Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Seedbombs or green grenades and guerilla gardening

One of the great things about gardening is the amazing number of people who have a clear need to try to improve their immediate neighbourhood environment. 

I won't go into the the proven mental, social and spiritual benefits of a green outlook but if you live on a bleak housing estate or are trapped and isolated in a flat, what options do you have? Green walls? Possibly not on this scale - but we'll look at those later.

So, what does this leave you with? Indoor plants are probably your best bet, with any outdoor window boxes or pots at the risk of vandalism, theft or complaints about restricting the pathway. But is indoor enough to give you a shot of the green spectrum we all need?

Simple things like seedbombing (just love the thought of that!) and guerilla gardening which can transform derelict and unloved spaces and give a real uplift to the spirits has come to the fore. Done responsibly and in the right place I think this is a brilliant idea and to be welcomed. 

Photo image from artizuk.com

Seed bombing involves buying or making balls, heart shapes or any other shape you fancy really. 

Image from greenmoxie.com
Image from thriftyandgreen.com

Usually made of a mixture of potters clay, compost and seeds of your choice, you can also buy commercially made ones. These can contain a mix of seeds or a single variety. You can choose from poppies, wildflower mixes, herbs, edible flowers, wildlife habitat and many more. 

There are lots of sites on the net to help you choose and prepare your own seed bombs eg

Green grenades are the same idea but have a distinct military look. The intent and execution is identical - to spread and germinate seed on impact and enliven a depressing area.

photo by justive.us

Can you imagine how glorious a scrubby corner patch could become with this treatment? What a boost to everyone's morale and we all benefit - even subconciously. 

Guerilla gardening has come a long way since its original emergence as ninja garbed individuals planting plants or bulbs under cover of darkness in any tree pit, roadside edge or roundabout.

The mental images that spring to mind are completely surreal, but these radical gardeners certainly brightened up many an otherwise concrete urban area.
This kind of planting had to be carried out under cover of darkness to avoid prosecution as bizarrely in the Uk it is regarded as criminal damage to beautify a public space!

Guerilla gardening has moved on, evolving into an issue best described as something most local councils now turn a blind eye to or on occasion actively support by gifting a space to the local community to develop into a garden area.

This is a space I visited some years ago in London and was quite literally a bomb site from WW11. In Bonnington Square, in a fairly, at that time,  run - down area. 

As luck would have it one of the residents was a young man called Dan Pearson, now a well known garden designer. He helped design and transform a real eyesore and dangerous area into an amazing green space, with benefits for all the residents.
Now registered with the local civic society the square is a desirable residential area - totally improved with the addition of this garden and the efforts of the residents.

So, in short, if you're not happy with what you see around you - do something!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Seeds: the organic or heirloom and heritage debate

I love looking at seed catalogues (have I mentioned that?) but how do you choose between organic, hybrid, heirloom or heritage: especially if you want to try new introductions?

Unless you have strong ideas on this and are firmly in one camp or the other, I would suggest that the majority of gardeners simply want seeds that do what it says on the label, taste good in the case of veggies or salads, have a degree of resistance to nasties and are robust enough to cope with regional climates.

Organic seed for anything edible would always be my first choice. This would also include flowers for culinary purposes; essentially anything which I will be ingesting either via my cooking, in summer salads or in ice cubes (like blue borage flowers which I love and which look fantastic). I do not exactly garden organically but dislike using any herbicides or pesticides anywhere - preferring instead old fashioned and traditional methods. So ok, I occasionally lose some of the produce to snails, slugs or birds etc, but I think that's fair, as long as they leave enough for us.

If I had room I would also include heritage or heirloom varieties: these are survivors. For more than 30 years, coming in and out of fashion, these seeds will always come true to the parent plant (they are open pollinated) and all are old favourites. They are reliable in production and have historical resonances and references - and are as much part of our culture as York Minster or the Tower of London.  If that's not enough justification to grow them, there's the added advantage that you can use the seed saved from one harvest to sow the following year. No more seed buying! That should appeal to us Yorkshire folk.

Sometimes, an F1 hybrid selection is the only option if you have a special yen for new varieties, where selective breeding has married the best traits of parent plants to produce a plant with unique characteristics. Fancy white aubergines, purple carrots, green cauliflowers? I admit to being a bit of a purist in this respect, inasmuch as I like my carrots to look carrot coloured, my aubergines to have that lovely purple hue and caulies to be white. How boring is that? 

My husband is a chilli addict so we have to grow those, together with my own weakness, Charentais melon, which have either more varietal options or produce better from F1 seeds. 

When we lived in the Gers an old guy down the road very kindly gave me 6 melon seeds, dried from his previous year's fruit, which I planted. As we were still working in the house they got a bit neglected, with no watering other than heavy dews, but I have never tasted anything as delicious as the fruit they produced. Still drooling about that!

So, hoping for great things eventually - which is why I'm still looking at seed catalogues.

Oh, and must buy an estate agents camera. Why does every photo they manage to take make any space look huge - when more often than not it's tiny?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Has anyone watched the BBC programmes The Great British Garden Revival?

Whilst not agreeing that British Gardens need reviving per se, as more people, especially children, are becoming involved and learning to appreciate green spaces and plants, it's a moot time at the start of the gardening calendar to raise the profile of gardens.
Now is planning time, be it a re-design of your garden space or choosing and ordering roses, trees, shrubs, bulbs or seeds. 
Always an exciting time for me, though I tend to get carried away by the lovely photos and descriptions of the seed catalogues. One good thing about too many seeds is the option to share or swop with like minded addicts - either at the seed stage or any overproduction of seedlings. A garden club, friends and neighbours are perfect outlets, and the hope is of course that you will benefit from their over enthusiasm too.
This year however is a little different for me as I am currently garden-less, living in a flat with no outside space at all. Not even a Juliet balcony on which to perch a pot. So, I am perusing seed catalogues as usual but dreaming about what plants I shall grow once normality has returned to my world and I have a garden - or courtyard - or pots. 
If space is available I would love to create a kitchen garden, or maybe a cottage garden, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. Essentially anywhere I can grow edibles and ornamentals in a beautifully designed and crafted space.
Which is probably what the Great British Garden revival is all about: making whatever available outdoor space you have exactly how you want it. Pack it with loads of gorgeous plants to encourage wildlife, for the perfume, for the aesthetic value - or just to eat. 
Can't wait!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Welcome to 2014

This is my first blog of the new year and I send happy gardening wishes to everyone.

I celebrated the new gardening year by going to RHS Harlow Carr 

which I last saw when Matthew Wilson was in charge there.

The garden itself has an interesting history, having at one time being owned and run by the Northern Horticultural Society. I remember going to one annual dinner where the speaker was an up and coming TV personality by the name of Dairmud Gavin. Ever heard of him? 
Under the auspices of the RHS, funding has clearly increased in the last 8 years as has the ethos and direction of the garden.

A new state of the art learning centre 

The Learning Centre and gardens

image taken from the RHS Harlow Carr site

now sits 

where once the potager or kitchen garden was sited.

I loved this garden and wanted one just like it - even though my own garden space at the time would have held only 3 cauliflowers!
All the raised beds were beautifully arranged and the plants within, although clearly primarily productive, were themselves part of a cleverly crafted design.
Just stunning!

However, time moves on and the new vegetable plot has been re-located. Although still productive it has, for me, lost the pazzazz of the original.  

It was interesting to see that the Gardens through Time are still looking good and all credit to the gardeners who maintain them to such a high standard.
Clearly early January is not the best time to view them so I feel a return visit is called for.

Some of the best bits of the garden for me, in January, were 
the altered section of the garden below the alpine house where grasses and late flowering perennials were originally trialed. This section is now host to some splendid monoliths and grasses looking good after some frosting 

and secondly 
the varied and interesting pots which are or will be planted up later.


Other bits which were new to me and which I loved were the whimsies and curios

Every garden should have a sense of mystery, magic and humour.

And last, but not least, the lovely old clock was working!

Time to go!!