Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

On the Iris Trail

Sunset edged bearded irises at Chateau Rivau
Sunset edged irises at Chateau du Rivau

It was bearded iris time on our recent trip to France; also at last week's Chelsea Flower Show; and judging by my peeps into social media, it's currently iris time for many of you too.

I must admit I'm late to warm to these flowers. The earlier blooming Iris reticulata, then elegant Iris sibirica are usually my species of choice, but seeing so many fine bearded irises whilst away along with the steady drip feed of your photos finally got me thinking differently.

Then yesterday whilst sorting through my things, I found a leaflet from Cayeux nursery (which I picked up at Chelsea last week), which has answered all my doubts...

One section of Cayeux's bearded iris exhibit
I loved Cayeux's colour sectioned display at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Guess which one is my favourite?

Doubt #1: They don't bloom for very long

Cayeux says: "If you select a mixture of small, intermediate and tall varieties you can have irises in flower from mid April until early June... And even after the flowering season the stiff fan of leaves is attractive for much of the year."

Update: my friend Helen commented there are some varieties which re-bloom. That's definitely something to look out for. Here's Claire Austin's list of remontant irises (the technical term used for those irises which re-bloom) plus her notes on how reliably those varieties exhibit that tendency in the midlands.

Catherine Horwood also reminded me about the smaller Cedric Morris varieties via Facebook. I saw these exhibited at Chelsea a couple of years ago, and very fine they were too.

Doubt #2: They don't thrive on my limey soil

Cayeux says: "In fact bearded irises are fairly unfussy about the soil they grow in. Really good drainage* is more crucial than acidity."

Doubt #3: They struggled to flower when I tried them

Cayeux says: "You may have planted them in shade: irises need full sun for at least two thirds of the day, preferably on the rhizomes which should be visible above the soil. Or they may have needed dividing: after 3 or 4 years one rhizome can form a good clump."

* = I'm concerned about that too because of my clay soil, but I've also come to realise I have some sunny gravel areas in the garden which should provide better drainage than usual.

Conclusion? Perhaps I should try them one more time bearing the above points in mind.

One of the irises spotted at Chaumont
A case of mistaken identity at Chaumont, oops!

So which iris am I planning to buy? Not the one pictured above, fine though it is. I thought it was the Jardins de Chaumont variety pointed out to me at the time at Chaumont, but a quick check of Cayeux's website shows that one is much paler.

I think Jardins de Chaumont will be a good 'starter for 10' - a fine iris selected by Chaumont's director and a great souvenir of happy times. I must also ask Patricia Laigneau about the pictured varieties I've chosen to show from Le Rivau; such a magical time.

Massed white irises at Le Rivau
Massed white irises at dawn at Le Rivau

Where to see bearded irises in profusion

These are places for inspiration, whether you're a fan already, or need more persuasion like me.

If you're considering a trip to France - the Loire valley in particular - then their new Route des Iris trail is worth considering for May next year (or this year if you're quick!). It takes in 2 nurseries and 5 gardens, including Cayeux and Chaumont.

Claire Austin usually has open days at her Shropshire nursery timed to coincide with the flowering of her national collection of bearded irises. This year is no exception - you'll need to be there this coming Friday or Saturday (2nd & 3rd June 2017), 10-4pm. Tea, coffee and cake are also available to lure you there.

You may remember I visited an amazing collection of irises at the Laking Garden in Canada a couple of years ago.

The British Iris Society has a list (with links) of gardens and nurseries (UK and worldwide) noted for their irises.

Irises in combination
I have a similar site at home to this one at Le Rivau. Will their irises follow me here? Watch this space...
Update: Dan Pearson writes about irises and the Cedric Morris ones in particular in his Dig Delve magazine. His reminders about moving them and general iris care are worth bearing in mind.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Great Green Wall Hunt: At Chelsea Flower Show

I came across the concept of green walls (aka living walls) at my first visit to Chelsea Flower Show in 2009 - you can see some of them here. It was interesting to see how they're displayed this time and how they've developed over the past few years.

Part of the Greening Grey Britain garden by Nigel Dunnett at Chelsea Flower Show

Green walls were a must-have for Nigel Dunnett's garden for Greening Grey Britain, so it was no surprise there were two of them incorporated into his design. The one which interested me most was found at the back, enlivened by Jo Peel's street art.

This turned out to be a new-to-me type of green wall; low(er) in cost and lightweight, and designed to hang in order to hide ugly facades or fences. The wall contains a seed mix of fescue and wildflowers and was started around 4 weeks ago ready for the show. Unlike most green walls, this one is usually hung just after seeding and would initially be brown.

Like other walls of this type it has an irrigation system at the top which could be run off a rainwater harvesting system. I was surprised to find it's only designed to last around three years, so it might be a better proposition (in my view) as a temporary installation, as an alternative to the ivy screens such as those used currently by the Crossrail project (see here for an example). Whether it's viable as a longer term solution depends on the initial and replacement costs involved.

This verdant living wall forms part of the lower level of Kate Gould's City Living Fresh garden

A closer view of part of the planting infrastructure
Over in the Fresh gardens, Kate Gould's innovative City Living design included a couple of the more familiar, verdant living walls I've seen in public places.

The difference here was a new-to-me supplier, called Gro-Wall. When I peered into the foliage, it looked like the planting pockets for this design are much deeper than the ones I've found in previous Great Green Wall Hunts. The blurb on the RHS website (see above link) confirms my findings:

"The living wall uses larger than normal planting trays..., meaning that a wider range of specimens can be used, including tropical plants. Shade loving plants have been planted at the bottom of the wall, while sun lovers are at the top where they have access to more light."

I found a surprise green wall at the back of Matt Keightley's design for Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Texture Garden, where the rounded moss balls certainly added texture to the feature wall. It's a shame they weren't repeated throughout the design, though I suspect these are quite hard to supply in vast quantities.

We usually see these as a signature feature in Kazuyuki Ishihara's designs. Don't worry, he had them in his Gosho No Niwa No Wall, No War garden as well (click to enlarge if needed).

Green walls in the Great Pavilion

Not to be outdone, the Great Pavilion sported at least two examples of green walls and I was pleased to find an edible version on Tom Smith's exhibit. This is a great way of extending edible space in small gardens and can easily be replicated on a budget using drainpipes or pallets as planters. 

Just through the greenhouse door you can see the world's hottest chilli Tom's son Mike bred, which is now being researched by Nottingham Trent University as a possible anaesthetic (remember how numb your mouth goes when you have a hot chilli sauce?).

To the right we have the British Ecological Society's Delight in the Dark exhibit, which demonstrates the way some plants are adapted for life in the shade. It's the first time I've seen a torch used to explain an exhibit, to simulate different light levels and how plants adapt to the shade itself, or are vernal i.e. they flower in spring when there's less shade from the canopy above. 

A green wall picture found on Eastern Avenue at Chelsea Flower Show

Finally, green walls even made the shopping area on Eastern Avenue. The LivePicture system is touted as a cross between artwork and indoor plants, and used as a statement piece for universities, hotels, restaurants, offices and suchlike. I've looked at the various websites offering this product, and I suspect this option isn't cheap. Note that the plant component doesn't come with a guarantee. 

The internet also offers some relatively cheap (though much smaller) and DIY options which use moss or succulents as the planting material. Information on how long these living pictures last isn't readily available. 

These are all options which merit further investigation for The Great Green Wall Hunt when the opportunity next presents itself.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Say it with flowers

Part of the Interflora exhibit in the Great Pavilion at Chelsea Flower Show

I was all geared up to bring news from this year's Chelsea Flower Show, but after I'd heard the dreadful news from Manchester this morning, it seemed crass and too flippant to do so.

Then I remembered Interflora's Stories of Emotion exhibit whilst I was up at the plot this afternoon. The arrangements and their accompanying stories stopped me in my tracks yesterday, just as today's news has stopped me again.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families. I've decided to show a snippet from the exhibit as a reminder that a glimpse of beauty can always overcome adversity.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Chaumont First Timer

Me at Chaumont International Garden Festival
Adding my thoughts to the back of Au Pied du Mur

I've heard loads about Chaumont International Garden Festival previously, but I never thought I'd actually get to go there. You can imagine I gave a quick hop and skip of delight when I found it was a must-see on our itinerary for France.

If you ever get the chance to go, do - it's quite unlike any garden show in the UK*. For starters the Festival lasts several months rather than days (from 20th April to 5th November this year), and each garden is surrounded by a beech hedge, housed in a permanent site which set aside from the rest of Chaumont's extensive grounds.

It also pays to put any preconceptions to one side as applications are drawn from a much wider circle of potential candidates than usual with around 20 to 30 gardens selected from a pool of hundreds of applications. Artists are well represented as well as those from the world of gardening and landscape design.

I could imagine RHS judges tutting behind me at the standard of each garden's finish, but that didn't matter. These are expressions of ideas and visitors can wander all over them, feeling and breathing in the designer's intention as they go. I found I felt a wider range of emotions as a result, from 'What the f***????', to bursts of giggles and joy.

The festival's longevity means my experience of a couple of weeks ago will be quite different to what later visitors will see. Plants will fill out and inhabit their spaces completely, and the flowers and plants designed to fulfil this year's Flower Power theme will truly come into their own.

* = sadly the similarly intentioned shows at Westonbirt Arboretum held around 15 years ago are no more.

So what caught my eye at this year's show?

Ways of viewing a garden can be quite different...

Part of the Puissantes Immobiles garden at Chaumont
A view onto Puissantes Immobiles which gave the effect of highlighting individual plants

... and you'll find plants may be labelled.

Your view of 'what is a garden?' will be challenged quite thoroughly...

A flower-filled Au Pied du Mur
The reverse side of Au Pied du Mur
... do photos of plants count as a garden? My head said no, but I loved filling my vision with these pictures. I could imagine this idea being used to great effect indoors to bring some much needed cheer.

Gardens aren't just for humans...

Small French dog not quite sure what to do with the water filled Levant garden at Chaumont
This little dog was most reluctant to jump over the water in Levant

... and may prove rather a challenge to some of them.

Reality will be distorted in all kinds of ways...

The back of the Monochrome Blanc garden at Chaumont
Playtime and photocall in Monochrome Blanc

... now you see me...

Monochrome Blanc looking outwards
Monochrome Blanc looking the other way - a potential candidate for my Great Green Wall Hunt?

... and now you don't.

Sometimes an interior deserves special attention...

The charming Anne Marlangeon
I loved the attention to detail in her 04bis workshop, reminiscent of the artist's studios we saw in Giverny the day before

... because there's a chance to meet my first ever plasticine artist, Anne Marlangeon.

Plants rising like Phoenix
I loved the play of light on the foliage and the dark architectural shapes of Phoenix

Such fun to photobomb one's own photo!
Spot Naomi and me photobombing our own photographs in Les Coulisses de l'Attraction!

Hop on over to Sign of the Times to see another favourite featured as today's Friday Bench.

The lovely Chaumont chateau

Chaumont isn't just about the garden festival. There's a wildly romantic looking chateau overlooking the Loire for starters.

Fab sultry alliums and camassia combo

And in the historic Park the gardens team provide an amazing sourcebook of planting ideas too. I now believe my massed planting of alliums seriously lacks an equivalent amount of camassias after I viewed this scene.

Agaves and echeveria - I think

Use succulents as bedding plants? Why not?

A restrained entrance conceals the floral fireworks ahead at Chaumont

They can manage self restraint too, as shown in this area where visitors first approach the festival and room is needed to avoid a pinch point. Something to think about for Greening Grey Britain perhaps?

Chaumont has lots of other features such as land art (including one by Andy Goldsworthy); a misted, jungly garden and much more besides. We didn't have time to see it all in our allotted afternoon; it's the perfect excuse to go back one day.


I was the guest of Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit.

As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

You may also like

For more information on the all the gardens we visited, have a look at the interactive map I've put together. It contains a brief summary of each place, links to all the articles I've written, and has plenty of pretty photos plus links to useful information so you can plan your own trip.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day: Meet 'Daniel Deronda'

Clematis 'Daniel Deronda'

I bought this clematis at my first visit to Malvern show (before I started blogging) for the princely sum of £2, because its extra-large blooms caught my eye - the diameter of each is about the size of my hand's span. It's one of the earliest clematis to flower, but until now it's been a little shy for me. This year is proving to be different, with many buds lined up below the three flowers you can see.

It's reputed to have both double and single blooms, with the doubles appearing first followed by the singles later in summer. This is because it can flower on old and new wood, though mine has always been single flowered, even when I forget to prune it like I've done this year (it's pruning group 2, in case you were wondering).

It was bred by Charles Noble in 1882, possibly a cross between C. lanuginosa (discovered by Robert Fortune in China) and a seedling of 'Fortunei' × patens. It's long servitude makes it a 'good doer' in my view, though it took the RHS a while to give it the recognition it deserves, only awarding an AGM in 1993. Noble also bred the well-known 'The President', which I also have in my garden and usually blooms for me in June.

Why the name Daniel Deronda? It's a book by George Eliot and it seems Charles Noble was an admirer of her work. Sadly the clematis he named after her is no longer available.

There's a great write-up about this clematis on the Clematis International website - though I can't link to it directly. Click on the link I've given, then on the By Category link which subsequently appears in the website's sidebar. Then click on to Early Large-flowered option on the subsequent drop-down list. 'Daniel Deronda' should then appear as one of the pictorial thumbnail options, which will also give you an idea of how it looks in its double-flowered form.

I've enjoyed finding out the story behind the name for Blooms Day, quite literally in this case!

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Weekend Wandering: Let's start with a map

Map of Normandy and Loire gardens visit - May 2017

Further to Wednesday's cri de coeur about where to start, I've created a Google Map to summarise our trip and to start to get my head around my amazing time in France. You can get the full interactive map experience here (NB do take the link, the map on display here is just a jpeg image). When you're in the map, click on each place on the map itself or on the list at the side, and you'll find some initial thoughts on each place we visited, stayed or ate at, plus a summary photo or two to set the scene.

Looking at the map, it's clear that in/near Rouen, Chartres and Tours would make ideal bases for various parts of the trip if you wish to see for yourself. Dieppe is a suitable alternative entry point for those of you in the south-east (from Newhaven), instead of our Portsmouth/Le Havre combo. We completed our tour in 5 days at full steam ahead, bookended by overnight cabins on the ferry. I'd recommend at least double that to enjoy and explore each place more fully than we did.

I'll update the map with websites and links to articles/blog posts later, and I'll also be using it as a reference throughout my forthcoming bloggage.

If you have any questions or comments about the trip, I'll endeavour to add answers on the map as appropriate as well as replying to you directly. I've had some useful conversations already via Twitter and Facebook, and one of my USA pals is keen to discuss the trip as a possibility for herself when we meet at the Garden Bloggers Fling next month.

Your suggestions for further gardens you've enjoyed in these regions are also welcome - I already have some for planning the next trip. They include Jardin Plume, Sericourt, Parc du Bois des Moutiers, Le Lude, Talcy and Villandry. I also like the look of Etretat from the leaflet I picked up along the way, and Naomi from Out of My Shed has pointed me in the direction of the rose festival at Chedigny, usually held at the end of May.

Useful information

The port of Le Havre is also worth a look, especially as it celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, and note that Val de Loire has designated 2017 as Jardins en Val de Loire, with plenty of extra gardens-related action to usual. There's also an interactive map on the Normandy tourism website of over 100 gardens to visit, which leaves you spoilt for choice. In the Loire, there's the new iris route for this time of the year, or if you're a keen cyclist, you may like to make a leisurely tour of the Loire using the Loire à Vélo website.

If you're an RHS member, then note you may have free entry to some French gardens; i.e. those designated as RHS Partner Gardens. At the time of writing this includes Le Rivau and Valmer we visited, plus more besides. You can also buy a pass in advance (online or at local tourist offices) to some of the Loire chateaux - full details are here. Otherwise admission prices to gardens/properties are broadly in line with the UK (thanks to the strong Euro).

Most properties also have special events, especially cultural ones such as art exhibitions, and outdoor theatre or opera. It was noticeable that performances are generally well priced compared to similar events in the UK.

NB It's worth checking opening times before you go. Some properties close for lunch, as do some local shops/post offices/banks/cafes in the smaller towns and villages. The gardens may also have limited opening hours during the week, or on Bank Holidays (NB these are different to ours), or according to the time of year.

I love the idea of the Chartres Greeters scheme, where you can hook up with a volunteer to show you their city tailored to your interests. We were due to go on a garden walk with a Greeter on arrival in Chartres, but unfortunately time and rain conspired against us on the day. It's a pity because our drive into the city revealed much of interest from a parks and public planting point of view.


I was the guest of Normandy and Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit.

As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

NB the information and links are correct at the time of writing in 2017, though may be subject to change. Let me know if you spot any broken links in this post or on my map.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Postcard from France

The Royal Doorway, illuminated for Chartres en Lumieres

I'm just about back from a few days in France with Naomi, where we visited 15 gardens in 5 days - 18 if you include those at our accommodation and a restaurant.

The gardens of Normandy and the Loire are so varied it's proved too difficult to select one scene for my customary postcard, so I've chosen a photograph of Notre Dame cathedral at Chartres instead, where we visited the astonishing Chartres en Lumières half way through our stay.

This festival of light has 24 walkable sites in the city, with three of them at the cathedral. This one tells the story of the cathedral builders and was an animation which lasted about 10 minutes. I'll reveal more from this amazing light show once I've edited the video I took. Now in its 14th year, Chartres en Lumières takes place nightly until 8th October 2017, with free entry.

Chartres is a beautiful city, with lots to see and do. You can see the towers of the cathedral from many miles away, and this plus our approach to the city through an avenue of trees at the side of the road reminded me of travelling down to Salisbury.

I'll tell you all about the gardens we visited over the weeks to come :)


I was the guest of Normandy and Loire Valley tourism, who put together a fantastic programme of varied gardens, accommodation and food for our visit, as well as enabling our visit to Chartres en Lumières.

As usual, the words and opinions are my own and there are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Unusual Front Gardens #26: Wellies and Watering Cans

Flower filled wellies at Paddington Basin

British Land are adding a corporate touch to my Unusual Front Gardens strand with their colour co-ordinated narrowboat moored at the Paddington Basin, aka the Paddington Arm of the Grand Junction Canal.

NAH and I had a pleasant walk to here along the Regent's Canal from Camden Lock recently, taking in Regent's Park, London Zoo, elegant houses, boat owners' gardens and Little Venice along the way. It an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of London for two and a half miles. Here are some photos from our walk:

Scenes from our walk along the Regent's Canal

The boat owners' gardens also count as Unusual Front Gardens, especially where they spilled over and across the towpath.

Part of the gardens by the permanent moorings

Finally, back at Paddington Basin, we find the corporate watering cans. Don't be fooled by the grass, it's artificial!

Flower-filled watering cans

Monday, 1 May 2017

GBMD: The perfect excuse for more strawberries

Strawberry sign at RHS Wisley - 8 strawberries provide 140% of recommended daily vitamin C intake
As found in the fruit display at RHS Wisley, July 2016. 

According to the British Summer Fruits website, today's the first day of the summer berry season - hurrah!

English strawberries found in the supermarket today will probably be polytunnel grown due to the vagaries of our British weather. I've had good results with 'Mae' and 'Christine' grown outdoors on the allotment in previous years if you're looking for a good early variety to grow for 2018. They have a sweet flavour and high yields.

I can't guarantee strawberries for May 1st, especially after the recent cold weather - mid to late May is a much better bet. I have some frost-blown flowers on the allotment, but with plenty of unscathed ones showing promise. Stand by with the fleece if more frosts are forecast down your way and you should avoid flowers with the dreaded black middles.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...