I never take for granted the privilege afforded me by the Royal Horticulture Society to attend its world-famous flower shows, especially on Press Day when a few selected journalists are allowed to mingle with and interview designers, horticulturists, craftspeople, and vendors. Over the years I have visited behind the scenes numerous shows including Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton Court, Harlow Carr, Sissinghurst, Wisley, and others; in their unique ways, all are just…WOW.
This summer kicked off with a new one for me, held for the second year at Chatsworth, a magnificent house and gardens nestled high in the Peak District of Derbyshire, central England. Though last year’s Press Day was closed early due to horrendous downpours – what the British correctly call “chucking it down” – this year the weather was perfect. Continue reading “Peek at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show ’18”
I’ve gardened in sunny South California, where weather reporters are all but unable to forecast anything out of the ordinary – there’s a joke in San Diego that seasons are more about whether or not it rains.
But for the past eight years of shuttling between my gardens in Mississippi and Lancashire, northern England, it seems to me that there are mainly two distinct seasons in the British Isles – a brilliant if cool summer with long, long days, and a seemingly never-ending wet, chilly winter, with fairly drawn-out segues of what pass for spring and fall.
My Mississippi garden, on the other hand, has five seasons, from a mild occasionally-frozen mid-winter through two nearly imperceptibly drawn-out and overlapping springs (early and late, with completely different sets of weather and flowers); a long, torrid, breathtakingly-humid summer with temperatures that remain warmer at night than England rarely ever even gets up to in the daytime; and a month or so of subtle changes in Autumn color.
No matter. There are countless combinations of evocative accessories to carry gardens in all climates through the changes of weather, and weather-tolerant plants to boot.
For some ten years or so, a strange and beautiful thing happened between two men who had practically nothing in common other than a love in growing and joy in sharing simple garden plants.
This is saying a lot, but “Dirt” was without a doubt one of the most overflowing humans I have ever encountered. Bigger-than-life he was – tall, colorful, thoughtful, bawdy, humorous, and, yes, easily outraged and loudly opinionated (usually spot-on).
First met him by accident, while cruising backstreets of small-towns looking for interesting cottage gardens and the pass-along plants usually found in them – one of the best ways to uncover hardy, garden-variety plants.
His unmissable garden, nestled beside a railroad crossing in a small town in rural Mississippi, stopped me in my tracks. The outstanding “total yard show” was overstuffed and overflowing with kaleidoscopic combinations of plants and home-made yard art made from found objects. Its care-taker – a tall, lanky man with a do-rag on his head and a Kaiser blade in hand – met me at the gate. He wouldn’t invite me in, much less tell me his name, instructing me to just call him Dirt.
For the past thirty years – since my now-grown son was still in a child restraint seat – my old antique pickup truck has had a diminutive but productive potager garden overstuffed with flowers, herbs, and vegetables. That’s right, the working truck has a working garden in the back!
I started it out from frustration with one too many people whining about not having a place to garden. Thinking “What’d be the hardest place, the acid test, to give it a go?” I decided to try it in the back of my pickup truck.
Bulbs, tubers, corms, whatever – they are solid, fleshy little things that you plant in the ground and they sprout roots, leaves, and often flowers. Most come and go throughout the year; some are hardy outside in the ground, some are tender and have to be replanted every year.
Classic passalong bulbs for the Southeast include daffodils, painted Arum, huge Crinum lilies, low-growing star flower (Ipheion), red Amaryllis, Lycoris (both the red “spider lily” and pink “naked ladies”), Spanish bluebells, summer snowflake (Leucojum, with little white bells with green dots, often confused with snowbells which grow better farther north), magenta hardy Gladiolus (G. byzantinus), tall summer-flowering Philippine lily, hidden ginger (Curcuma), elephant ears, garlic, and tiger lily. There are others of course!
They’re plants that everyone grows, but hardly anyone buys…
Each has a strong value or combination of values -pretty, fragrant, extra productive, long-flowering, family heirloom, fascinating history, whatever – making it desirable by a lot of different kinds of gardeners.
Each is easy to grow without special soil preparation, extra watering or other horticultural finesse, and grows well in a wide range of conditions.
Each is relatively insect and disease free – I mean, who wants a plant that is always boogered up?
And, most importantly, each is easy to propagate by seed, division, or cutting, else it won’t be easy to share.