One of the first things I did when we moved to a village was to sign up for an allotment. I’ve got dreams of an idyllic oasis of calm amongst my home-grown flowers, fruit and veg. I want to create a beautiful place I can cycle to on my Pashley bicycle. I found I couldn’t cycle off road on my Pashley as she’s just too heavy. However she looks pretty and is built for carrying home grown produce in her big basket.
I’d like a shed on my allotment which I can sit outside on a balmy sunny evening amongst pots of herbs and brightly coloured geraniums with a glass of wine relaxing on a deckchair. I’ll enjoy sketching the fruits of my labour too.
I’m now the proud owner of Plot 16B, which has cost me the vast sum of £2.50 rent a year! My first job this month has been to assess the site. I’d chosen this one as I was informed that it had been worked in the last year, had been well manured and although overgrown the weeds were mainly annuals and not perennials, so should be easily brought back to life.
My first visit was a bit daunting. I couldn’t see the edge of my plot and didn’t quite know where to start. However I could see there was potential. The previous occupant had left a few fruit bushes behind. There were quite a few raspberry canes with ripe fruit and what appeared to be a gooseberry bush. There was also a delapidated cold frame filled with an assortment of rubbish.
I wasn’t sure if the broken cold-frame was rescuable or whether it was in the right location. However I’ll be able to use the wire netting and the drain pipe and there’s a nifty fire grate which might be useful for building a bonfire.
Plot 16B faces North. In the South West side of the plot was a Christmas tree and an overgrown gooseberry bush entwined with weeds and grass. We are not meant to grow trees so the Christmas tree had to go. The gooseberry bush may be rescuable so I cut it right back hoping to rejuvenate it.
The South East corner of my plot is rather overgrown with raspberry canes. It looks like there is a mixture of Summer and Autumn fruiting raspberries and there were a few fruit lingering on before the first frosts. I’d like to keep the raspberries, but get them under control. They’re no longer in neat rows and are spreading out over too much of my plot. I can see that I’ll have a good fruit area and will move my Uncle’s old rhubarb, strawberries and currants to join the raspberries and gooseberry already there.
The area at the Southern end of my plot might be a grass path bordering a piece of communal fallow land. However it rather looked like I needed to hire Ross Poldark with his sythe to deal with the overgrown couch grass which was creeping into the fruit area.
Sadly Ross Poldark was not available! However I have made some lovely friends on the allotments. Octogenarian, Lew, rents several plots including one to the right of my 16B. He was more than happy to help me out and get me started. He might not own a sythe, but he does have a nifty rotavator! He felt it was ok to rotavate most of my ground as it contained mainly annual weeds. I dug out the dandelions and other weeds which needed digging first. This part didn’t have couch grass. Whilst I started on the fruit area Lew mowed my weeds..
I’m quite fond of the impressive tall yellow spikes of Great Mullein flowers. However I’m not sure I wanted this one in the middle of my allotment so it had to go. However at the North East corner is a clump of comfrey. It’s half on my plot and half next door. The comfrey can stay as I can make a liquid feed with the leaves.
The next visit I made to 16B I found Lew had not only mowed but also rotavated my main growing area. What a difference!
Mean while I had set to on the fruit area. I don’t mind digging up couch grass. in fact I find it quite satisfying doing battle with nature. Will I win or will nature have it’s way?!
However I found the part in front of the broken cold-frame extremely hard work. I stuck my fork in and hit … carpet! Not exactly a goldmine. There was layer upon layer of carpet. It had obviously been put down to surpress the weeds. However the couch grass had taken over so another carpet layer had been put on top. Digging up carpet was hard work as the dirt on top was very heavy. However another allotment owner set to work and gave me a hand. Derrick arrived just at the right time. I had been getting a bit despondant about my carpet pile. With Derrick’s help we got it all up quite quickly. I went home mulling over how I was going to get rid of piles of dirty, heavy rain sodden carpet.
I didn’t need to worry… over night a mystery carpet fairy appeared and whisked the carpet away! In fact I found Lew proudly stoking his bonfire. My carpet had disappeared in a puff of smoke together with a lot of the enormous pile of dried couch grass I’d pulled up. Three cheers for Lew! Not only has Lew got me off to a cracking start in my first month down on Plot 16B Patsy Smiles Flowers, but he has also provided me with a lovely crop of potatoes for dinner!
Octogenarian Lew has given me a wonderful start to my new allotment venture. However his potato heart is reserved for his new lady friend!
Do join me down on my Plot next month to see how I progress…
Earlier this month we moved into our dream house in a beautiful Oxfordshire village. When we walked up the drive we knew we would love to live here. I fell in love with the garden even before we walked through the front door. It was obvious Bob and Gwen had lovingly tended their garden as it was crammed full of interesting plants.
We haven’t quite been in a month. However our dreams have come true. I am looking forward to seeing what comes up over the next year.
We have gardens at the front and the back. Both are quite different. The front is South facing and apparently gets very hot in the Summer, so the grass will get quite parched. Above our porch at the front is a vine and a passion fruit. The large lounge window looks out over the front garden and is beautifully framed with vine leaves and passion flower orange fruits. I have discovered they are not to be eaten, even if they do look like luscious apricots.
One of my favourite blooms in the front at the moment are the Kaffir Lilies. I’ve never grown them before and I like their graceful beauty.
It’s interesting moving to a garden where someone else has influenced the design and planting. I didn’t have any fucshia plants in our last garden. The ones I’ve seen growing were lack lustre. However I rather like the dainty ballerina pink coloured one.
The dainty pink rose `The Fairy’ is still growing strong outside our front window and the magenta pink chrysanthemum is a magnet for butterflies even in late October!
Gwen told me that a large Viburnum tinus plant was moved as it smelt unpleasant. It has been replaced with dahlias and helenium. I hope they survive the Winter as they didn’t cope well where we’ve moved from. In time I might like to add a few ornamental grasses alongside for Autumnal interest.
We have a riot of colour with the red berries of the Pyracantha alongside the Yew Hedge.
Just this week little iris flowers have come out to greet me as I arrive home from work.
The back garden is much more shady, but equally lovely. We have a low wall which backs on to a neighbour’s wild life area, full of bird friendly shrubs and trees. I have embraced the bird feeders and we have seen 10 goldfinches, blue tits, blackbirds, great tits, green finches and a robin. They are rather fond of sunflower seeds consuming the contents of a giant birdfeeder in a few days.
Gwen had planted brightly coloured geranium spilling out of the pot lying on it’s side. I decided to pot them up to over winter and have replaced them with bright `n’ cheery cyclamen which give the same effect. They give a nice splash of colour when you look out of the kitchen window to watch the birds on the feeders.
The alstroemeria looks very healthy so I’ll enjoy cutting a few stems to arrange in the house together with the Winter flowering Jasmine.
The water feature is a nice addition and was very proudly constructed by Bob the previous owner. Next time I must switch the water on for my photo! There’s a tiny pond with a resident frog which I spotted when collecting fallen leaves.
So there we have it – a quick tour of our new garden. I look forward to sharing more photos with you over the coming months and years.
I spent a wonderful Patsy Smiles kind of day at RHS Chelsea flower Show last week. I went with the flow and missed most of the Show Gardens and avoided pretentious conversation. If the concept behind a garden design needs to be explained then it just doesn’t work for me. Nevertheless I came home full of inspiration. It’s the little details that caught my eye rather than the big picture.
My favourite Chelsea blooms this year were the azure blue of Meconopsis Lingholm on the Kevock Garden plant stand. I’ve never seen a blue poppy before so was fascinated by these beauties. Turquoise blue is a bit like marmite as it is such a vibrant, zingy colour. I love the colour and chose to use it in my branding. For me turquoise represents the sea and happy sunny holidays. I spent some time on the Kevock stand admiring the gorgeous colour palette. I realised that there had been some very deliberate planting of colour combinations. I chose to use turquoise blue, lime green and coral in my branding.
The coral of the Primula japonica Apple Blossom made the blue more noticeable as blue and orange are complementary colours.
Complementary Colours are colours that are opposite to each other on the colour wheel. When used together they stand out and create contrast. For example orange and blue, yellow and violet, red and green.
In part of the display I spotted a Triadic Colour Scheme with the blue Meconopsis, coral Primula japonica Apple blossom and yellow Trollius. By adding yellow into the mix and combining with the blue and coral Kevock created a visually appealing Triadic Colour Scheme. This scheme is made up of 3 colours evenly spaced around the colour wheel. The best way to create this colour harmony is to choose one colour to dominate with less of a second and a touch of the third or a mix of tints, tones and shades.
The Alpine Garden Society also had a fantastic display of Meconopsis and launched a new lavishly illustrated book at RHS Chelsea. `Meconopsis for Gardeners. The lure of the Blue Poppy.’
I opted for a couple of books which I will find more useful. Having chatted to the friendly exhibitors on the Kevock stand I realised that meconopsis will not grow well in our garden. Much more useful for me to buy a couple of wildflower Field Guides. The Harrap’s guide has good photographs and the other book will be invalauble for Mediterranean holidays.
Other than the poppies I was rather taken with a plant called Anchusa azurea Lodden Royalist. It is rather similar to the wildflower bugloss I have spotted in the countryside, but with a bit more drama. A lot of designers chose to use this plant to create a wild, natural effect.
I saw quite a few examples of Anchusa used as a backdrop to make orange flowers stand out, as can be seen here with the orange of the Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ against the blue.
I made a note of these little gems too. Omphalodes cappadocica ‘cherry ingram’ reminds me of tiny Speedwell wildflowers I have seen recently. I thought the blue flowers looked very pretty in a shady, woodland spot
I was attracted to the lemon yellow and blue colour combinations in this display. I might not be able to grow Meconopsis in our garden as they are quite tricky to grow. However I come home full of inspiration to incorporate the colour blue in future garden projects.
Last month I had a wonderful relaxing holiday staying at the Monnaber Nou Hotel in the middle of the Mallorcan countryside. The name Monnaber means ‘Hill of Flowers’ and the hotel is surrounded by a beautiful landscape of fruit trees typical of Mallorca including almonds, figs, pomegranate, carobs and olives.
Monnaber Nou itself had an abundance of flowers for me to enjoy. I had a wonderful time pottering with my sketchbook, wildflower books and my camera.
Latana camera is widely cultivated and naturalised in Mallorca. The shrub can grow up to 1.5m. The flowers are usually yellow or orange, changing to red, or all yellow or all red. I spotted some very pretty pink and mauve flowers too. The fruit is a small black berry.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is an impressive exotic looking deciduous shrub growing up to 3m. The leaves are deep green and shiny. The flowers are bright rose-red with prominent protruding red staminal column and stigmas. The shrub is widely planted in parks and gardens or along roadsides. Other colours include apricot, white, cream, pink and yellow.
It’s always a very pleasant challenge sketching by the pool whilst drinking a cocktail or two on holiday!
I am particularly fond of the beautiful magenta climber Bougainvillea. It’s one of those plants which symbolises sunny, Mediterranean holidays to me. The flowers themselves are actually insignificant whitish blooms, but surrounded by large leaf-like purple bracts.
In the grounds of Monnaber Nou I spotted the aptly named Four O’Clock Plant, Mirabilis jalapa. It is so named because its flowers usually open in the afternoon. The one I spotted liked to open an hour later at Five O’Clock!
Another flowering shrub frequently planted in gardens and on roadsides is Oleander. The flowers can be pink, red or white and grow in dense clusters. The Oleander flowers through the height of Summer when many other Mediterranean plants are past their best.
The other Mallorcan flowering shrub I am particularly fond of is Cape Leadwort or Plumbago auriculata. This scrambling shrub has beautiful sky-blue flowers. I remember picking a few snippets of Plumbago and Jasmine to decorate my favourite sunhat last year.
I spotted quite a few vibrant blue Mallorcan flowers this year. At home I valiantly battle to try to eradicate the bindweed in our garden. However Morning Glory, Ipomoea purpurea is in the same family and really is very attractive with it’s bright blue flowers. It has naturalised in hedges and roadsides in Mallorca and is also grown in gardens
Another tiny blue flower that caught my eye was the Blue Pimpernel. It was poking through the wooden slats near the pool and I almost missed it. It was close to a Scarlet Pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis which got me quite excited!
The hills behind Monnaber Nou are very rugged and the ground was completely parched in September. I enjoyed a few early morning runs amongst the olive and carob trees. There wasn’t much to be seen in flower except the very brown looking Carlina thistle, Carlina corymbosa. I didn’t think this thistle was very attractive until I looked more closely. Then I saw the beauty of the fluffy, yellow flowers. This thistle likes dry, stony places.
On a couple of afternoons I had a stroll with my camera and saw Sea Squill, Urginea maritima. Sea Squill is one of the Mediterranean’s characteristic plants. It flowers in late Summer after the glossy leaves have died away. It grows from a huge bulb, up to 15 cm across, which is often half buried in the ground. The flowering stem gradually develops after the leaves have withered and can be up to 150 cm high. This bears several hundred star like flowers.
Another plant adapted to the climate and steep rocky ground is the Century Plant, Agave americana. This is a very robust perennial, up to 7 m tall in flower. The bluish grey-green leaves are very large, spear shaped and form basal rosettes close to the ground.
Many species of Cactus are cultivated including the Prickly Pears, Opuntia ficus-indica. Found on rocky hillslopes, cliffs and roadsides. It was introduced from the Americas by Christopher Columbus. The fruits are often seen for sale in markets.
In the grounds at Monnaber I also spotted a Squirting Cucumber, Ecballium elaterium. The small green fruit, like a small cucumber explodes suddenly when ripe, squirting the seeds out in a pulpy liquid.
This is just a taste of the flowers I saw on my holidays this year. I hope you enjoyed my Mallorcan Floral snippets as much as I did!
The Victorian Era turned away from the elegance of the Georgian Era and brought houses jam-packed full of clutter. From simplicity and elegance we moved to richness and opulence. At no other time had flowers and foliage been used in such abundance.
The Victorian’s love of order and control influenced a more formal style of gardening. Bedding schemes with plants laid out in rows and colour patterns were seen as the height of style in the mid 19th century. Mid Victorians liked brilliant-hued flowers and strong colour contrasts rather than harmonious colour schemes. Garden design was brash and bold. With the rise of the middle classes and their neat suburban villas, this ‘bedding boom’ reached even the small suburban garden with brash displays in island beds placed right in the middle of lawns.
The removal of tax on glass in 1845 meant that there was an increase in the building of glasshouses and conservatories which coincided with growing and collecting of exotic, tender plants.
Plant hunters and the Wardian Case
The entire 19th century was a period of great enthusiasm for flowers, plants and gardening. People became avid collectors of certain plants, specializing in popular plants such as geraniums, fuchsias and camellias. A whole range of plants which had never been seen before were introduced. These included South African Gladiolus, Mexican dahlias, nasturtiums, azaleas, camellias, tree peonies, roses from China, chrysanthemums and fuchsia. It was the Era of ferns and houseplants.
The Wardian case was an early type of sealed protective container for plants invented by botanist, Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward. It found great use in the 19th century in protecting foreign plants imported to Europe from overseas. Wardian cases soon became features of stylish drawing rooms. In the polluted air of Victorian cities the craze for growing ferns and orchids owed much to the new Wardian cases.
1858 Greenock Advertiser
In grand houses the Head Gardener had the important task of arranging large quantities of flowers for the house with flowers from the cutting garden. The Head Gardener often had a Flower Room amongst a group of buildings in the walled garden attached to the glasshouses. The room contained a table close to a window, a sink with a water tap and large cupboards with broad shelves for vases. Sounds like my ideal room for all my flower arranging paraphernalia! This is the first time we saw specific cutting gardens where flowers were grown for pleasure and not just medicinal purposes. In smaller houses the mistress and daughter would arrange the flowers.
Eloise Harriet Stannard, A Still Life of Flowers in a Glass Epergne on a Marble Ledge with Gloves, Wicker Basket and Scissors, oil on canvas, 1889.
My great, grandfather George Spice was a gardener. When he married in 1878 George was a gardener living in Sittingbourne, Kent.
In 1881 George had a young family and was gardener at Hempstead House in Bapchild village, near Sittingbourne, Kent. In 1891 he was still a domestic gardener at Hempstead, living in one of the cottages attached to the house.
During the 19th century rural cottage gardens didn’t really change. I imagine that George would have had a cottage garden at Hempstead where he grew a mixture of flowers and vegetables.
At the latter end of the Victorian Era George moved with his family to Lower Clapton, Hackney in London. It is likely that George started work at the Pond Lane Nursery on Millfields Road.
Lower Clapton 1868
The Pond Lane Nursery was sold in 1898.
The First Florists
Until the second half of the 19th century the majority of land close to cities was in use by market gardeners. Nurserymen grew outdoor flowers for market or specialised in growing and selling exotic, greenhouse plants.
London Evening Standard 19 May 1898
The Early Florists were working men like my Great, Grandfather George Spice.
The newspaper article lists greenhouses in Springfields, Clapton which were growing vines, orchids, palms, acacias, gardenias and ferns. Looking at the photo George may have even worked at Springfield Park.
Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers’ Gazette 14 Dec 1895
At the latter end of the 19th century large areas of land which had been market gardens for fruit and vegetables became housing. It was the newly well off middle classes who bought villa type houses in these suburbs. A lot of the growers moved further out. However some nurserymen who didn’t need large amounts of land on which to grow remained. Pond Lane Nursery is an example of a business that was sold to make room for new housing. Interestingly George Spice moved to the area and is at Rushmore Road in the 1911 census. My Grandma was brought up nearby in Elmcroft Street by George’s daughter Ethel and went to school in Millfields Road. The house she grew up in was built on the Pond Lane Nursery land.
George found new work with the florist and garden contractor Owen Charles Greenwood of 27 Upper Clapton Road, Hackney, London. The householders of the new suburban villas would have been good customers purchasing bedding plants, pot plants and flowers. These suburban nurseries often sold from a bench in an outbuilding, but some nurseries had a shop. Owen C. Greenwood had a shop from which he sold flowers to theatres in London. Florist Shops would sell seed, plants and a few cut flowers. There would have been more pot plants than cut flowers on display as evidenced by this advertisement. Pot plants were hired out.
My Grandma remembered the Greenwood’s florist shop where she used to visit her Grandad George at work. She described `a large shop with an enormous fountain in the middle’ which she thought was amazing.
Owen’s son Stanley Fielder Greenwood took over the business and was still listed as a Nurseryman and Florist in 1939. George Spice always took pride in his appearance and even when retired wore a flower in his buttonhole.
It’s likely that George exhibited some of his employer’s prize blooms at various Flower Shows. Messrs Low from Clapton Nursery had exhibited at the Crystal Palace Flower Show in 1860 showing their recently introduced, exotic plants.
George may even have entered the Borough of Hackney’s Chrysanthemum Society Competition himself.
Shoreditch Observer – Saturday 12 April 1879
Apart from nurserymen florists the Victorian Era is famous for the Covent Garden Flower girls, epitomised by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
By 1851 there were 400 basket women or flower girls on the London streets. Before they set out to sell their flowers, the flower girls sat on the steps of St Paul’s church at Covent Garden and divided the bunches of flowers from the flower market in to small posies. They also made up buttonholes.
Pall Mall Gazette – 5th June 1885
Western Daily Press – Tuesday 30 June 1891
Flower sellers worked outside Hackney Railway Station
I like to think that George passed a love of roses onto his daughter Ethel whilst arranging flowers for the lady of the house at Hempstead.
Over the last fortnight I have watched my beautiful Coral Sunset Peony bloom and fade. The plant only had one bloom this year, however it was worth the wait. I first saw this wonderful flower at Chelsea Flower Show on the Kelways stand a couple of years ago and was hooked.
When I was working on my brand identity for Patsy Smiles Flowers with Becky Lord Design coral peonies inspired my vision. I was looking to create a brand which was cheerful, full of vibrant Spring colours and reflected my love of vintage treasures.
Coral Sunset and Coral Charm peonies provided the springboard.They both have very feminine and pretty flowers and the coral colour is very striking. I love vibrant, warm, cheerful colours.
The other flower I absolutely adore is the rose. I have 20 different varieties in my garden and I know most of them by name. The specific hues found in a coral peony inspired my brand identity colours. The rose inspired my logo in the sense that I wanted an identity which was pretty, feminine and floral.
I was very clear about the Spring colours I wanted in my Logo and lime green was a definate favourite.
I love working with zingy lime green foliage whether it be Euphorbia, Bupleurum, Thlasbi or frothy Alchemilla mollis. There is something about the colour lime which works well in lots of colour schemes from simple white to pale pinks and deep purples. Whilst training with the Sussex Flower School I was known for my love of bright, lime green foliage. No sophisticated, muted colours for me!
My third brand colour was inspired by the coast. I do love to be beside the seaside! It seemed only natural to include a bright turquoise colour in my branding to represent relaxed seaside holidays. I knew that turquoise blue would provide a wonderful contrast to the coral I’d already chosen as they are complementary colours found opposite on the colour wheel.
I have enjoyed using blue Nigella and Delphiniums with coral coloured flowers.
In order to reflect my love of all things vintage Becky Lord created an image which I felt represented a pretty 1920s flapper head-dress. I provided a quick watercolour sketch and the design was worked into a usable Logo.
I absolutely love my branding as I feel it represents who I am. – cheerful and optimistic, passionate about flowers and a lover of pretty vintage treasures. I am so pleased that I chose to include Coral Sunset as the main focal flower. What a beautiful bloom.
When I started to look for the ingredients for this month’s posy I thought the garden looked a bit bare! The month of May is a transition period in our garden, marking the end of tulip season and the beginning of the roses. At times I looked out and all I could see was greenery. However I did deliberately plant ferns last year to enjoy the texture and green colour. I’ve written a whole Blog Post about the use of ferns in Floral Design so decided I ought to plant some!
Another new addition was Solomon’s Seal. I loved using this beautiful arching perennial last year in a fabulous table runner on a course with Sabine Darrall so thought it would work wonderfully with the ferns in the garden. I was right. However my new stems were too precious to cut for this month’s posy!
One of my followers has asked to see more images of the whole of our garden and not just the detail. This meant I did have a jolly good go at the weeding and tidying up this month! When I moved into our present house I introduced Mr Smiles to flowers. He was familiar with dandelions, tomatoes, rhubarb and swiss chard but that was about it.
Over the next 6 years I dug borders and planted whatever caught my eye when I had finished digging and whenever I went on an outing to a garden centre. I’ve learnt a lot in the process. I didn’t make a plan. I just started digging. This means that there has not been much thought to a seasonal plan and there isn’t really a grand garden design with little cosy corners as I would like. When we move I shall have more of a long term garden plan.
I roped in my father in law to build me a trellis as I wanted to grow climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle. The good thing about the trellis is it hides the bins. However the flowers do tend to put on the best show on the opposite side by the bins as they obviously like to sunbathe! I used some clematis in this month’s posy.
I’m really pleased that we have great tits nesting in the blue birdbox again this month. I provided a choice of homes. However the middle blue residence seems to be the property of the month.
Last weekend we spent a lovely afternoon trying to capture the great tits going back and forth feeding their young. My photography skills with moving birds need a bit more practise as the images are a bit too dark for my liking.
It’s actually been quite a month for wildlife. I spotted quite a few white and greenfly on my roses which I wasn’t amused with. However there are also ladybirds about. Hopefully they will attack the aphids. That’s when they’ve finished mating!
We have had quite a few of my cottage garden favourite blooms out this month including Aquilegia and Love-in-a-mist.
I chose to use these flowers in my posy as they seemed to be representative of the month.
Centaurea montana is a great plant as it just keeps flowering. Not very showy, but a very useful filler.
One of my favourite flowers is Dicentra , now re-named as Lamprocapnos spectabilis. The arching stems have pink flowers which resemble pretty pink hearts. This is another shrub which I deemed too precious to be picked this month! My peony with just one fantastic bloom was also a no go area for picking!
Our front garden has undergone a similar transformation as the back. In fact the front garden really comes into it’s own next month when the roses get going. Again there were no flowers. I dug a small border and also planted a seaside area. Under our bay window we have stones. The area is quite damp in the Winter, but dry in the Summer. I’ve gradually been planting coastal loving plants. This is planting in the loosest terms. I’ve literally just shoved plants in among the stones and told them to get on with it. I have collected shells and drift wood from trips to the coast and added them in.
This was the border five years ago. Now I think I might need to make the border bigger…! I am so chuffed with my oriental poppy. In this image there is only one flower. This month I have poppy flowers galore!
As I had lots of poppy flowers I decided I could spare one for my May Posy to be star of the show.
In addition to the poppy the front garden has a lot of allium flowers in shades of white, pink and purple. I planted the front up after the back so there is more of a deliberate plan. I have chosen to use a colour palette of soft pinks, whites and lilacs.
As I have quite a few of the pretty blush coloured Allium roseum I was happy to pick some for my creation.
The other flowers I am very fond of are my stately foxgloves as they remind me of walks in the countryside.
By the front door we still have little viola in pots. I managed to include a couple of these in my posy as I love their cheerful little faces.
So there we have it this month’s posy is a bit of this and a bit of that, which represents our garden rather well!
The highlight of May for me has been seeing the fleeting beauty of carpets of Spring bluebells. I went for a lovely run starting at Badbury Clump at the beginning of the month. The Clump forms the remains of an Iron Age hill fort from about 600 BC and is famous for its beech trees and bluebells. They really were spectacular.
I also enjoyed a lovely evening with my local running group, Abingdon Athletics Club, running through the woods at Cothill.
A couple of years ago Mr Smiles and I had a holiday near Sissinghurst in May and the carpet of blue flowers in the woods was equally lovely.
We have also had quite a display of bluebells in the garden this year. This got me thinking about the difference between native English bluebells and Garden bluebells as they clearly aren’t the same.
My Garden Bluebells
I really enjoyed the process of painting two types of bluebell in watercolour. I found the process helped me see the differences botanically.
Native Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Leaf Width: 7-10mm
Stem: Droops to one side.
Flowers: Scented. Deep Violet Blue or white. Longer petals forming a straighter tube shape, curled back at tips. Flowers on one side of the stem.
Anthers: Pale Cream
Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica
Leaf Width: 20 – 35 mm (broader)
Stem: Upright and chunkier appearance. Less dainty.
Flowers: No scent. Dark blue/pink/white. Petals are shorter and form a wider open bell-shape.The tips flare outwards rather than curl. The flowers are spiralled around the stem.
Our Native Bluebell woods are threatened by the more vigorous Spanish bluebells. Hybrid Bluebells result from cross pollination. The Hybrid is somewhere in between the two with broader leaves, little scent and flowers all around the stem which droop slightly. The petals are shorter and more open like the Spanish. The tips sometimes roll back.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my trips through the bluebells this month.
The Woodland Trust would like to know where and when bluebells have been seen across the country. Why not join the Big Bluebell Watch and help map bluebells across the country?
`From Sultans of the Ottoman Empire and Dutch Merchants of the Golden Age, to gardeners today, the tulip has captivated people around the world for centuries. This fascinating flower has inspired artists and brought great wealth and even economic ruin to people who have fallen under its spell.’ The Tulip Museum, Amsterdam.
There are at least 16 different divisions of tulips. My favourite are the more flamboyant, frilly double ones and those that are bi-coloured, rather than the simple single tulips. However single tulips do look great when planted in groups. I had several sumptuous red tulips in bloom in April and they inspired the creation of my Posy of the Month.
Single Early Tulips
Single Early Tulips bloom early in the season (compared to other tulips). They are known for having very strong stems. This means that they will stand up extremely well to wind and rain, unlike some other types of tulips (for example, Parrot Tulips).
Apricot Beauty – Single Early Tulip
I have both `Groenland’ and `Spring Green’ Viridiflora tulip varieties. The term Viridiflora is derived from two Latin words: viridis meaning green and flos meaning flower. All Viridiflora Tulips have a streak of green somewhere on each petal. This contrasts dramatically with the basic flower colour (white, pink, gold, etc.). In addition to this beautiful colour contrast, Viridiflora Tulips are also known for their exceptionally long flowering capability. Some of mine have been known to flower in June!
Tulipa `Spring Green’
Other tulip divisions include the Fringed Tulips. These tulips have petals which are topped with fringes that look like the frayed edge of a piece of satin fabric.
Then there are Lily-Flowered Tulips. These tulips have long single flowers with pointed petals, often curving out at the tips. They flower in late spring.
One of my favourite colour schemes this April has been these jolly orange tulips against the blue of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ and the bluebells.
Double Late Tulips
I have had quite a few double varieties in bloom this year. The blooms of Double Late Tulips have so many petals that they are also known as Peony-flowered Tulips. They flower in late spring. The blossoms are extremely large; when fully open they can be as much as 4 inches (10 cm) across. The large showy flowers, resemble peonies. They often have weak stems which will not support the large flowers in wind and rain.
Lilac Perfection Tulip
Parrot tulips have large, often bi-colored, flowers with frilled and/or twisted petals. They flower in mid and late spring. Their stems are often too weak to support the large flowers so staking is sometimes necessary.
Another variety are Rembrandt Tulips. These tulips are named after the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt (1606 – 1669), who lived and worked in Holland at about the same time that tulips first became enormously popular. Actually Rembrandt himself is not known for painting flowers! Many other Dutch Masters of the time did include tulips in their paintings.
Jacob Marrel Tulips 1640
Jacob Marrel was a German still life painter active in Utrecht during the Dutch Golden Age. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
During this time, tulips became all the rage in Holland, particularly the ones with streaks and stripes of colour. These types of tulips were bought for huge sums during the so-called Tulip mania that occurred between 1593 and 1637.
We now know that these unusual markings were actually caused by a virus, which eventually caused damage to the tulip bulbs. Because of this, the original Rembrandt Tulips are no longer sold commercially. However, there are quite a few modern, virus-free, Rembrandt “look-alike” tulips available.
History of the Tulip
Tulips are often considered a Dutch flower. However the tulip was originally a wild flower growing in Central Asia. They were first cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). The botanical name for tulip is tulipa and is derived from the Turkish word tulbend or turban which the flower resembles. Tulips abound in the design of Iznik ceramics. The elegant tulips of Iznik tiles are far removed from bulbous modern-day tulips. They most resemble contemporary lily form varieties.
The tulip was introduced to Holland in 1593 by a botanist Carolus Clusius, who bought it from Constantinople. He planted a small garden with the aim of researching the plant for medicinal purposes. His neighbours broke into the garden and stole the tulips to make some quick money. This started the Dutch Bulb Trade. Tulip Mania followed. People bought up bulbs to the extent that they became so prized and expensive that the bulbs themselves were used as money until the market finally crashed. As the Dutch Golden Age grew tulips became popular in paintings and festivals. When I visited art galleries in Amsterdam I saw lots of tulips in paintings by the Dutch Masters.
Ambrosius Bosschaert – Still Life with a Bouquet of Tulips
Beyond the Dutch Golden Age tulips remained a popular design motif in the Art Nouveau Period.
William Morris also included a lot of tulips in his wall hangings in the Arts and Crafts Movement.
My April Posy was inspired by looking at the work of the Dutch Masters. I don’t normally take photographs which are low-key as I prefer lighter high-key images. However I’m pleased with my images. I felt that a darker backdrop would show off my vibrant red tulips well. I have arranged them in two different vintage jugs. One is atraditional copper Guernsey milk can. The other was a jug which my Grandmother inherited. I don’t know it’s date or history. However I do know my Gran referred to it as `The Never Forgive Jug’. She felt it had some value and had been given to her grandfather by the lady of a big house where he was a gardener in Kent. It was called this name as no-one would be forgiven if it was ever broken!
I spent a wonderful time recently exhibiting at the Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show. The Abingdon Horticultural Society is a friendly club for gardeners, cooking enthusiasts and handicraft lovers. It holds two shows a year where flowers, fruit and vegetables, preserves, baking and handicrafts are all exhibited and judged. Exhibiting brought back so many memories. In the 1980’s Mum and I used to enter the Harnham Flower Show in Wiltshire. I even won the Children’s Cup twice!
It really is my cup of tea – baking, jam making and growing flowers, fruit and vegetables! I was keen to enter the floral arrangement class as I was a proven winner even in the 1980s!
Harnham Flower Show 1982
Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2016
The Spring Show celebrates the arrival of Spring with flowers and Easter Cakes in abundance.
In Section A – Flowers and Plants there are 25 classes to enter and 10 of them are for Narcissus including trumpet daffodils, miniature narcissi and double narcissi. There is a strict clause that for the trumpet daffodils the trumpet must be longer than the outer petals. I was keen to enter the blooms from my garden this year. However I discovered there is quite a skill in getting your daffodils in peak condition for show day. I knew I would have some in flower, but hadn’t got a clue as to whether my daffs would have big enough trumpets and whether they would be more than 7.5cm across. I just knew they always look cheerful! I can see that this is serious stuff. How do you get your trumpet to grow bigger I ask myself?! I entered a class for multi-bloom narcissi naively thinking this was just a vase of 5 stems of one or more varieties. At the last minute I realised it actually meant narcissi with more than one bloom to a stem. I swiftly changed my entry and entered 1 stem more than 7.5cm across.
1. Vase of Trumpet Daffodils
The trumpet must be longer than the outer petals.
5 stems – one or more varieties
2. Vase of Miniature Narcissi
5 stems – one or more varieties with flowers less than 5cm across
I loved the frilly Rip Van Winkle Narcissi. The judge gave first prize to the Tete a Tete miniature daffs.
5. Vase of Narcissi
5 stems- any one bi-coloured variety with flowers more than 5.5cm across
7. Vase of multi-bloom Narcissi
5 stems – one or more varieties
I have some beautiful multi-bloom narcissi planted in my garden called Bridal Crown and Winston Churchill. However they are slightly later blooming and failed to make an appearance in time for the show.
9. Narcissus 1 stem – flower more than 7.5cm across
I entered one Narcissus bloom in Class 9. However I agreed that my dainty Pheasant’s Eye variety didn’t really meet the grade compared to the others. I did pick up a nifty tip though. If you put moss round the stem you can support the bloom so it stands up and can be more easily seen by the judge. I was a bit forceful and ended up with moss floating in the water and not supporting the bloom! I’ll know for next time.
There were only 2 classes for tulips. One being a single tulip and the other being a vase of 3 tulips of one or more varieties. This surprised me at first. A couple of years ago there was a fabulous display of tulips at the Spring Show. However in early April tulips are only just starting to bloom so it’s always a bit of a gamble.
Abingdon Spring Show tulips 2014
I didn’t have much choice in the garden. There were a few small pink tulips, but some had been nibbled by garden predators. My best tulips were rather nondescript white varieties. However the size was more of a competitive standard I felt. I learnt that the hall where the show takes place gets quite warm on show day. It’s best to choose a well formed, but in tight bud bloom. My tulips started out in bud and were wide open within an hour of setting up. You can be in danger of dropping the petals before the judging!
I received a Third Prize for my pink tulip. Janet Moreton I felt deserved the First Prize with her red and gold tulip.
11. Vase of Tulips
3 stems – one or more varieties
I was awarded a second prize for my white tulips which I was chuffed with. Particularly as I thought they were a bit boring and had wanted to exhibit more flamboyant, frilly blooms. The red tulips won the First Class Award. I find it interesting that red tulips seem to do well. In 2014 my favourite tulip was the deep pinky, purple tulip in a matching stone grey pink vase. However the judges favoured the yellow and red tulips giving the first prize to them. I guess it all comes down to personal taste if the blooms are perfect. However I might grow more red tulips next year as a tactical move.
12. Vase of Hellebores
My Narcissi had let me down as I only had a few blooms in the garden. However I had plenty of Hellebore flowers to choose from. Hellebores can be tricky to arrange in water as they flop easily. There are a few handy tricks.
Cut the flowers directly into a bucket of water. Take them inside to condition them. Strip the leaves from below the likely water line. Sear the hellebores as soon as you can by lowering the stem ends (about 2cms) into boiling water for 30 seconds. The flowers should then be placed in clean, cold water.
I was pleased that having followed this procedure my flowers still looked perky in the afternoon of the Show. Flowers which have set seed are also easier to use and less likely to flop. I decided to try to exhibit blooms at several stages of development.
I received a Third Prize for my efforts.
Other floral exhibits included wallflowers, auriculas and primulas.
16. Vase with up to 3 stems
Blossom or shrub flowers
I must admit I was disappointed to find I had no shrubs in flower in the garden and have now rectified this for next year! I do think some of the exhibits were lacking in flowers though.
17. Vase of 5 stems of Spring flowers
One or more varieties not included elsewhere in the Schedule (no shrub flowers)
I exhibited the Snakeshead Fritillary and pink Ranunculus. My Fritillary flowers were awarded a Third Prize, however my Ranunculus failed to win any prizes. I thought they were rather marvellous! However maybe the judges thought they were bought for the event. They weren’t! They have been giving me much joy in pots in front of our front door for weeks. There was a lovely selection and I rather liked the cowslips in a turquoise vase.
There were also categories for various pottted flowering plants and vases of Spring flowers not included elsewhere in the Schedule.
18. Container of Hyacinths
19. Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)
23. 1 pot, cactus or succulent
24. 1 pot for the patio
25. Spring flower arrangement in a vase.
May include purchased flowers or foliage. NO ACCESSORIES.To be staged in a niche 60cm wide and 76cm high.
This was the one class I really enjoyed entering and went to town on the Spring theme. I wasn’t quite sure how big to go and how to construct my entry. I was therefore found with a car boot full of flowers and foliage in the car park constructing and arranging my flower arrangement to great amusement from other entrants.
I was awarded a Third Prize. There was no indication as to what the judge was looking for and why the First and Second Prizes were awarded. I am sure that I was marked down for the size of my exhibit as my pussy willow was escaping from the designated niche! I had a good look at the others and saw that they had been constructed in advance with floral foam. One of them had placed the floral foam in a dish on top of the vase. Strictly speaking I feel that this was against the criteria as it was stated that the flower arrangement was to be in a vase. Not that I’m a sore loser! I can see that the other arrangements fulfilled sound design principles and mine was much wilder and ecologically friendly with the use of water and no foam.
I enjoyed the challenge and have loved having the house full of Spring flowers. I was amazed at the yellow tulips I purchased from Fabulous Flowers. They lasted a whole week and became more beautiful as they opened out.
Section D was the Photography Section.
A Photograph on a Spring theme (Taken in 2016) mounted on white card.
I had so many photographs to choose from I didn’t know where to start! In the end I selected a couple of images of Spring garden flowers which I felt were the most technically proficient. I did have some cheery daffodil images I could have used, but felt my focus wasn’t pin sharp. I opted for primroses and Anemone blanda. I was disappointed not to be recognised with any award as I really did feel my images were well photographed and it was a photography competition! Personally I felt some of the other images were over exposed and out of focus. However in this case maybe the judge was looking for an image which conveyed `a sense of Spring’, rather than technical expertise. This was in contrast to the judging for the Spring Flower Arrangement where the judge seemed to favour technical proficiency rather than my arrangement which was designed to convey a sense of exuberant Spring.
Section B was the Cooking Section with a wonderful display of preserves, decorated Easter Cakes, Hot Cross Buns and tea bread made to a given recipe.
The Spring Cakes were judged purely for creative decoration and not on the taste of the cake. The Fruit and Marzipan Teabread was made to a specific given recipe.
33. Fruit and Marzipan Teabread
It proved quite a challenge to make. I made three attempts. One sunk in the middle, one didn’t rise much and the other was rather stodgy! I settled for the slightly sunken one as it looked the right colour and hadn’t got any cracks. Although the Judge felt my teabread had `a good texture’ I didn’t win any prizes for my efforts. Maureen Cook was awarded a well deserved First Prize as her teabread looked appetizing and hadn’t sunk in the middle.
I had done better as a child as my rockcakes were `just the right size and shape’ and came First in 1982.
32. Spiced Fruit Buns
I was pleased to see that it wasn’t just women who won prizes in the Domestic Classes. David Bingley was awarded a First for his spiced fruit buns made with a yeast recipe.
There was a fine display of marmalades, lemon curd and chutney.
In the schedule there was a useful instruction for exhibiting preserves. `Use either wax disks and cellophane tops, or new screw lids without wax disks. Labels on preservatives must include the day, month and year they were made.’
30. Lemon Curd. Home Made 2016. One 8 – 16 oz jar.
I entered a jar of Lemon Curd which won no awards, but was noted to be a `good flavour’ by the judge. We enjoyed a dollop with yoghurt and fruit for dessert.
Harnham Flower Show 1980
I regularly exhibited at the Harnham Flower Show Spring and Summer Shows during the 1980s, together with my mum. The Summer Show was a grand affair held on the fields near The Old Mill with big marquees to show the exhibits. The event was officially opened by the Mayor and the Wilton British Legion Band was there to entertain everyone. I remember these Shows as real community events with tombolas and games in addition to the actual judged exhibits. Home-Made Teas were organised by the Women’s Institute.
1980 was a good year for me as I won the Children’s Silver Cup and even got my picture in the paper! I won 1st Prize for my `Animal Made out of Vegetables’ which was the Loch Ness Monster with a cucumber body and a jaunty tartan hat.
I chose to use a crab shell for the Flower Arrangement in a Shell. Some of the flowers I had grown myself in my little patch in the garden.
We always had a photo of our Prize Winning Entries when we got home.
I failed to keep the Children’s Cup in 1981, hence the frown on my face! However it looks like a good effort was made. Mum made a quiche, red wine, biscuits, cakes and marmalade. I remember cycling off to Britford Lock for the afternoon and her painting the picture of the Lock in watercolour.
I got 3rd Prize for my rock cakes, 2nd Prize for my Minature Garden, a 1st for 6 Fancy Cakes and a 1st for Mr Rubbish which I am holding up for the camera.
Harnham Flower Show 1982
Ah back on form and won the Children’s Cup again! I got my picture in the paper with my Flower Arrangement in a Basket. The judge commented that I should have made the handle visible so the basket could be picked up. I remembered this when I constructed my Posy of the Month recently!
The judge noted that my four Rock Cakes were just the right size and shape and awarded me a 1st Prize. An improvement on the year before when I only got a 3rd Prize! Mum had a very good year winning 1st Prize for both her sweet white wine and her dry red wine. She also won 1st for a Machine-Made garment, which was a pair of green knickerbockers made for me. I HATED them! I really had my eye on a new pair of pedal pushers in Dorothy Perkins and these were not the same. I had to wear them to a birthday party and felt very self-conscious. In the picture I am modelling a new Rah-rah skirt which I loved!
The Dorset County Show
The Dorset County Show is run on similar lines to the Harnham and Abingdon Shows, but on a much grander scale with animals. I regularly enjoyed a day out at the Dorset Show with my Uncle as a birthday treat. As this is a large County Show farmers also exhibit their Prize animals and there are sheep shearing competitions and rural crafts.
I love Flower Shows and Village Fetes. They have been going on for generations and connect us to our heritage. I found some interesting articles showing my ancestors competed in very similar events. William Jackson, my 3rd Great Grandfather, farmed 31 acres in Throrpe Salvin, Yorkshire. Farming was a way of life for him as he came from a long line of farmers. In 1881 William entered the Kiveton Park Flower Show Agricultural Produce Section. He won 1st prize for his potatoes, red wheat and barley. I’ve got a lot to live up to with my potatoes then!
I also found another interesting article. My 5th Great Grandfather Robert Hills was awarded a prize at the Northallerton Cattle Show in 1844 for `the Labourer in Husbandry who brought up the greatest number of children without seeking parochial relief.’ Well done Robert!
Robert Hills, Northallerton Cattle Show 1844
I hope you have enjoyed my jottings about Flower Shows and Village Fetes. I loved the moment in Downton Abbey where Mr Molesley’s roses finally were awarded Best in Show on merit rather than the Dowager Countess’s blooms.
In keeping with family tradition my entries were duly photographed for posterity when we got home after a wonderful day at the Show.