A good day

Mowed grass design at Wisley Salvia and bronze fennel Pink rose Tall alliums against roses and hedge Allium and peony View at RHS Wisley Phlomis The old laboratory at RHS Wisley Evergreen shrubs for topiary Candlabra primulas Wild meadow with willow edging Alliums Peony

My son is home. The dog gave him her special howl of happiness that she only does when her very favourite people are all together in their pack. There’s a mountain of bedding and clothes that need washing, boxes of books and bags of shoes. He’s already surveyed the contents of the fridge, cuddled the cats, commented on how lovely it is to be able to use a clean toilet and is now lying on his bed surrounded by suitcases and boxes. Happy. I’ve put a chicken in the oven to roast and we’ll have that in about an hour with new potatoes and salads, followed by scones with clotted cream and fruit. He’s been existing on pizza and skipping lunch and needs feeding up.

David had the bright idea that we should go and collect him today via the RHS garden at Wisley for a wander and a reminisce and coffee and cake en route. I didn’t need much persuasion. We used to live about 30 minutes away and would visit regularly when the children were small. I also volunteered here for a couple of years, working once a week in the Trials Department, and I also surveyed all the model gardens as part of my garden design course. I pretty much knew every metre of the gardens in detail, specific plants, views and buildings. But it’s changed quite dramatically since our previous visit about 4 years ago. There’s a major new visitor ‘experience’ (opening tomorrow, so the signs said), with a new plant nursery and various other attractions. All the model gardens have disappeared(!) and there’s construction work for a new plant laboratory, world kitchen garden and learning centre.

When we first used to visit with our babies and toddlers, we’d be among the youngest visitors by far, there was always room in the car park and you could easily wander round and not see many people. It felt like a horticultural haven where only Very Keen gardeners went. Today, there were car park attendants in hi-vis jackets, several overseas coaches, loads of people of all ages, lots of children running about, an outdoor music and dance performance going on for smaller children and a real sense that the garden was a destination, a great attraction. If it gets more people outdoors, looking at plants and enjoying all the benefits, I’m all for it but the place seems to have lost a little of its charm. Maybe there’s no place for charm at the forefront of horticultural progress.

Anyway, it was still possible to get photos without people in them of gorgeous plants! Alliums. Alliums everywhere – tall ones, taller than me, short ones, enormous globes and vibrant purples – all buzzing with bees. Glorious. And sumptuous peonies and roses whose scent hits you before you round the corner and clock them. There are still delightful touches here and there – a mown design in a patch of perfect lawn, lovely hooped hazel or willow (not sure) edging alongside the meadow. It was certainly a treat to spend a few hours here soaking up plant inspiration before collecting our boy and bringing him home for the summer.

Right, I must get that dinner on the table. Hope you’ve had a good weekend.


Trying to fit in too much (as usual)

Yet another photo of alliums. They are looking so spectacular at the moment that I had to show you (again)!
The alliums are now fully out and looking so spectacular that I had to show you them again! I adore these balls of beauty.

It’s been a busy few days as we’re spending every spare moment outside in the countdown to the Garden Safari. The entrance to our property is through a gate in a mixed hedge at the top of the garden (we are on a slope). It’s an unprepossessing entry so we decided to give the hedge a good cut back, clear the area underneath it which runs beside the path and plant it with something pretty to look at. This is a job that has needed doing for some time…

I should have taken a 'before' shot, ie, before the hedge was cut and the edge cleared, but David got going before me!
I should have taken a ‘before’ shot, ie, before David cut the hedge and the edge was cleared, but you can get an idea of what it looked like from the mess on the path.
The earth here is very dry and so we've added a huge sack of compost (it didn't go very far).
The soil here is very dry and so we added a huge sack of compost. (It didn’t go very far.)
We've planted grasses, geraniums, bergenia, achillea, and erigeron – all plants that don't mind it dry and cope with baking sun and a bit of shade (fingers crossed).
We planted grasses, geraniums, bergenia, achillea, osteospermum and erigeron – all plants that don’t mind it dry and cope with baking sun and a bit of shade (fingers crossed). These were mostly plants that we propagated from others in the garden or grew from seed.
A big clump of bergenia that we transplanted with luzula in the background.
A big clump of bergenia that we transplanted from behind the shed with luzula in the background and geraniums in the foreground. The tree is a large maritime pine.
I hope the erigeron will take here as well as it has on the front steps.
I hope the erigeron will take here as well as it has done on the front steps.

As well as tackling this area, we’ve also started on project ‘Rebuild the Compost Heaps’…

This is what the compost heap looks like at the moment.
This is what the heaps look like at the moment: A Mess. There are two collapsing bays, completely overloaded and with potatoes growing out of them(!), and two plastic bins that we don’t use.
Wood and tools ready to go. We only got as far as making the two side panels. The plan is to have three bays, each roughly 1.2m square.
Wood and tools ready to go. In typical ‘taking on too much in one day’ fashion, we only got as far as making the two end panels.

The plan is to have three compost bays, each roughly 1.2m square, so we can use one to turn each heap to aerate it. I’ve read about all kinds of interesting ingredients and that it’s important not to have too much nitrogen-rich material. It’ll be so great to have home-made compost – it feels as though this is ‘proper’ gardening now. Does anyone have any composting tips?

My son's discarded walking boots. I had to leave them for quite a while before it was safe to move them.
My son’s discarded walking boots. We had to leave them for a few hours before it was safe to move them.

In other news… Our eldest finished his qualifying silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition yesterday – three days of walking (60km) and two nights of camping. It’s been an exciting few months for him but that’s it for a while now. In order to achieve the award, he has to concentrate on finishing his volunteering, physical and skill activities. Oh, and all his school work of course.

photo-57 photo-58

I baked a couple of banana loaves earlier this afternoon for the after-school kitchen-raiders. If you usually eat all your bananas before they have a chance to be over-ripe, I recommend saving a couple to go past their best and use them to make this cake.

Dairy-free banana loaf
Makes 1 x 900g/2lb loaf 

The quantities double up easily for two cakes – I usually make two at
a time and use 2 medium or 3 small bananas as we don’t like them very banana-y. And you can experiment with types and ratios of sugars. Using all dark brown soft, or a mixture of light (or dark) muscovado and caster, also works well. You could also add a handful of sultanas or walnuts (but my youngest doesn’t like ‘bits’).

100g dark brown soft sugar
75g unrefined caster sugar
60ml olive oil (basic, not expensive or extra-virgin)
2 eggs
175g self-raising flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
2 small or 1 large over-ripe banana, mashed

Line a loaf tin with baking parchment or use a loaf-tin liner. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C.

Whisk the sugars, olive oil and eggs together in a large mixing bowl using a hand-held electric whisk. Do this for a couple of minutes until the mixture is lighter in colour and frothy. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the bowl and use a wooden spoon to fold everything in until fully combined. Add the mashed banana and stir until just incorporated. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin, pop in the oven and bake for 40–45 minutes. Stick a skewer into the centre of the loaf – if it comes out clean and the top is springy to the touch, the cake is cooked. If not, bake for a few minutes more.

Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes before turning out of the tin. It’s delicious eaten while still warm as the edges will be a little crunchy. It will keep for a few days in an air-tight tin, but ours usually disappear quite quickly.