muddy ditch beyond and listen to the early morning birdsong of a little coal tit, no doubt alerting his pals to the approaching human! I saw lichen on ancient trees, wild forget-me-nots and red campion, buttercups and ferns. I even found a good thick stick shaped like a slingshot. That went into my bag and got passed to a friend's young son on the way home. He was thrilled. So was I. He's such a boy.



Wandering back in the direction of home, my sylvan idyll was gradually dispelled by the massed puffing of running clubs, ladies chatting while jogging together (men seem to be lone huffers and puffers) and lots of people out with their dogs. I'd gathered over 20 large elderflower heads and was now hungry for breakfast. Thoughts of freshly baked bread and the Heath Farmer's Market crept into my head. And - as luck would have it! - the Harrington Scheme (a local project providing gardening training for disabled youth) were selling lovely organic plants on the neighbouring stall to the bread. All in a good cause, 6 sweetcorn, some purple sage and some lime Nicotiana came home with me. All in all, a bit of a top-hole morning.

So, how to identify elderflowers?  Here are some pics.



Paired mid-green leaves with serrated edges. Umbels of green buds open to tiny white flowers. Distinct scent from open flowers.

Back at home I quickly got on with making my first batch of elderflower cordial. I've had a tiny delicious taste this morning but I'll leave it until tomorrow evening as I have garden planting to do today and Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow.  Life is sweet.



The recipe I use is an adaption from Sarah Raven's recipe (link under name) in that I use less sugar and then substitute slightly healthier alternatives. I really like the addition of oranges and lime rather than using just lemons. I don't use citric acid because, in my neck of the woods, no-one sells it. There's a story that it's used to cut cocaine but that's not something this innocent lass is ever likely to prove.

Here's my version:

1.5 litres water
1 kg sugar (I used 500g organic granulated, 250g coconut palm sugar, 250g Xylitol)
2 lemons
1 large orange (or 2 smaller ones)
1 lime

Put water and sugar in a saucepan.  Heat very gently until sugar completely dissolved, stirring occasionally to check. Once dissolved, bring to the boil and take off the heat.

Zest and thinly slice the citrus fruit. Put into a large bowl. Add the elderflowers. I usually check the flowers by turning them upside down, giving a gentle shake, check for insects, then cut most of the stems off leaving a half inch behind the flowers. Don't wash the flowers, the fragrance will disappear.

Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and flowers. Give it a stir round, lightly cover (a tea towel or pot lid will do) and leave to infuse for 24 to 48 hours.  When time's up, strain through muslin or a jelly strainer into a jug and pour through a funnel into clean sterilised bottles.  Store it in the fridge or decant into plastic bottles and put in the freezer where it will keep for several months.









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