Kevin Smith's Blog

Day 268 - The RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I feel a bit late with this blog, and I've no doubt there are countless others already posted about this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, but I've plenty to say all the same. And besides I had to take Ida to Jo Jingles this morning, and also had an 11am copy deadline for Amateur Gardening magazine, so 'now' is the best I can do.

I arrived at the show at 7am yesterday and by 8.30am I'd walked half the length of Main Avenue. If you've never been to Chelsea before, Main Avenue is the hot-spot of the show where you'll find all the big gardens. My slow progress is the same every year and all down to gawping at the fabulous gardens, dodging busy photographers and talking to the world's gardening media. For me, it's the talking that really takes time, although it's the part of the experience I love the most.

This year's press day was like no other for me, because I was freelance and didn't have any immediate magazine work to complete. As a result I really got to look at everything and form proper opinions about what I liked. I say 'liked' because I don't feel in a position to critique garden design or growing plants - there are others far more qualified than me to do those things. So, without further a do, here are the three things I liked the most about this year's Chelsea:

1. A Monaco Garden
The ever-fabulous Jodie Jones pointed out to me how many gardens represented places from around the globe. She was quite right of course, and this entire blog was nearly dedicated to the topic. As it goes I'm just going to focus on one place from overseas, and here it is:

A Monaco Garden, designed by Sarah Ebele and awarded a Gold Medal, hits all the right spots for me. I like the colours and the bold planting and, more to the point, I intend to install a similar swimming pool in my own garden this summer. Well done Sarah for having such good taste.

2. Miracle-Gro'wers Learning Journey
if you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know I have a young daughter (Ida) who is as much a part of my posts as plants and gardens. With this in mind it's hardly surprising I was delighted when stumbling across this in the Great Pavilion:

There were two Generation Gardens in the pavilion and school pupils have grown the lion's share of the fruit, veg and flowers on display – I couldn't help but be impressed. When I visited the stand there were a couple of children manning the fort and they very politely told me about what they'd been growing and invited me to write in their comments book. If Ida ever does anything so beautiful, I'm guaranteed to sob with pride.

3. Nong Nooch Tropical Garden
If you ever ask me about my favourite-ever holiday, I'll tell you it was trip to Thailand in 2008. Fabulous food, a breathtaking landscaping and beautiful plants and flowers made for the perfect break. This spectacular site took me right back there:

This jaw-dropping display from a team of Thai gardeners is nothing short of mind-boggling. There must be thousands, no I'll say millions, of tiny flowers use to create it and I love it.

I did, of course, manage to get 'round the entire show and even managed to squeeze in a radio interview with Sara and Carrie from BBC Radio Jersery (click here and skip to 2.08.30 to here me rambling on). I also had a go at fighting the paparazi to get a shot  of Gwyneth Paltrow (I just couldn't help myself), payed £6 for an average tasting sausage baguette, swallowed no end of pollen from the plane trees on the site and, true to form, did a lot more talking.

So, that's it - Chelsea was, and still is right now, as fabulous as ever. Here are a few more of my highlights:

The Cancer Research UK Garden designed by Robert Myers
Silver Gilt

The Daily Telegraph Garden designed by Cleve West
Gold and Best in Show

Irish Sky Garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin

Gwyneth's behind photographed by Kevin Smith

Until next time...

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Day 264 - fake tan

Friday, 20 May 2011

This post is going to be a bit of a dogs dinner as I've got several things to cover, none of which are in the slightest bit related.

So, who knows what a cloche is? I do. It's a device for warming garden soil or protecting small, vulnerable plants from the elements - a bit like a mini greenhouse. You can get glass ones, plastic ones and metal ones, the list goes on. So, who watched this week's Apprentice? I did, and I was excited when the candidates were tasked with hunting for a cloche...

Please tell me I wasn't the only gardener in the land screaming at the television when the stupid candidates couldn't work out what a cloche was? And please tell me I wasn't the only gardener in the land who didn't stop to think for a minute that a city hotel wouldn't need a garden cloche at all. And please tell me I wasn't the only gardener in the land who had to eat humble pie and shut up quickly when they realised the cloche was a food-related item? Anyone going to own up or am I alone?

Okay, that's enough about cloches. I've been reading and watching Matthew Appleby's debate on the Guardian blog site with much interest. Its title is 'Pro vs am - do TV presenters need horticultural training?' It's a topic I've long been thinking of writing about (well done Matthew for getting there first), although haven't because I've not been entirely sure what my opinion is. And it seems I'm not the only one - the comments on Matthew's debate are totally divided.

I've thought long and hard and have finally decided, wait for it, that it doesn't matter if presenters have horticultural training as long as they've got years of practical gardening experience under their belt (which both Monty and Carol have). The nuts and bolts of the horticulture can be made watertight by the researchers and production crew meaning every base is covered. I think the crucial thing is to have a good presenter that viewers believe, like, relate to and empathise with, and I'm not entirely sure there's been one of those since Alan Tichmarsh's day. So, there we are - that's my bit said. And I'll add this opinion to the actual blog, so I'm joining the debate there, too.

So, Gemma went away last weekend leaving Ida and me home alone. What did we do? Take a trip RHS Garden Hyde Hall, which was officially Ida's first visit to a garden (Gemma's not really very keen on anything gardeny). I've not been for years and I have to say I was hugely impressed with what I saw. The Dry Garden and the Robinson Garden looked absolutely beautiful and it seems the place has really upped its game since I last visited. Ida, of course, loved every minute and was particularly impressed with the early-flowering roses and the Queen Mother's Garden. She told me in great detail how visiting gardens is he new favourite hobby and she'd love to go back to Hyde Hall at the earliest opportunity. That's it then, we best go back. I did take a few pictures on my phone, but sadly I've experienced a technology malfunction and they seem to have disappeared. It's a shame because they were rather lovely.

Right, next topic. I've been at my local garden centre quite a bit recently (I can offset all those plants against tax, right?) and on Monday I had a very interesting conversation with one of the chaps who works there. "You've got a very brown neck," is how the conversation started. The chap was talking about my neck, which is indeed very brown. It happens every summer as I spend so much time gardening and working outdoors. It's not just my neck - I've got very brown forearms, too.

I explained the extent of my brownness to the chap, saying  it's a shame that my torso and upper arms are lily white and I look rediculous when I remove my teeshirt. I've tried all sorts to avoid the problem including wearing a vest, or even going bare chested, when I'm in the garden alone (try very hard not to imagine how I look - it's not pretty). And I know I'm not the only man this happens to - it really is a hot topic.

Anyway, the chap at the garden centre had the answer: "You want to get yourself down ASDA and buy some self-tanning moisturiser - it's only £2.50." So then, is that the solution? Are men up and down the country fake-tanning their chests and backs so they blend in beautifully with their forearms and necks? It sounds like a very tricky business to me. I mean how do I know the shade is going to be just right? And what about my chest hair? I can't imagine fake tan will combine with that very well and I'm not waxing it for anyone - not even the helpful chap from the garden centre. Hmm, this one is going to need a bit more thought.

And finally, who's going to The RHS Chelsea Flower Show next week? I am. It's my first ever visit as a freelancer and I'm seriously excited about the vast quantities of guilt-free champagne I'll be able to drink. See you there!

Until next time...

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Day 256 - joy

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The title of this blog is exactly what I've felt over the last couple of weeks - joy. It might sound a bit cheesy, but it's true. The weather's been gorgeous (I'm nearly a bronzed adonis), my workload has been manageable, Ida's been a delight (apart from a few food-throwing incidents) and I've managed to spend some real time in the garden.

Let's focus on the garden as I've loads to report in that department:

We decided to take our house off the market (if you didn't know it was for sale take a look here), and squander the small amount of money we'd saved up on a bit of decking for just outside our sitting room. It's a job we've wanted to do since we bought the house in 2006, but we've never quite got 'round to it. Anyway, Terry the carpenter did a stonking job, constructing a beautiful deck in just a day (it would have taken me months and looked a mess). It's already earning its keep, giving Ida somewhere to run about barefoot and play with her toys. Here they both are (Ida and the deck) in action:

I had a brief twitter chat with Helen Johnstone (@PatientGarden) about bedding plants, trying to work out if there are any that need little care, attention and water. I came to the conclusion that there aren't, and questioned why I spend around £100 every year on plants that take hours to maintain, only last a couple of months and are everything but sustainable. I couldn't come up with an answer, but knew I didn't have the willpower to turn my back on them. So, this year I've gone for a combination of 'Black Dragon' coleus, spider plants, lime ipomea, cerise ivy-leaf pelargoniums, cerise busy Lizzies and 'Purple Majesty' millet. Some people get a bit sniffy about coelus and busy Lizzies but, if used in the right way, I think they can look bloody awesome. I spent a glorious day planting the whole lot and am really looking forward to watching my pots and containers pump out the colour as the summer unfolds. There's nothing much to look at just now, but here's a shot of everything fresh from the nursery so you can get the general idea:

I've always had banana plants in my garden but our recent, bitterly cold winters have seen an end to them (even with thorough wrapping). The glutten for punishment that I am, I decided to invest in two  Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' (the slightly fancy, red-leaf ones) and have another try. After much pondering and internet searching I finally bought two, splashing out a whopping £45 (what with delivery etc). I waited with excitement, expecting enormous monsters to arrive that would create instant impact in my borders. Sadly, this is what turned up:

The orange on the right of the picture is the arm of my sofa, and you can just about see the plug socket in the background - these plants, by any stretch of the imagination, are not enormous monsters. Don't get me wrong, they're healthy enough, and I'm sure they'll bulk up over the summer, but they are disappointing. They were sold, and priced, based on the size of their pot which, I've discovered, doesn't necessarily relate to the size of the plant. Take heed, dear friends.

Grafted plants
I'm sure I'm not the only garden writer to take up Hishtil Ltd's offer to trial grafted tomato plants this summer. Well, the plants have arrived, they're waiting to be potted up and I'm quite excited to see how they perform. At this stage, I must say the non-grafted plants look stronger than the grafted ones, but I guess the proof will be in the harvest. I'll keep you posted. Anyone else taken delivery of theirs and got any initial observations?

So, that's it for now. I'll post again soon with tales of my mother's hanging baskets, our church fete and, of course, Chelsea.

Until next time...

P.s. I squandered the remainder of our saved up money on a car for Ida and me to tootle about it. It's a 1987 fiesta and I bloody love it! Here she is:

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Kevin Smith | Garden Media Writer and Editor

On 31 August 2010 I quit my full-time job as the Commissioning Editor at Gardeners' World Magazine to be a stay-at-home dad  and to try and scratch a living as a freelance garden journalist. It's often said that a 'life change' is good, but can I cut it with the yummy mummys? Will I manage to get a single shred of work done? Will Ida (she's the gorgeous little girl who's the cause of all this) like gardening as much as me? Who knows, we're going to find out...