I was delighted to be asked if I would write a blog post for the charity which I’ve only recently been supporting. One of my few regrets has been not having a garden so when I reached sixty and semi-retired I took on a half-plot allotment just a few minutes walk from home. That was eleven years ago and has proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As well as soft fruit and vegetables I grow plenty of flowers which include pot marigolds (my favourite flowers), cosmos and sunflowers. I’m happy to see wildlife on the plot such as bees, butterflies and foxes, and it’s always uplifting to have a robin keep me company when I’m digging. Above all it’s the overall pleasure I get be it plotting or pottering, and I’m thankful that I’m still reasonably fit and healthy enough to enjoy the plot as I do. That even applies on the dreariest winter’s day when all I do is have a quick round before heading home to do some armchair gardening, browsing through seed catalogues with a cup of tea and a biscuit or two.
I’m a longtime regular blogger and my Flighty’s plot blog is mostly about the plot from when I took it on. One way I support the charity is by showing it’s logo on my blog as a link to this website. I also follow the charity on Twitter where I’m Sofaflyer . I support this good cause because of it’s aims, and I greatly admire that it’s entirely run by volunteers. Gardening for Disabled has been celebrating it’s fiftieth birthday this year and I hope that it continues to celebrate many more. Mike Rogers – allotmenteer, armchair gardener, blogger and sofa flying book buff.
How to prolong the flower season by cutting flowers for fresh arrangements, drying flowers for permanent arrangements and harvesting seed for resowing.
One of the best things about growing your own flowers in a small urban space is a chance to reap a multitude of rewards for your initial investment and endeavour. For the price of a packet of seeds – let’s say some brightly coloured opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) – a bag of compost and either a single large pot or some smaller sized containers – you will be able to grow enough flowers to pick for you home over the summer and arrange with other blooms and foliage stems in hand-tied posies. You can prolong the life of your cut flowers in a vase by searing the stems once they have been cut and ensuring that the water stays clean and free from any bacteria. I do this by refreshing the water daily and adding a teaspoon of bleach. If the water turns green and murky your flowers will have no chance of survival. If you leave some of the poppy flower heads to die off and dry on the stems of the plant they will turn into the most beautiful seed heads which are a work of art in themselves. These can be picked for use in dried winter arrangements that will last all season and look fantastic in a winter wreath or a pine swag wired on with some small fruits such as clementines and sprigs of holly. Finally, to get more bang for your buck the seed heads will contain pockets of hundreds of tiny seeds. Nature’s generous bounty is a no-cost payback. You will know when the seeds are ripe if you gently shake the seed head and can hear them rattle. You need to collect them before they disperse naturally if you want to sow them in a certain space or you can allow them to do their own thing and you will have a lovely surprise when you find your poppies growing up in unexpected places the following year. If for some reason you don’t want them in a particular position then just remove the seedling as it appears. For collecting and storing seed use a sharp pair of secateurs and snip off the head. Put the whole thing in a paper envelope or bag and label straight away. Do not seal them but leave in a cool dry space for a couple of days during which time the seeds will disperse naturally. Remove the casing and clean off any chaff and store them in jam jars until it is time to sow. As they are hardy annual flowers you can risk sowing opium poppies outdoors in the autumn before the ground gets too cold. This is the way to steal a march on the flowering season. If you sow half your seeds at this time of year they will put on a certain amount of growth and you will get some bushy foliage appearing before the plants become dormant as winter sets in. As soon as the weather warms up again they will come back to life and you will have an early crop of flowers. Plant the rest of your seeds in the spring once the soil is warm enough and daylight hours have started to stretch and you will get you second crop of flowers following on from the first thus giving you plenty to pick from early summer onwards. For more ideas and what to buy visit www.urban-flowers.co.uk.
The East London Garden Society arrived in this world 2011, five persons who could not find solutions from any source decided to band with each other and find solutions. One reason I became involved, it was requested that I attend a property in Stepney, East London, to view a potential garden it was here that an incredible story came to surface. As usual, this part of London has a variety of languages together with differing nationalities, indeed Tower Hamlets the borough in which Stepney is situated, is one, if not the poorest boroughs in the United Kingdom. The story being, an elderly Bangladesh lady lived next door to an elderly Vietnamese lady, neither could speak each other’s language, English, the language was also a rarity; however they both had a love of tomato growing. Gardening tomatoes brought them together gardening has many facets it can bring nations communicating in special ways. In an urban environment, where the pressures are usually greater, pollution levels are higher it sometimes takes a determined effort to communicate. Tower Hamlets estimates its population to rise significantly in the coming years, so what better way could there be to speak gardening.
Geoffrey Juden – Chairman The East London Garden Society
Gardening creeps up on you. It’s not like keeping a pet or having a hobby. One day you’re not interested and convinced that it is something for other people and then suddenly you’ve started. It can begin irrationally, like buying a pot of basil and then taking it as a matter of honour that you won’t let it die and, before you know it you have a window sill full of waifs and strays from your living larder.
Then it grabs you by the throat. Pots lead to bigger pots then tubs and finally a raised bed. You can fantasise about those two sleeper high jobs in neat squares and rectangles. Maybe even two or three of them. Raised bits of paradise,explosions of vegetables and soft fruit, maybe even a forcing pot. Radically I couldn’t help myself Swiss Chard, chocolate skinned Dahlias, fennel and honeysuckle. Bliss.
So, there’s something inherently healing to the soul in these acts of nurture. It never occurred to me I could care about plants and now I look at them as if their every wilting leaf or discoloured stem is a reproach, a mirror on my inner life.
Why does it matter? I write in early contemplation of the words I need to write to preface the Heligan Harvest time and, in reflecting on it I was acutely aware that we live at a time of refrigeration, international trade in seasons and a culture of bland homogeneity of shape and flavour. Time was when harvest was the arbiter of the nurturers craft and that mastery was the difference between abundance and hardship. The gardeners tending care has saved myriad varieties from extinction by supermarket and, as we wake up from our addiction to ease, we realise the strange truth that quality, beauty and joy cannot be shrink wrapped and traded. They are the mark of a brilliant re-emerging localism and it has been saved for us and our descendants by gardeners. Heroes all who refused to bow to the herd and who held up a sheltering shield to protect the black radishes, soldier beans, 17 varieties of rhubarb, the Queen of fruit, the Royal Sovereign Strawberry … the medlars, the turnips of flavour … on and on and on we could go and not a one of them has ever been seen in a supermarket.
So long live the gardeners and long live the potential to be a gardener. It only takes a moment and you’re hooked and have meaning in your life and hope in your heart.
I didn’t expect that my stint of working for a property developer, who enthusiastically and proudly own the The Trentham Estate, would be one that would continue to fulfil me after 14 plus years. It is surprising perhaps for someone like myself to be consumed by a single place for longer than I have been at any of the wonderful places I have worked at prior to this. I am someone who has always enjoyed tackling new projects on fresh green grass in gardens in many different parts of the UK – each time I have relocated it has felt like I am on holiday and enjoying the new locations with the eager enthusiasm of a holiday maker. So 14 years at Trentham has been a surprise, I have been hooked by this unusual and amazing place. But Trentham is not the only garden which has felt so very special to me – my heart warms to my times spent at Mount Stewart, Powis Castle, Beningbrough Hall, Harewood and Waddesdon Manor – each garden so very different, and for me happening at very different stages of my life and in the progression of my career. I feel that I have grown up in the gardens which I have both worked and lived in – and believe me, I had a lot of growing up to do! My successes have been equally balanced by my mistakes and by so many adventures, and a few misadventures, along the way. It is not just the places but the people whom I have met and the support they have given me which has been so much part of my journey through my continuing career.
Gardens continually present new challenges. They can look entirely different as they change with the season, or even throughout the different aspects of a single day that just may, by chance, provide the reward of an early mist or haw frost, or a setting sun with long dark shadows, or a special glimpse of nature that is a privilege to witness, and only comes by being in a certain place when the time and opportunity should rarely present itself.
When you think you have delivered a new project and it’s time to move on to the next, your earlier work is still evolving, presenting different opportunities and dilemmas; each needing to be prioritised with a view to what is happening across the whole garden. A good photographer might be able to tease out some of the different perspectives that we as gardeners may take for granted, and for many, their work may provide a record of how special a garden can be when the light or conditions create an ephemeral atmosphere that may not present itself during the busier visiting hours that the garden is open to the public. I am often told how lucky I am to have my role – well I am, but the full understanding of what the role entails is not defined solely by maintaining an image of the garden portrayed in a photograph, the garden is a living, dynamic entity that morphs and readapts its shape around its foundations. Managing this requires consistency, but equally its needs are also ephemeral and delicate.
I find the diversity of gardening and my own broader role of immense interest. My children, who know me better than anyone, are so harshly critical of my ability to provide a relatively confident answer or solution for most things – just because it’s not the answer they want doesn’t mean it’s not a possible alternative, and there is always more than one answer. I definitely count my google-like responsiveness as part of my skill set – certainly as a Dad. There can be no better way than learning by actually doing something – ok – getting it wrong before getting it right. I can think of no other area where I have become an expert, I am not sure I have the ability to focus my concentration on any one aspect for long enough to achieve that; but this is all part of the role that continues to provide me with the most rewarding experiences.
I occasionally return to gardens where I had worked in an earlier stage of my career and am reminded of the special time I had spent there, and how, despite the many seasons that have followed, the places, whilst changed and evolved, continue to have a have a special sense of place which still feels legible and recognisable to me. It certainly helps when one has had the privilege to work in a place before one can truly connect with it – although I haven’t worked at Studley Royal, Castle Howard, or so many other beautiful places which I feel I have had an understanding and appreciation of how very special those places are. There are many special places – but my favourite is not a garden, it’s very much a landscape, just not a designed one. The North Antrim coast – now that’s more than special. I’m on a roll now, the Roaches in Staffordshire’s Peak District – I feel truly moved even thinking about these incredible places. I suspect many others have not had the time, inclination or opportunity to do so.