Flowers

Flowers

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Home thoughts from abroad

So, here's the thing: every time I attend a garden bloggers' fling in the United States, there is a heatwave. Before I go, I tell friends I'm going to Seattle, or San Francisco, or (in this case) Portland, Oregon. They snigger and say things like: "Remember to take a raincoat, huhr, huhr." The north-west coast of America, like the north-west coast of the UK, is notoriously damp and chilly.
When I arrive at the destination, the sky is blue, the temperature is about 38C (100.4F) and everyone is sweltering. I will already know this of course, because I will have been tracking the weather on the BBC's site, which is usually pretty foolproof.
Even better, when I get home from the fling, the heatwave has migrated to the UK, and southern England is basking in temperatures more usually found on the Riviera.
The "Fling" was first flung in 2008, in Austin, Texas, where a group of garden bloggers decided that it would be fun to have a national event and invite people from all over the US - and the rest of the world. Most of the "flingers" - but not all - are professional garden writers, or master gardeners, or involved in the horticultural trade in some way.
Since then, there have been flings in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Asheville, NC and Buffalo, NY. Typically the programme last three or four days and includes visits to both private and public gardens, trips to nurseries and plenty of opportunities to make friends.
In the past four years, Brits like me have started to infiltrate, and we are always given a typically warm American welcome. This year marked the highest number of Brits ever, including me; my friend Michelle from Veg Plotting, down the road in Chippenham;  Charlotte Weychan from The Galloping Gardener and Mark and Gaz from Alternative Eden. Here we are, posing for a group photograph at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland.


It's always difficult to know where to begin writing about all the astonishing gardens we visit on a fling. This time, I thought I might start at the end, and work backwards, because one of the greatest pleasures of a fling is to potter round the garden when I come home and digest all the interesting things I've seen.
I also think that, while it is important to scrutinise your own garden as dispassionately as you can (it's amazingly easy to see what you want to see, rather than what is actually there), it's also important NOT to look at your garden for a while. Going away for a couple of weeks allows you to see things with a fresh eye when you return.
There are times when I find my garden frustrating because it seems as if everything is determined to remain less than two feet high. Most of the plants you can see in the pictures below have been planted by me in the 18 months since I moved in, so it's not surprising that they are still quite small - some of the shrubs and trees, for example, will not attain their full height for many years.
However, when I came back from America, I realised for the first time that things really were beginning to fill out a bit, and give a vague impression of how the finished result might look.


My garden uses what most people would recognise as cottage garden plants, but there are also some exotic interlopers. I had a sub-tropical garden when I lived in London (see Victoria's Backyard), and I love bright colours, and coloured foliage. The challenge for me, when I moved to the Cotswolds, was to find a way to make my favourite plants work in a more traditional setting.
The starting point for a colour scheme at Awkward Hill was the Cotswold stone of the walls, which is a golden grey. It becomes covered in moss and lichen, which together add splotches of black/brown (where the moss dries out in summer), a bright yellow/ochre, and white.


So I have lots of grey plants - santolina, lavender, catmint - alongside gold foliage (in this case, Libertia ixioides 'Goldfinger' to the right of the staddle stone), purple leaves (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo' and Sambucus nigra 'Black Tower') and the subtle, multi-coloured spears of Phormium tenax 'Alison Blackman'.


Mario fits into this colour scheme very neatly.


I think I meant to take a picture of the heuchera on the left, which are 'Bronze Beauty' - a really showstopping variety with vast amber-coloured leaves. They look a bit weird bobbing up in the middle of pale-pink Geranium endressii, but everyone always stops to ask what they are. What can I say? You can take the girl out of the exotic garden, but you can't take the exotic garden out of the girl ...


I say I meant to take a picture: I got distracted by Luigi, who was posing prettily in front of the lavatera.


This is Nigella papillosa 'African Bride', which I bought as seedlings from Sarah Raven. It's not the most economical way to buy plants, but I don't have a greenhouse (yet), so it makes a kind of sense to me. Nothing went to waste, nor did I have any disasters.


Looking down the garden, you can just see the fastigiate yews I planted this spring to form a boundary between the formal part of the garden and the wilder part. I spent ages deliberating whether to plant a hedge or have a fence. In the end, I decided on what I call "not a hedge". The idea is that the yews will form a line of pillars, which are interplanted, for now, with white broom (Cytisus x praecox 'Albus'), Libertia grandiflora, yellow crocosmia (Crocosmia crocosmiiflora 'George Davison'), Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights' and various grasses.


39 comments:

  1. Your garden is brilliant! I look forward to following you and seeing more of your garden. It was my first fling and meeting you was a pleasure : )

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    1. Thank you, Laurin - it's very kind of you to say that meeting me was a pleasure, considering I was brain-dead at the time. Next time, let's chat at the beginning of the fling!

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  2. What a lovely garden you have, Victoria! You have created such a beautiful place in such a short time. I'm envious of your Cotswold stone and the moss--nothing like that here in the Midwest. It was great to meet you! I wonder what the forecast for Toronto next June will be:)

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    1. Thank you, Rose - it was lovely to meet you too. I already have my sun cream on standby for Toronto...

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  3. I love this. It is hard to look at one's own garden dispassionately. I just made the mistake this year (at Hardy Plant weekend and then at the Fling) pf buying about 30 new plants for my three year old garden...and realize that the existing plants have matured so there is no room for those 30 new plants!

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    1. Hi Skyler, it was so nice to meet you! A garden designer friend once told me how to measure the space and calculate how many plants before I go to the nursery. But who does that?! And in any case it leaves no room for the chance meeting with a fabulous plant. I'm lucky, I can just hack off another bit of lawn - but it's just as well I wasn't able to buy plants in the US.

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  4. It's quite beautiful, Victoria, and no doubt just a hint of what a beauty it will be all grown up. Thanks for the tour.

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    1. Vicki, it was FABULOUS to see you again and renew our friendship. One day you must come and visit - promise.

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  5. Your garden is coming together beautifully, I love the way you are taking your colour scheme from the stone and lichens, I am trying to do the same using the cliffs and sea. I very much relate to the way shrubs take so long to establish and begin to contribute in the way you plan for them to do in your head, mine are mostly still swamped by surrounding perennials, having started planting around 18 months ago too. I love the idea behind your non-hedge, and your garden already has character and atmosphere - and a perfectly colour coordinated cat!

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    1. Hi Janet! Shrubs are like kids; you think they're never going to grow up and then you turn around one day and they're six feet tall. We seem to be living parallel lives, or at least parallel gardens. I've just looked at your blog and you have an almost identical picture to one I took the other day of Echinacea purpurea growing through Anemanthele lessoniana. We should get together and compare notes - if you're ever passing through the Cotswolds, let me know.

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    2. Hi Victoria, excellent analogy, that's it exactly. And isn't that anemanthele + echinacea combination a delight? I'd love to meet up with you, and see your garden. If I'm down that way I'll take you up on that.

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  6. Your garden looks beautiful already and will only get better. Looking forward to seeing it in the flesh :)

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    1. I look forward to seeing you guys in the flesh! And to visiting some exotic nurseries: my local garden centre doesn't even sell phormiums...

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  8. Sounds as though it was a wonderful fling. I am glad you saw your garden in a good light when you came home. I don't know how you could see otherwise because it looks beautiful. You have done great things. I'm afraid after looking at gardens like yours, on our recent trip to Devon and Cornwall, My garden did not shine in my own eyes. I want those smaller plants that grow to only 1' It sometimes takes me time to readjust. However, going away always brings me home with a head of ideas and improvements so it is a good thing to forget ones own garden for a while-especially when it is 100° out there. Today, in fact. Enjoy those warm summer days.

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    1. WE missed you at the fling, Jenny! Hope you're going to make it to Toronto - if only for that cool Canadian weather.

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  9. It was so good to see you at the Fling...and your garden is looking fabulous! You're kind of my hero in that I dream of giving up the rat race and moving out to the country someday...ahhh...we can dream, right ;-)

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    1. Scott, you have created your very own bit of paradise right outside your front door. I loved your garden; it has transformed the sidewalk into a mini-meadow. I've been a city girl all my life, but I love living in the country. If you ever get the chance, do it.

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  10. So many familiar plants in your beautiful new garden, the libertia, santolina, even that very same phormium. I hope the UK Fling contingent seriously considers hosting a Fling too!

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  11. So fun to meet you, Victoria - even if we only met stumbling around at dusk at Bella Madrone right before the end... I adore your non-hedge - no doubt it will look fabulous when it grows up! And I think we share a love for Libertia grandiflora. I just bought one this past spring, and love it!

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    1. Stumbling is right! I was so tired, but I was determined to enjoy every last minute. Libertia grandiflora (well, any libertia) is on my list of top 10 plants. It's bombproof. Yet it's so little known - I can never understand that.

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  12. I've been finding it hard to start blogging about the Fling since we got back - so many gardens and much learnt which requires time to reflect and ponder. Like you, I've preferred being in my garden, especially as the weather means being outside is much more preferable to being chained to a computer. I've been planting out some of the plants which I hadn't managed to get around to doing before we went away. They're in completely different positions to those originally intended, so I'm starting to apply some of my thoughts from abroad back at home :)

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    1. Oh yes, the "bought it for there but I'm going to put it here" scenario. I know that one so well! Talking of which, I need to buy some echinacea. Do you fancy a trip to Derry's some time?

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    2. Ooh yes, that would be fab! :)

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  13. Your garden looks marvelous -- especially after hearing that it's all only 18 months old! That last photo with a view across your garden is lovely and I'd like to see more photos like it (I think I must be more of a "big picture" gardener than a closeup one). And I'm glad you had a good time here in the US -- gardeners really are the nicest people in any nation! -Beth

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    1. I've just bought a new camera, Beth, which I swear makes my garden look better. I use photographs a lot to assess the garden - it's so much easier to see what jars and what works in a picture. I'm useless at doing closeups, anyway, so you'll get plenty of landscape shots on here!

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  14. Hi Victoria, I enjoyed reading your blog and am looking forward to reading more about the bloggers fling. We have only been writing a blog here at Sissinghurst for just over a year and all this 'fling thing' is very new to us. Am looking forward to finding out more about it from you and the other English flingers. Helen (gardener)

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    1. Helen, if you ever wanted to host a fling at Sissinghurst, you would have 70 US flingers queueing up at your door! I'm trying to investigate the possibility of hosting a fling in the UK, but the main stumbling block is finding accommodation - hotels are so expensive, and it's difficult to find places that are big enough and at the same time near the gardens we'd want to visit. If you have any bright ideas, let me know!

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    2. I have been thinking about the idea of having a bloggers day at Sissinghurst in the future. Do you think bloggers would be interested in attending?

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    3. Victoria - would be interested in helping with a UK fling, have lots of ideas although like you stumped with the hotel issue

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    4. Ooh yes please sissinghurstcastle - Fling or no Fling! :)

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    5. Hi Victoria, I've been thinking about your accommodation dilemma. If you held a fling during the university summer holidays, you could use their accommodation which they rent out. I'm sure the US bloggers would enjoy staying at Oxford, Cambridge or Bath. In fact, there's loads of choice if you consider all UK uni's. Hope that helps. Helen

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    6. Oh, yes, please! What an incredible idea! Oxford, Cambridge, Bath...what choices, oh my. Please please please please say it will be!

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  15. Your garden is beautiful and it was so wonderful to meet you! You've done so much in such a short time. I love those terra cotta urns on the wall and that nigella is just fabulous. I'd attend a Fling in the UK in a hot minute if it didn't cost a small fortune. :o)

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  16. I love how your garden at Awkward Hill is flourishing! Everything looks as if that's the way it has been for decades ... perfect!
    Let me know when/ where the next Fling is and I'll try to come too. It'll be so lovely to meet you and all my other garden blogger friends :)

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  17. Do the kits leave the Catmint alone?

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  18. It was lovely to see you again Victoria. I'm so glad y'all come to the flings. We miss you when you don't. But, are you the ones bringing the heat? We blame it on the Texans, but.... I came back from this fling dismayed by my garden. It's never just the way I want it, but I guess that's how it goes.~~Dee

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