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Latest entries

27/02/2008 17:41 - Last blob

This is my last blog. Actually my mom calls it a 'blob' which I think sounds slightly more appealing. It's been a pleasure blobbing for you. To sign off I'll leave you with the comforting news that Joe Swift has taken on an allotment. It's all part of a Gardeners' World thread - following him for a year on a plot in North London. I spent a day with him and the GW crew recently putting up a shed he bought on e-bay and generally making fun of the amount of couch grass and mare's tail he's inherited. Watching his progress will be interesting as many people give up after the first year. I've got a feeling though that he will stick at it. Already he's smitten with the camaraderie, the open space for his children to enjoy and of course his shed which instantly becomes the heart and soul of the place. The weeds will be a problem, but provided he doesn't expect to crack it in the first season I reckon he'll be ok. Power to you Joe, and your plot!

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20/02/2008 17:11 - Shed progress

A little rushed, a few gaps and some trimming of pond liner, felt etc but it gives you an idea of what a sedum roof looks like. Once established it will require little by the way of maintenance as sedum can go for around a month without water.

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19/02/2008 18:02 - Allotment calling

Chelsea preparations are hotting up. We visited a care home today where we're hoping the garden will be relocated after the show. Not as easy as it sounds. Some logistical problems have to be solved before we can make plans but the space we looked at certainly needs a facelift so fingers crossed. Part of the garden is being be made out of waste kitchen surfacing so we're fine honing our building techniques in order to avoid standing around scratching our heads when the time comes. At home I've almost finished renewing the green roof on our shed. The picture shows the roof covered with pond liner. Battens underneath it will stabilise the sedum and also act as a sort of water reservoir. A capillary mat will be laid on this before the sedum mat itself. Unfortunately the sedum rolls were dropped and are in bits. Not really a problem but it will look a bit ropey for a while before it knits together. I'll post a pic of the completed roof just as soon as it's finished. Meanwhile, as I stare out of my office window at another spectacular sunset at the end of another spectacular day I hear the allotment sirens a-calling. Oh for a pair of night vision goggles.

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12/02/2008 10:21 - Grounded

With the weather being so unusually mild, (I had lunch outside by the Thames yesterday and it felt like May), there will almost certainly be consequences. Payback if you like. We had bluebottles, midges, butterflies and bumble bees looking a bit confused at the allotment at the weekend and they may need our help insofar as using winter flowering shrubs in the garden to provide them with enough nectar need should they venture out. The problem is that a sudden drop in temperature during the day can catch them out - bees especially. I picked up this fella the other day in a client's garden who had got so cold it was lying motionless on the ground. Quite often they are not dead and just need a little warmth (I usually breathe on them in cupped hands) to enable them to fly home to safety. This one was so cold it needed special treatment. Fortunately I was near the allotment so put it in the greenhouse while I mixed up a syrup solution of sugar and water. It fed from a teaspoon gratefully. The only problem was how much time I was prepared to spend nursing the creature and in the end I left it to its own devices when it started making good attempts at lift-off. A couple of things to watch out for here. First the bee will only sting as a last resort so just be gentle picking it up and you'll be alright. Second, don't breath on it if you have halitosis, it has enough to deal with as it is.

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07/02/2008 19:51 - Grateful

A big thank you to Jenny Woods from Avon bulbs who had read my posting on the 15th January and brought a lovely pot of Helleborus torquatus all the way from Somerset to a lecture we were both attending at the Museum of Garden History, Lambeth. I had to keep my wits about me during the lecture with envious glances from the likes of Dan Pearson, Jill Billington and Joe Swift but eventually got the plant home safely. The lecture itself was a visual spin from the Australian-Scot William Martin revelling in his limited palette of drought-tolerant plants which, let's face it, always look good in a parched landscape. It made me think that with the huge selection of plants we can currently grow in this country, British designers actually have a much more difficult job when it comes to making a bold statement in the garden. As Juliet Roberts (editor of Gardens Illustrated) said to me only the other day, it's all down to the editing.

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04/02/2008 15:41 - In a hole

I'm aching today. Aching all over. Even my toes are aching as a result of spending much of yesterday up a ladder in my own garden. I must say it's a good ache. A sign of real work as opposed to flouncing around in an office. I'd reluctantly agreed to forfeit time at the allotment to tackle a couple of jobs that had been put on the back-burner for far too long and, what with the Chelsea Flower Show looming bigger on the horizon, it was now or never. The grass roof on our shed (now thirteen years old), needed attention as poor drainage was rotting the fascia boards and what with the trouble it takes to keep a grass roof green, (ie you have to water it), we'd like to start again with sedum. The other job was to fill in a well or, more accurately, a water butt that I'd sunk below ground to keep it out of sight. A combination of never really using it, the fear of someone ending up in it (head first) and the need for space to plant a new tree in the garden was enough to decide that it had to go. Not an easy job with very restricted access (as you can see in the pic), but quite satisfying as I was able to use the soil from the roof to fill the rather substantial hole. The threatened rain never happened and I'm now ready to order some sedum acre which is sold in mat form these days. It took me back to the days when I still built my gardens. Hard work but incredibly satisfying. Christine my partner, noted that,despite a habit of digging uncomfortable holes for myself in other aspects of life, she hasn't seen me so happy for a long time.

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30/01/2008 18:41 - Bonkers

Turned the radio on in the car the other day, 'Gardeners' Question Time' as it goes. Correct me if I'm wrong but it sounded like Bob Flowerdew was advocating killing millipedes for damage to some plant or vegetable. Well I almost crashed the car with shock. Have we become a nation so paranoid about blemish free flowers and food that we have to blast everything that moves? Has no one heard of the food chain? I appreciate that nurseries have to keep their plants in tip top condition but surely there ought to be a modicum of live and let live in the private garden? I didn't hear the whole thing so not sure what the question was from the audience but I can't think of anything to justify such a ridiculous action. Please tell me I misheard and that Bob was just winding us up. ps I couldn't find a picture of a millipede so here's one of a flea beetle, another insect people get their knickers in a disproportionate twist about. Grrrr!!

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27/01/2008 09:51 - Prison Break

A week in gaol might not be everyone's idea of a winter's break but we've just returned from the House of Correction, a stunning Landmark Trust property in Folkingham, Lincolnshire - suitably adjusted I might add. No phone, no tv, no internet, (ill-equipped by modern prison standards some might think), sheer bliss and a chance to catch up on some exercise and reading. Exercise was taken daily, jogging around the grounds of the former prison, which occupies the ancient, moated site of Folkingham Castle. Deftly avoiding molehills, clumps of snowdrops and emerging daffodils it was a huge success, (ie I didn't twist, strain or break anything), and became a necessary prelude to slovenly spells in front of a log fire making a start on Roger Deakin's 'Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees'. Talking of spells I also dipped into a collection of ghost stories by M. R. James, 'The Ash Tree', (a tale of witchcraft), being the most potent warning of the Irish superstition that 'it brings the worst of luck to sleep near an ash tree'. I was relieved to note the following morning that the tree immediately outside our bedroom window - alive with the chattering clamor of at least thirty fieldfares and other birds - was a pear. There was an ash, however, not far from the kitchen window, from which a ball of fat was hung to tempt birds to where we could see them during the day. Rural birds, it would seem, either live well enough from the fat of the land or well versed in folklore and superstition. A few had a look but not one took so much as a nibble.

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15/01/2008 17:51 - Two Egg and Chips

Regular visitors to the RHS Westminster Flower Shows will know that feeling of helplessness when you see a plant that takes your fancy despite the fact that you haven't a clue where you're going to put it. I was there this morning and was mesmerised by Helleborus torquatus from Avon Bulbs. Others too had obviously fallen for its graceful, elongated form, dark stems and deep violet flowers for they had sold out. It should have left me more resilient to impulse-buying but I've learned that bumping into friends can have a damaging effect on one's self-restraint. Soon, having seen Juliet Roberts, (editor of the BBC's Gardens Illustrated), I bagged Woodwardia fimbriata from Fibrex Nurseries. I was helpless not only acquiring one for myself, but two miniature ivies to keep it company. We then bumped into Roy Lancaster who questioned the choice to downsize on ivy when there was Hedera pastuchovi 'Ann Ala' a species that Roy himself collected from the Caspian forest area of Northern Iran. The mature specimen we saw was stunning with long-oblong, (is the correct term oblanceolate?), deep green leaves and, being a sucker for ivies it was soon paid for, along with a few snowdrops for a touch of seasonality. The only remedy for the impulse-buy malaise is a tea-break so we bundled Roy off for brunch at the nearby Regency Cafe where barked orders from the tiller instantly snaps you out of your plant-induced hypnotic state. The secret then is to pig out on the best egg and chips in town so that you are physically incapable of moving let alone bending to smell winter treats such as chimonanthus, hamamelis or sarcococca. Roy, we noticed, just had a slice of toast so obviously had no intention of inhibiting his magpie tendencies and, sure enough was soon back inside the RHS halls his infectious enthusiasm parting the throng like a modern day Moses. Now that's what I call passion.

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07/01/2008 11:04 - A Brush with a Thief...or a Thief with a Brush

I've just spent some valuable time with my contractor measuring out the BUPA Garden for this year's Chelsea Flower Show, a useful exercise as it helps to get a feel for the space and anticipate potential problem areas. Finding a suitable location, (10m x 23m), reasonably close to home could have proved tricky but Pat, a long-standing friend and mentor, kindly let us use her garden where we found a patch of ground just big enough. As Jeremy set about spraying a series of red and yellow arcs and circles I feared that Pat might suddenly have second thoughts and come rushing out horrified at the mess we were making of her lawn. Instead she calmly appeared with a tray of tea, oven-warmed rolls oozing with melted goat's cheese and a delicious homemade mince tart. Feeling very spoiled we took our lunch on the terrace and watched a handsome, well-set fox doing his best to look inconspicuous in a clump of Stipa tenuissima. It had been going about its business for most of the morning hardly batting an eyelid at our antics but now wasted no time in setting his sights on items on some of Jeremy's clothing strewn across the lawn, (don't be alarmed, I'm not about to publish a missing chapter from Lady Chatterley's Lover). First he took a glove, a relatively unimportant piece of attire but when it made a bee-line for Jeremy's shoes we had to make appropriate noises to ward him off. I caught this bit on video and will endeavor to put it on my website if only to show what a fine looking fox he was. Come to think of it he was more fat than well-set, (we're talking about the fox here not Jeremy, although the festive break had without a doubt accentuated his profile too), so I'm thinking that the glove-cum-shoe attack could well have been a feint to get us to chase him and leave our lunch unguarded. Fortunately there were two of us and I eventually retrieved the glove from under a hedge while Jeremy guarded the mince tart; a touch more risky than letting the fox guard it some might say but if I can't trust him with my lunch how on earth can I trust him to build a show garden on time?

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02/01/2008 19:07 - Allotment outrage

A Happy New Year to everyone; everyone that is except for the heartless thieves who chose the Christmas break to steal some 14 chickens from two of our fellow plotholders. Mandy, a friend of ours had six hens stolen and has taken it very badly. Having recently experienced not only redundancy and divorce but her mother dying, the chickens had become very dear to her; more like pets than livestock. Naturally she was inconsolable for days and the whole allotment community is up in arms at this outrage. Of course there's always the risk of such things happening when you can't be there to police it all the time, but it doesn't make it any easier to bear. Mandy has now hinted that she may think about moving so she can have a garden rather than an allotment. If she does, as an active and popular member of the community, she will be sorely missed. The police are looking into it apparently, but it's hardly going to be a priority. If the perpetrators are, by some chance, reading this, my advice to them would be to lie low for some time, as right now, Bushy Park allotment folk are on the warpath and being impressively imaginative about what they might do with their private collection of rusty gardening implements. Peace and goodwill etc.

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20/12/2007 12:04 - Merry Christmas

I've never been a great one for sending Christmas cards so the internet has become a life-saver in that respect. The e-card (see pic) is the result of a therapeutic session making miniature snowmen a couple of years ago. They now crop up in odd places whenever it snows so it makes sense to send different versions of them each year as Christmas cards. Hard copies are sent out to those who aren't slaves to the computer like us. Once, I was at the allotment when it snowed and made thirty or forty snowmen within a couple of hours. It made me late for an appointment but I can't remember what my excuse was. I'm now about to embark on a marathon bout of Christmas shopping and a spot of lunch so may not be able to make much sense later so if I don't post anything again before Christmas Day I wish you all a wonderful Yuletide and a peaceful New Year!

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17/12/2007 16:08 - Shed street-cred alert!

In order to preserve my reputation as a confirmed sheddist...I thought I ought to point out that the shed that Henry is leaning against in the last picture is not mine. It's a summer house that's been erected in the orchard of the communal plot next door...phew!

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17/12/2007 11:41 - Jack-in-the-Green

A headless chicken moment at the allotment on the weekend had me locking the key to my shed inside the damn thing. The only way to get in, without damaging the door, (a salvaged item from the series Small Town Gardens), was to hacksaw the clasp and replace it. Fortunately Henry was there to offset my frustration and helped get the job done in no time. Henry, a retired gardener, is one of my favourite characters at our allotment. His tousled looks and ruddy complexion are a clue to his Scottish roots, (Glasgow), but his roots, I believe, go much deeper to a point where I reckon he is the Green Man himself. Some would disagree with this as poppycock largely because Henry, by his own admission, can ruffle the feathers of those uncomfortable with his maverick take on life, but anyone familiar with Green Man lore knows that mischievous antics are par for the course. The fact that he wears nothing but green, (you'll be relieved to know that the photo opposite was taken before the recent cold snap - although he seems to have an invisible force-field emitting from his hair that protects him from the harshest weather and can quite happily go about his business in a T-shirt when the rest of us are cagouled-up), is just coincidence and used more as camouflage as you rarely see him coming and he has an uncanny ability to be in several places at once. If you haven't the time to chat, then I suppose Henry's presence might be a touch unsettling. The secret is to keep moving. Henry knows time is often against us and is quite happy to follow or sit patiently blowing smoke rings until I'm within range to carry on where he left off. Always on the lookout to help newcomers or settle a dispute, he has ironed out more problems between folk than I've had asparagus tips from our plot. OK not a huge amount and some might say he's caused a few himself but, for me at least, being the eyes and ears of the allotment community, I am pleased and comforted that Jack-in-the-Green is alive and well and living in West London.

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11/12/2007 17:51 - Still Spellbound

PS Here's a pic of the Wineberry...an unfortunate common name as it sounds as if the shrub spends most of its time complaining.

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11/12/2007 17:51 - Spellbound

A heartening morning spent with 12-year-old Ellie Foster, (see pic), from St Peter's Training Centre, Chertsey who'd won a Habitats for Wildlife competition organised by Thompsons Habitats. The Deputy Mayor of Guildford came to present the prize of 500 which will go towards developing a wildlife garden at the centre. Much fuss was made of her and her family and she's now looking forward to making a start on the new garden very soon. On the way back to the office I weighed up the options of either working indoors for the rest of the day or popping into RHS Wisley, (where Ellie had done a fair bit of research before putting pen to paper), to soak up what turned out to be a corker of a day. No competition really. Didn't have my favourite camera to hand which was a shame as not only were the reflections in the lakes and pools crystal clear but the stems of various shrubs and trees dispelled any notion that winter is dull. Best of all was a beautiful Japanese Wineberry, (Rubus phoenicolasius). It's a sort of raspberry, more ornamental than edible, (the fruit has too many pips for delicate palates), but apparently tasty nonetheless. I'd never met its acquaintance before but having seen the sun shine through its fine thorns making the arching stems glow like red-hot steel rods I won't rest until I find one for the allotment. Where to plant it might well be a problem but reason has no place where burning passion and impulse have the upper hand. Yes, you could say I'm hooked.

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10/12/2007 15:21 - Arnold aka Jack

Many of you will, unwittingly, know the dapper gentlemen pictured sitting in Covent Garden Flower Market. His name is Arnold Peters and he is best known for his role as Jack Wolley from the Archers on Radio Four. I joined Arnold recently for an early-morning photo-shoot to publicise the fact I'm designing a show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show next year for BUPA. The garden will focus on the importance of green space in care homes for dementia patients, hence Arnold's presence as his character, Jack Wolley, suffers from dementia. An exciting project of which I will tell you more as things progress.

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02/12/2007 00:02 - Many hands

A very special thanks to fellow plotters, Ted and Derek, who had the misfortune to walk by my plot as five large bags of spent mushroom compost were being delivered. Ted doubted my ability to shift the load on my own but eventually admitted that he was seduced by the smell, (quite a humdinger as it goes), that reminded him of his farming days. When he realised what he'd got himself into he press-ganged Derek, (on the first day of his retirement poor thing), to help - he'd only come to pick some greens for lunch! Others, less inclined to shovel for someone else in their free time hurried by without a word and I'm sure I saw Mary hiding in her shed. Even Henry, our legendary cud-chewer, barely had time to say good morning before remembering he'd left the iron on. Ted and Derek were on their own and I was in my element fairly running to keep pace as they filled two wheelbarrows. Two hours later, their hands and feet caked with some of the best compost I've seen for sometime, they ambled back to the gate exhausted but probably more confident than they'd been for a while in getting a seat to themselves on the bus home. I was left with plenty of time to spread the muck as far as possible and ponder over a new support for my espaliers. I've got to say I was actually looking forward to the challenge of shifting the load on my own but the communal spirit was most uplifting. Now, having just spent half an hour unwinding in a hot bath I'm also certain that they've saved me from another trip to the osteopath

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27/11/2007 14:51 - Spindle pic

Thought I'd post this to put anyone looking for Euonymous tingens out of their misery...

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27/11/2007 12:22 - Winter at kew

We got into the spirit of winter yesterday at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew where a specially commissioned ice-sculpture fanfared the opening of the ice-rink next to the Temperate House. Gliding effortlessly and silently across the cool surface with Kew's jewel as a backdrop is simply a magical experience, or so I'm told, 'cos I can't skate.' I never really tried it as a kid so there's really no point in embarrassing myself in public, clinging to the sides and doddering around as if a major earthquake has just hit South West London. We watched the Press jostle precariously for position as three volunteers floated around for a photo shoot, drank a nice cup of hot chocolate and then went to find a shrub - Euonymous tingens as it goes. I'd clocked it on the way in and it was love at first sight. Let's face it, any evergreen with a dash of red at this time of year is going to get noticed, but this Himalayan native is so much more delicate than any holly you can think of. The difficult thing after having written this piece was whether to use a picture of the ice-rink or the spindle? Eventually I chose the ice-rink. Why? Because I wanted to see if, by way of computer wizardry, I could get rid of the doughnut shaped smudge that appeared in just about every shot, (a speck of dust on the sensor I'm told). As you can see I have. I do realise the picture is very small (and if the BBC want to win the GWG best gardening web-site again (congratulations by the way) they're going to have to let us use larger images, so you'll have to take my word for this. The other doughnut shaped smudge in the picture opposite is in fact the beautiful ice-sculpture after Henry Moore themed to fit around the amazing exhibition they have there at the moment. You'll have to take my word for that too. Christmas at Kew is going to be very special indeed.

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21/11/2007 13:13 - Going ape

It's not often that mystery pre-occupies the minds of garden writers but the opinions of a certain 'Garden Monkey' has got bloggers and garden hacks a-wondering. My sources tell me that the identity of the GM was the most talked about subject at the Garden Writer's Guild Awards ceremony last week. Mr Monkey's, (I've a strong hunch it's a bloke), web-log is an amusing commentary on other blogs, garden mags and horti-stuff and pulls no punches e.g. comparing the regularity of postings on my personal blog with the regularity of a constipated hermit crab. Alys thinks it's garden writer, Jane Owen, but I can't imagine Jane having the time to keep abreast of all the things picked up on the GM's radar or inventing a story about Monty Don beating me to a pulp in a boxing ring. So who is it? Some of you may not care but I'm sure you won't be able to resist having a quick peek at his web-site: http://journals.aol.co.uk/funky67/garden-monkey/ If you have an opinion as to who it might be let's hear it. My money's on Henry, a larger than life character at our allotment who, for me at least, is the living reincarnation of the Green Man, (same initials too I've just realised), but I'll tell you about him another time. In the meantime you'll have to suffice with a picture of this garden monkey we encountered in India earlier this year.

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18/11/2007 21:41 - Can someone help me with my socks?

Mixed fortunes over the weekend I'm afraid. The good news is that the garlic, (pictured), was planted during an extended lunch hour on Friday and I was all geared up for a good session at the plot today. Even the head-cold I'd managed to pick up, (from too many tube journeys recently), wasn't going to put me off battling the elements and make ready for a delivery of spent mushroom compost next week. The bad news is that one sneeze was all it took to put my back out for the second time this year and spend the rest of the day pretty much immobile. It's a sorry situation not being able to put your own socks on, (or your underpants for that matter but that might be too much detail to start the week with), and of course there were other sneezes to deal with so our neighbours must be wondering what on earth is going on. Fortunately Richard, a clever back specialist in Chessington, usually fixes it in one go. This will be my fifth visit in as many years and I think this time I'll have to agree with him..."Garden design is bad for your health."

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13/11/2007 15:50 - Wind doth blow

A medlar tree at the allotment has borne fruit for the first time. Having been moved several times over the last three years it's not the happiest medlar in the world and I'm amazed it's bothered to make the effort. It sits in the herb bed at the front of the plot and, seeing as we're always talking about giving the whole thing an overhaul there's a danger it might even be moved again as a full sized tree would cast too much shade for adjacent vegetable beds. The purchase of this tree was, therefore, rather rash - I think I was taken by the beautiful white flowers in late spring as much as the promise of the relatively unusual Persian fruit. We've been eating them for dessert this week as the 'bletting' (ripening) process has started. I'd never tasted one before having been largely put off, (as most people are I would guess), by this process which means the fruit has to rot till soft before being edible. I think ours are a little smaller then they should be but, apart from being a little fiddly with pips, they are actually delicious in a very subtle way tasting like a cross between an avocado and a date. A sophisticated caramel I suppose with no hint of fermenting as you might expect. However, seeing that the tree is within easy reach of the footpath into the allotment I will of course be telling potential scrumpers that not only do they give you halitosis but wind, quicker and more violent than the most potent Jerusalem artichoke.

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07/11/2007 16:50 - What coconuts?

I guess most of you are thinking, "what coconuts?" So here's a close up.

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05/11/2007 23:41 - Facelift

I had every intention of planting garlic at the allotment yesterday but got distracted - first by the stunning display autumn is giving us this year, then by a greenhouse full of Cape Gooseberries that needed careful picking, (it's best to snip them off to avoid mashing the decorative outer casing), and finally by some coconut shells that I affixed to one of our sheds last winter. The shells were last year's bird-feeders, (you know the ones full of fat and seed), much loved by blue-tits and starlings. It seemed a shame to just throw them away so they were screwed to the shed as they became available. Originally I planned to leave them in their natural state but, in the fantastic afternoon sun, couldn't resist painting them. There weren't enough to paint them all different colours so for now I'm sticking to red - the touch of colour just enough to give the allotment a lift during the coming winter. The intention now is to encrust the whole shed so we've asked friends to keep us in mind when disposing of their spent shells. I suppose we could always fill the odd one with a home made fatty mix but being vegetarian there isn't much of a call for lard in our household and, besides, the squirrels would almost certainly get there before the birds.

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30/10/2007 11:31 - Inspired not squashed

I was feeling disappointingly impotent in the pumpkin department the other day. Our pathetic crop means that the three we salvaged will not be on display for Halloween as they will need to sustain us, (risotto, soups etc), through the winter nights. To rub salt into the wound Christine and I were greeted by almost a hundred pumpkins at a friend's (early) Halloween party on the weekend at an allotment in north London. Each one was different and beautifully carved like this Salvador Dali look-alike (see pic). We were plied with deliciously ghoulish teacakes, (witches hats, bones and ghosts), and hot chocolate before being shown around the beautiful and intimate plot. Visiting other allotments is always a good exercise as it reinforces the benefits when you see others in action. As we left I was relieved to find out that the pumpkins had actually been bought especially for the occasion so I don't feel so disgruntled about our own crop. In fact the experienced lifted our spirits and we spent the whole of Sunday in waterproofs braving the rain at our own allotment clearing up and making plans for next year. The sense of well-being and satisfaction at the end of such a day is overwhelming. Even more amazing, of course, it costs virtually nothing.

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25/10/2007 00:51 - Living Legend

At the Inchbald School of Design last night I joined a party where Barbara Simms was launching her book celebrating the working career of John Brookes MBE. Now if any of you are thinking to yourselves 'who's John Brookes?' you are either very new to gardening or have found this blog by mistake for John is simply the most respected living garden designer in the UK, if not the world. He's been designing gardens for around half a century now and has strongly influenced the course of contemporary design and the way we use our outdoor spaces since his first book 'The Room Outside' in 1969. Friends and colleagues together with past and present students were there to heap praise, drink wine and get a signed copy of the book that charts an extraordinary volume of work from his patch in West Sussex to many parts of the globe. I'm a Brookes' student myself and have benefited enormously from his clear vision and generous teaching. On the train home, I wished I'd nicked his red 'kerchief, not just as a memento but to stifle a gulp when the 'Gazetteer' at the back of the book revealed some 1300 projects to date. It's a wonder there's any work left for the rest of us.

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23/10/2007 21:51 - Wot? No Chai?

Spent yesterday morning in Dorset where my colleague, Dhundi Raj Bhusal (pictured) is making good progress with terraces, walls and steps in a large country garden. Dhundi used to do a bit of part-time maintenance work for me when he first arrived from Nepal. The only English word he knew then was 'onion'; an odd introduction to the English language but six years later, after working for a couple of landscapers, he now speaks English fluently and has moved his family to the West Country where he has set up his own landscape firm. The main reason for the visit was to agree a style of walling using local stone and resolve a problem with some steps. A 2D plan might look fine on paper but occasionally it needs a tweak in real life, especially where changes in level can affect various views. Fortunately my keen-eyed client called me down in time so Dhundi and I, (with brickies hot on our heels), were able to make the necessary changes in time and by eye rather than working strictly from the plan. It reminded me of the days when I used to build my own designs. Of course things took a lot longer but it was, nevertheless, very satisfying work. I must admit to being a little disappointed that Dhundi didn't have a cup of hot chai for me when I arrived (having driven from London), especially when he made me get up at 5am everyday for three weeks to make a giant flask of it when he worked with us at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. I've a good mind to put a clause in the contract next time we work together so it doesn't happen again.

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11/10/2007 20:01 - How to beat the allotment muggers

I keep meaning to tell you more about our Vietnamese friends at the allotment who grow not only prize-winning pumpkins but a fascinating range of oriental vegetables each year including this, karela-like warty cucurbit, (pictured), which provides welcome shade climbing over an arbour structure. While talking to them about some pilfering earlier this year, (we had all our gooseberries and some pears nicked), they told us they've never had anything taken, ever. I found that astonishing until I twigged vegetable muggers won't steal something if they don't know how to cook it or indeed if they suspect it to be inedible. I might experiment with some food dye next year. I mean who would want to eat a pink gooseberry or blue pear with red spots?

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10/10/2007 19:11 - Spineless

I recently spent a couple of days fell-walking with friends who are preparing to climb Kilimanjaro next January. I was to be part of the team but the post-India/Nepal illness back in July has left a bit of a scar, so long haul flights to tropical parts of the world are not exactly high on my list right now. (Cue cries of &'wimp!', 'sissy'). The 20km hike up Helvellyn and neighbouring peaks on a beautifully clear day was exhilarating but exhausting and left me in no fit state to be setting out plants at a job in Dulwich yesterday. The rain eventually beat us making it a miserable day for the contractors, (who had battled for three hours to get to the site in the first place), but selfishly it was a blessing in disguise for some, (ie mine), very tight calves and hamstrings. Looking on the positive side I can do a very good impersonation of John Wayne at the moment.

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03/10/2007 10:04 - Not cake...Sooty!

My thanks to the Leicestershire & Rutland Group of the Museum of Garden History who warmly welcomed me into a members' home yesterday to listen to tales of the allotment and various design projects. I was slightly nervous that the intimacy of the venue would have me knocking vases and other ornaments off the shelves, but with a little self-restraint all went well. A most delicious lunch, delectable puddings and a range of cakes that would put Mrs. Beeton in the shade had me sound asleep as we pulled into St Pancras station. This morning I opened my bag to find a silver foil parcel. For a minute I thought someone had slipped me extra cake but then I remembered it was 'Sooty'...no not the glove puppet but Dianthus barbatus var. nigrescens 'Sooty' seedlings which, as the name implies, have almost black flowers. I've never grown them before but apparently they have a good scent too. To MGH, thanks again and I promise not to keep them at the allotment! (I think I whinged a bit too much about slugs and wouldn't want them to worry.)

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01/10/2007 19:51 - Big Sky

Just about every day last week there was a sunset like this at our allotment and I'm determined to get down there more often from now on to combat the cabin fever that is killing my sense of humour. We picked the last of the raspberries, corn, beetroot and french beans over the weekend and made a serious dent in some of the raised beds including a tsunami of nasturtiums that has even out-performed bindweed this year. Came home knackered but elated - all the grumpiness having temporarily evaporated through good honest physical work. Autumn...bring it on.

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28/09/2007 15:02 - Gnomes: Yes or No?

Two gnomes have appeared in our road lately and has caused quite a stir. The wilful neighbours who have started the trend are defiant that they should be entitled to display whatever they like in front of their house even though the land is the shared responsibility of each householder. An appendage appeared on it one day (I swear I had nothing to do with it)...and was promptly removed. We did think of kidnapping one of them and taking it to France from where the usual pictures/postcards would be sent back to the owner...perhaps with a ransom demand for its safe return. In the end we decided it would take up too much space in the suitcase - space that would be more usefully filled with wine or, as it turned out, garlic. Like the RHS I have never been that interested in gnomes although I did use them once (imprisoned in a cage) for a TV makeover. I sprayed them all blue and then got into trouble because no one told me we only had them on loan. As far as I'm aware they are still banned from Chelsea. Is this fair or should the RHS embrace the kitch side of our gardening heritage?

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20/09/2007 11:31 - Un bon moment

Have just spent three days near Auch, France visiting the sculptors, Agnes and Serge Bottagisio-Decoux. They are making some sculpture for a project I'm currently working on and the trip enabled me to discuss some of the finer details such as textures, colours and the exact dimensions. They don't speak English, so the experience of making myself understood with my limited French is probably quite entertaining for anyone listening in. Fortunately some English friends living nearby came for supper and helped, not only with some of the more technical jargon, but demolishing a never-ending supply of delicious food. Naturally I found time to visit the local corner shop which, by English standards is more like a delicatessen with quality cheese, wine, vegetables and the local speciality, Armagnac. My mission, however, was to buy garlic and soon I was greedily stuffing as much as I could get into my suitcase not only to replenish our pathetic harvest this year but as seed to plant come November. The rulebook tells you not to use uncertified stock (which could carry disease) but seeing as the last decent harvest of garlic came from the same shop two seasons ago I'm hoping this act of recklessness will again pay off. If you're worried about getting a good ticking off from the horticultural police you'd best not try this at home. Meanwhile, I'll tell you more about this project just as soon as we've tied up a few loose ends.

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17/09/2007 12:15 - A fine marrow but...

This is Ralph...looking a bit disgruntled after Nga's triumph. He was hoping his marrow would steal the show but unfortunately, as good as his marrow was, (and no one could deny that it was indeed a mighty fine marrow), it was a bit of a non-starter as the category clearly stated that it was a pumpkin competition. I pointed out to Ralph that if the category had been given the broader title of Cucurbitaceae then it would have been a legitimate contender. It would still have had no chance against Nga's prizetaker but at least it would have been taken more seriously. (I didn't tell him that of course, especially when I caught him cradling his marrow and talking it about 'those nasty judges') As I left, another plotholder was comforting him by telling him how to use the marrow to make rum. You cut the top off, fill it with brown sugar, hang it somewhere and let the fermented liquid drip into a vessel. Rather a painstaking way to drown one's sorrows wouldn't you say?

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17/09/2007 12:15 - The Winner

Winner of the pumpkin competition at our allotment open day was Nga, mother of a Vietnamese family that has won every year as far as I can remember. No one came anywhere near this monster (80lbs or so) except for Nga's second entry which was just a tad smaller. Quite how they can achieve such results in a poor season for squash and pumpkins no one knows. The only way I'm going to find out is to get Nga and her family hopelessly drunk...oh and take a crash course in Vietnamese. Of course some fared less well and one of those was Ralph. (See next entry).

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13/09/2007 15:02 - Tea up!

I was meant to be going to a press preview of the Henry Moore exhibition at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew this evening...only I've just found out that it took place this morning! Oh well, it's not going anywhere, (the exhibition lasts until March 2008), so I'm sure we'll see it in due course. Anyway, instead of a picture of curvaceous stone and bronze abstracts, here are the ingredients that went into my wake-up brew at the allotment this morning: lemon verbena, rosemary and mint. Refreshing and absolutely delicious. I've never been a fan of herbal teas until Jekka McVicar recommended rosemary as a good pick-me-up. Adding lemon verbena and mint gives it extra zing. My plan was to do some more weeding in preparation for this weekend's Open Day but the midges were just a bit too active so, instead, I settled for a brew and sat for a while supping up a stunning September morning. Needless to say I am now very restless sitting in front of a computer screen... it just isn't right to be drawing plant plans in the studio on a day like this!

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07/09/2007 10:03 - New weeding technique

With our Allotment Open Day getting closer, Christine and I have taken to the odd early morning session catching up with weeds that look like they've been on the 'Smarties' (sport slang for steroids). We're not going to clear it all as, a) we haven't the time, and b) it would fool newcomers into thinking that we are well organised and on top of things whereas the truth is that, like most plotters trying to hold down a full time job, we spend most of our time there 'catching up'. That's not to say it's not pleasurable though especially when you can get some of the local wildlife to do some of the weeding for you. A couple of days ago someone gave me some fish clippings (heads, tails, guts) as I thought they would do better feeding our soil than being washed down the loo. Boy did it stink, so I made sure they were buried good and deep in one of our raised beds. Of course I forgot to cover it and arrived this morning to find a huge hole (pictured) where the local Raynard had found his rank supper. I don't rate our future chances of using this technique to feed the soil but seeing as he also pulled up a fair bit of bindweed and couch grass I figured I could be on to something. The pic shows he missed a bit so either he was miffed at not finding dessert or he suddenly realised that his chances of finding a mate after eating this sort of stuff were pretty much nil. No one likes a fox with halitosis.

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31/08/2007 22:11 - The Bard is not amused

Started the weekend early and spent this morning helping my father re-felt his shed roof. The garden is situated on the banks of the Great Ouse in Buckingham so it was a welcome change from the office and, being just a couple of miles from Stowe, a group of us spent the afternoon wandering around the grounds hoping that the sun might show its face and cheer up what has been a lacklustre August; needless to say, it didn't. Now Pop is no gardener, and proud of it, but while he couldn't name a plant to save his life, he does appreciate a good landscape so ghosts of Charles Bridgeman, Capability Brown and William Kent could rest easy. To make up for the weather, Pop and I invented a game where I would tell him the name of a plant and he would choose his moment to proclaim to the group "I'm quite fond of Hypericum calycinum, but it can look a bit scruffy at times" or "How unusual to see Helleborus orientalis flowering this time of year". My personal favourite was "This Schizostylis coccinea is great for late summer colour even though it needs staking." This obviously sounds like one of those 'you had to be there' moments but those around us, even after they'd twigged what we were up to (and it didn't take long) didn't think it was that funny. Pop and I however practically wet ourselves laughing all the way back to the National Trust shop. Needless to say, Milton, Shakespeare and the rest of 'The Worthies' remained stony faced.

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21/08/2007 14:31 - The Test

Ok, here's something that might interest anyone thinking of jacking in their job to become a garden designer. The other day I arrived at my mother's house to find that all the box balls outside her house had been clipped into forms that resembled warped tetrahedrons more than the intended spheres. I fear the person responsible was either very short-sighted or drunk. I think they also used a petrol hedge cutter as all the leaves are also ripped and scorched. It looked terrible and, wondering why it was so difficult to clip it properly, I spent half an hour or so working off a large lunch giving them back their curves. It reminded me of when I was studying for my garden design diploma at Kew with John Brookes. John, the UK's most respected garden designer is also one of our best teachers and is well-known for giving it to you straight. In one class, quite near to the end of the course, John's patience was being tested by a mature student complaining loudly that he needed a compass as he couldn't draw a circle freehand. John's clipped reply was merciless: "Well if you can't draw a circle freehand you'll never be any good as a garden designer!" A stunned silence was followed by the occasional sigh of relief or low moan as we all secretly tried our hand, being careful not to let anyone see the result if it came out egg-shaped. I'm pleased to report that my effort was reasonably ok and since then I've often wondered whether this little test might save many people a lot of time and money if they try it before making a hasty career change.

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17/08/2007 17:50 - Cruel

I know it's cruel but I couldn't resist posting a picture of what we've been enjoying for breakfast for the last couple of weeks. I'm sure Anthony will get over it.

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17/08/2007 17:50 - Wot? No Figs?!

Christine and I are having supper with garden designer, Anthony Paul this evening. He and his wife Hannah Peschar have one of the best sculpture gardens in the country (Ockley, Nr Dorking) so we're looking forward to viewing the various sculptures around the garden at dusk. When I asked what sort of wine they prefer they said they'd much rather have a box of vegetables from the allotment. This worried me as the allotment hasn't been top of our agenda this year. But getting down there early this morning we were pleasantly surprised, not only to find it looking quite colourful, but that there was plenty to pick even if we did have to forage deep under convolvulus to find what we vaguely remember planting (the picture here shows fennel and Verbena bonariensis taking centre stage). Accent potatoes have been delicious and the blight that has hit our end of the allotment seems to be taking its time finishing the tomatoes off. These were joined by cabbage, courgette, French beans and beetroot with a couple of pots of raspberries and blackberries for dessert. I did mean to put some figs in too but with a busy day at the office I forgot. Funny that. . . I always seem to forget to share our figs.

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09/08/2007 12:33 - Town vs Country

Went to see a client in Vauxhall yesterday about a garden they want to develop in Dorset; another one with rolling hills and fields, amazing views and loads of space. Having lived on Exmoor during my teenage years, I must admit that these rural projects are giving me itchy feet. The antidote in this particular situation was to take the rest of the morning off and visit the Hayward Gallery where Anthony Gormley's Blind Light exhibition is still showing - just. I urge anyone near to London to see it before it closes on 19th August. Exhibitions like this are incredibly stimulating and the fact that I can get there within minutes is something I often take for granted. Gormley's continued exploration of the human form takes you on a journey of extremes from a completely disorienting (claustrophobic to some) fog-filled glass room to a celebration of London's horizon. Just how such stimuli is converted into creative ideas for gardens I can't tell you exactly, but you come back re-charged without a doubt. Get there early to avoid the crowds but, with visibility in the fog-filled room down to just three feet, you might need the comfort of voices to find your way out.

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03/08/2007 08:32 - Dodgy Knee

Some of you might recognise this character lurking among the honey-scented plumes of buddleia. It is, of course, Jekka McVicar. We met yesterday to brainstorm a few ideas for a project we're working on together for a private client in Oxfordshire. It's a large, rolling garden with stunning views to the countryside beyond so we're both looking forward to creating something special. The only problem is that Jekka has ripped the cartilage in her knee so while I was bouncing around the site getting pictures from all angles she hobbled gingerly on her pins with her husband Ian, ('Mac' to his friends), and a rather nice cane, (a family heirloom she tells me), which I fancy she might use creatively to get her way if I don't agree to use enough herbs in the garden. She says the knee finally gave out on twisting to get out of her car the other day. I can believe it but I'm sure it wasn't helped by the fact that she stuffs all her RHS Gold Medals and Best of Show Awards in one pocket creating an imbalance and putting an unnatural strain on the joint. Get well soon Jekka!

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28/07/2007 10:10 - The beady-eyed shed

What is it with sheds? The very first thing I did at the allotment was to build a shed. We now have three, all different and slightly quirky. Even our garden at home uses a shed as a pivot point. I'd designed a 'Beady-eyed shed' for the teaching garden at Wisley. I saw it, and the garden, completed for the first time last week. I was stunned at how much everything had grown. The constant rain has caused misery for so many but the teaching garden and Tom Stuart Smith's huge bands of perennials around the lake were very happy to have their feet wet. When we arrived there was no one in the teaching garden and we hesitated, wondering whether the public were allowed in. Despite the fact that I'd actually designed the garden I was still a little timid opening the latch, (you can tell I was never good at scrumping), but as the gate clicked shut, loads of other people who had been wondering the same thing soon joined us. Jeremy, our contractor has done a fine job. The shed, (complete with curved sedum roof) was just as I'd drawn it and, despite the fact a huge slab of elm I'd saved to frame 'the eye' got damaged beyond repair, it finished the garden off nicely. By the way, everyone keeps telling me that sheds are a macho thing but I'm sure there are some secret female sheddists out there. Am I right?

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21/07/2007 22:41 - Those little blighters

Having been a bit spooked by the intense heat in India I'm secretly enjoying the cool and the wet. Reports of blight at the allotment though had us down there this morning snipping off affected leaves in the hope of slowing it down. It didn't look good and when we saw much of the ripe fruit in the greenhouse with dark blotches we felt resigned to the inevitable. Ah! . . . but seven weeks away form gardening can make anyone's brain a little spongy throwing horticultural judgement in disarray. . . the blight hadn't reached the greenhouse, I'd just forgotten that we'd planted Black Russian and Black Cherry tomatoes and their dark colouring was exactly what they should look like! Now that could have been embarrassing.

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17/07/2007 17:51 - Garden therapy with an ex-parrot

The self-employed among you will know how frustrating it is to be off work for a while. Sick is really not an option but I've had to go with the flow on this one. Apart from co-ordinating with contractors on a couple of jobs choosing materials, (by the way we just had to pay around 100 per square yard for reclaimed York stone, can you believe it?!), my time has been spent mostly thinking about ideas for a show garden. Not much activity in the creative dept I'll admit but I'm pleasantly surprised at how therapeutic it is just sitting in the garden for half an hour or so everyday. We always bang on about the healing power of gardens but until now I've never really experienced just how potent it can be. A trip to the allotment to dig our first potatoes was a good tonic too, despite the fact that someone had nicked our soft fruit and slugs had enjoyed the wettest June for years, ripping through just about everything. Julie and my mother had still managed to keep the plot under control so we are very grateful for that. Unfortunately our garden wasn't good therapy for one of the hundreds of ring-necked parakeets that seem to have taken over West London. With the blinds up either end of our town house it thought it could fly straight through. Made a helluva bang. It looked quite peaceful when I buried it under a large fern at the end of the garden this morning. I just hope it wasn't sleeping.

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09/07/2007 11:20 - Home again

It's everyone's worst nightmare to pick up a bug before getting on a long-haul flight home. So leaving Nepal with a viral infection (doing its utmost to fool me into thinking it was malaria) was an unfortunate way to end what had been a memorable trip. Anyway, our last week had been divided between the hot and steamy jungle at Chitwan Wildlife Reserve and Pokhara ,where we at last got a view of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. Climbing onto the back of an elephant to search for tigers, leopards and rhino was just as exhilarating as I imagined it would be. Unfortunately, although a tiger and a leopard had been sighted near to our lodge in the previous month, poaching has reduced numbers drastically so the chances were slim. We got lucky with rhinos though, catching most of these magnificent creatures, off-guard, wallowing in cool water holes. We were all knocked out by the incredible number of birds, butterflies and insects and perhaps one of the most spectacular sights was when a monkey crashed into a nearby tree one night making everyone jump including a hundred or so fireflies that twinkled frantically for the rest of the evening; the ultimate in taste for Christmas tree lights. Our last night there, having spent a fantastic afternoon bathing with an elephant, was spent listening to a wild bull elephant invading the resort (presumably after a visit to see the ladies at the stable) and letting off a bit of steam crashing through planting, breaking boughs all because he couldn't break into the kitchen. Not even the rangers dared go out so I figured it best not to try and get a quick picture as this ultimate garden pest huffed and puffed his way past our cabin and back to the forest. Pokhara, being at an altitude of 827m, was a bit cooler but still up in the thirties so we were thankful to find air conditioning at the Fishtail Lodge, our room looking over Phewa Lake towards the Annapurna Mountains. Our only trouble was that this was not the best time of year to see them and the view looked more like a misty day in Scotland than the Himalayas. We got lucky though. Each morning, for a couple of hours, the skies cleared enough for us to see the snow-encrusted Fishtail Mountain and a couple of the Annapurna peaks behind. By chance we also got to meet Muni S Rana, a gardener who had helped with the garden at the hotel and, more interestingly, in advising and sourcing plants for the Garden of Dreams that had captured our imagination in Kathmandu. It turns out that many of the plants there were sourced in the UK and the USA! Muni comes to the UK each year to source plants for his projects so I'm hoping to meet up with him at Chelsea next year. This wretched infection, which is really outstaying its welcome now, stopped me from visiting the Hampton Court Flower Show last week which is a shame as I heard good reports about it, despite all the rain. Meanwhile, at the office, the slightly alarming pile of work that had stacked up in June will have to wait a bit longer. Thankfully, clients are being very patient. Boy am I grateful for that.

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21/06/2007 12:52 - Day Dreaming

Part two of our tour finds us in Kathmandu, Nepal. The view from the plane of emerald green fields and terraced slopes tucked neatly between hills and mountains of rich woodland is like an oasis compared with the dusty, flat, tree-less landscape of north India. Driving into the town itself however is as busy and chaotic as anywhere we saw in Delhi making crossing the road just as dangerous. Us tourists can be spotted a mile off as we run and jump whereas locals calmly waltz between belching trucks and taxis, stacked buses and tuk-tuks, mad motorbikes, tinkering tricycles and push-bike riders. I guess they worked on the assumption that no one can get up enough speed to do any more damage than a dead leg. Stupas, temples and palaces were entrancing on our first day while the second we traveled to Godavari Botanical Gardens, south of the city where, despite the lack of colour, vegetation fresh from the first rains and clean air buzzing with crickets was a welcome tonic. Here I had my first encounter with leeches - my own fault for not heeding the advice to wear sensible shoes from our new guide Sarendra Mali. Several strips of plaster later we traveled back to the city to visit the Garden of Dreams, a short walk from our hotel. It was built in 1926 by Keshar Shumsher to compliment the palace he inherited from his father, Maharaja Chandra Shumsher and has recently undergone extensive renovation after years of dereliction. I went there thinking that its name, 'Garden of Dreams' would be impossible to live up to but I'm glad to report I was wrong. The measure of this garden is that despite being adjacent to a busy road on the fringes of the frantic Thamel district you become so entranced you don't notice the incessant din of blaring horns. Actually that's not true, you do hear the traffic, but in short bursts as if you are drifting in and out of slumber. The effect is calming, relaxing and with a number of imaginative water elements, refreshing and cleansing. The palace is now the Ministry for Education and half of the garden has been restored beautifully with the help of Austrian Development Aid. The neo-classical formal design is strongly influenced by European gardens of the time. This in itself is hardly original but what's clever is the way it crams in a multitude of features, views and architectural detail without becoming cluttered. The relaxed planting contrasts well and much thought has been given to colour as you move from one area of the garden to another. It's rare to find a garden that works so well and, in a country so rich in heritage, I'm sure that this too will soon become a national treasure. We made several laps of the garden just to make sure we hadn't missed anything and took advantage of shade stops along the way to gather our thoughts and dreams as the afternoon just melted away.

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16/06/2007 16:02 - Getting High

The 17:30 express train from Kalka is whisking us back to the furnace in Delhi and, so far, Imodium is doing its job. Our complaint is more inconvenient than uncomfortable and I reckon we've done pretty well since we arrived two weeks ago as the food is delicious every time and impossible to resist. Our week in Simla and Naldhera brought home exactly why the district of Hamachel Pradesh became the summer capital for the British in the late 19th Century. Temperatures here were much cooler but Simla still managed a record 31 degrees, an alarming reminder that not even the Himalayas can escape global warming. The toy train from Kalka to Shimla was both exhausting and exhilarating, our group singing songs with holidaying school children and plant-spotting to keep our minds off the heat. Rice fields, mangoes and papaya gave way to mixed forests of pine, oak and eucalyptus, their heady pungency intoxicating as the train strained every axel to climb 8000 ft to the Himalayan foothills. Our new guide, Raaja Bhasin (www.raajabhasin.com), took us on an intimate tour of the region visiting private homes and gardens, museums and a self-sufficient village where time stood motionless and entranced. Everyone agreed it was an experience as mesmerizing as the Taj Mahal. Amazingly, I learned from my mother just before the trip, my grandmother was born in Simla. It turned out that she went to the same school as Raaja one hundred years ago. While the building itself has changed completely, I was able to stand in the playground she would have enjoyed as a child. An emotional moment. Heat haze scuppered our chance of a decent view of snow-capped mountains but a musical breeze through the branches of deodars was the cool therapy we needed. Much of the virgin cedar forests here are protected to a point where not even dead wood can be removed. Heartening news for everyone. While ornamental gardens had already peaked, the wilder landscape became our focus. Diversity along ordinary footpaths made me think of the likes of Roy Lancaster and other great plant hunters. Berberis, cotoneaster, deutzia, ferns, wild strawberries and raspberries were just a few of the plants you might see in close proximity. Having a peek was Arisaema costatum, a sign that the monsoon was on its way. Lots of giggles as we walk past clumps of wild cannabis. Whether this was the vaporised essence of the herb working on our group or just youthful memories I can only guess. The private gardens I would say don't come up to the standard of English gardens but the comparison is unfair. Conditions here are harsh and the soil, no deeper then 100mm, over shale and sandstone, often on a steep incline, makes gardening difficult at the best of times. Hydrangeas, roses, agapanthus, kniphofias and dahlias were the main sources of colour. No snails, from what I could see, to spoil the fun either. Instead there is another pest...monkeys. I'd imagine that a troop of Black-Faced Langurs, as beautiful as they are, could make mincemeat of a herbaceous border which is perhaps why most people seem to rely on shrubs like hydrangeas. Time has a habit of standing still and then fast-forwarding in India. Forgive me, therefore, if this all sounds disjointed but pulling into a steaming and frenzied Delhi station with porters squabbling for rich pickings we are suddenly reminded of India's incredible diversity with wealth and poverty beyond imagination. We arrive at our hotel knackered but elated and, with the first deluge of the pre-monsoon licking our heels, everyone will be dreaming of Arisaemas tonight.

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07/06/2007 11:40 - Homecoming

Some things don't always live up to expectations. A trip to a famous garden or building can often be a let down usually when you have read too much about it and formed opinions based on someone else's subjective point of view. I was worried, therefore, that my first trip to India, and in particular a pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal might turn out to be one of those occasions. Happily I was wrong. The Taj Mahal is quite simply breathtaking...in fact I'm in love. I've come to join a Himalayan garden tour and while Agra isn't part of the Himalayas it would have been a crime to bypass it being just a two hours train ride from our hotel in Delhi. In the good hands of Ajay Vats, Davinder Singh Kuhar and Parveen Paul (who gives such vivid descriptions of life in Mughal India you feel like you are there), we have experienced an exhausting but exhilarating day at the famous mausoleum and the Red Fort where temperatures reached a hair sizzling 46 degrees celcius! The train journey itself was as fascinating as everyone who has been to India will tell you. The sights, sounds, smells and the extremes that make India so bamboozling are completely intoxicating. This is life in every sense of the word. To be honest, I'm lost for words, so will have to make more sense of all this when we return. If I had one criticism it would be the planting at the Taj Mahal. During British rule, the existing fruit trees originally planted in the garden were replaced by lawn. Turning the lawn back to fruit and maybe thinking of re-structuring some of the planting along the outer avenues would be worth the exercise. The building is so magnificent that a grumpy RHS judge might also criticise the planting and mark it down to a silver-gilt, but most would be beguiled and turn a blind eye. Tomorrow we go to Simla and the foothills of the Himalays, but before that we're off to see Humayan's tomb and the Lohdi gardens. It's only 43 degrees today so that should be more comfortable!

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03/06/2007 18:30 - The 'A' Team

Let me introduce you to Julie (left in picture) and Yvette, my Mum. Julie's a brilliant gardener and a great friend of ours not just because she makes the best Boston Beans this side of, well, Boston. Her Pound Cake is not bad either come to think of it and that, after a plate of Thunderbolt Potatoes, will seriously impair anyone's ability to perform even the most basic gardening tasks that involve bending from the waist. We have known her, and her husband David, now for seven years and, apart from all the recipes we've exchanged, they are always ready to lend a hand if we have to go away for any length of time. This week they are coming to the rescue again to help Yvette and her husband, Larry (yes too many names I know but they all need a mention as you'll soon realise), look after our allotment, as we embark on a garden tour of India. Together they will weed, water, prick out and prune (and who knows: possibly eat?) while we are away for which we are eternally grateful especially as the allotment invariably looks so much better, (embarrassingly so actually), when we return. The trip to India is almost like a home-coming as my mother is from Calcutta. I think secretly she'd like to go but I'm sure it will have changed beyond all recognition from when she left as a girl of sixteen and anyway we're going to Delhi and then across to Nepal. So, Delhi-belly, extreme heat, and mango juice dripping from my chin onto the keyboard permitting, my next blog should have a distinctive Mughal ring to it. Excited? Yes. Nervous? A little. Worried about taking a month off at one of the busiest times of year? - I'm sure I'll get used to it!

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02/06/2007 13:04 - Dulwich Wood?

With the teaching garden more or less finished at Wisley (the new glasshouse etc will be open to the public June 16th) I'm looking forward to seeing a project in Dulwich come to life later this summer. The garden is slightly larger than your average town space and the clients want to capture an essence of woodland, despite the fact they are severely lacking in the tree department. The best thing is that no one has uttered those dreaded words 'low-maintenance' so I'm delighted that this will be a gardener's garden. The design reflects this with generous borders and a smaller lawn but capturing the woodland feel won't be so easy. We are torn between planting semi-mature silver birch to speed up the process or choosing something more unusual like Stewartia sinensis or the Snowdrop Tree (Halesia Carolina) both of which have beautiful white flowers. My visit to Spinners Nursery, near Lymington, earlier in the year has proved very useful here so I'm hoping my clients will find time to visit the New Forest to see Peter Chappell's amazing garden and be similarly inspired.

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01/06/2007 10:42 - A Formal Touch

I forgot to mention this small front garden we've just finished in Thames Ditton, Surrey. It's a tiny space which makes life particularly difficult for the front door of the (relatively new) Georgian style house it fronts. Front doors of such houses tend to sulk if they don't get a good build up, you know, long path, a touch of formality without being too grand and, if room, some perennials billowing over box hedging to make the arrival feel all the more sumptuous. The approach to this front door is from the side so you there was really no 'build-up' to speak of and this is what we had to solve, somehow. The answer was to take out an aucuba hedge that was making the space feel even smaller than it was, replace a non-descript curved path of concrete pavers with a simple straight path of York stone and plant a large box ball, (framed with more box) in some gravel at the end. This became our focal point and, whether the front door liked it or not, put people arriving at it in a much jollier frame of mind. Three smaller box balls add movement and accentuate the sense of formality and two rescued hydrangeas with some periwinkle (Vinca difformis) and Serbian Bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana) to fluff up round the edges was all it needed. Not the style of garden I get called in to do that often but I must admit I quite enjoyed it.

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23/05/2007 13:13 - Bravo Povera!

Sunshine is making all the difference at Chelsea this week, which is great for exhibitors who have struggled through difficult conditions this year. Needless to say it rained on Press Day so there was a strong feeling of deja vu and an annoying amount of water on my camera lens, which meant that most of my pictures were useless and made one particular shot of Joe Swift look like he had a glass eye and no nose. Still, it was a great day, much of which was spent catching up with friends and colleagues and admiring what I thought was a good year as far as show gardens were concerned. Ulf Nordfjell's stunning homage to Carl Linnaeus really caught my imagination as did Jinny Blom's garden for Laurent-Perrier and the curved oak ribbons cavorting through Andy Sturgeon's garden for Cancer Research. Not every garden got the medal they hoped for which is always hard to take especially when so much work has gone into creating them, but I was flabbergasted to hear that Anthony Samuelson didn't get Gold for his 'Patio Povera' inside the Floral Pavillion. If you're going this week don't miss it it's probably the best example of gardening with objets trouves that you will ever see - unless, of course, he does another one. He did tell me that, at 77, this would be his first and last show garden, but his application for Hampton Court Flower Show has been accepted, (he sent this in just in case he didn't get accepted at Chelsea), so provided Chelsea doesn't wear him out and put him off, he'll be doing something rather odd in July with a vintage Bentley. Three cheers for eccentrics!

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17/05/2007 15:12 - Happy Birthday!

Forgive the indulgence but I've just received pictures of the Saga Insurance Garden I built last year at Chelsea that has been re-located at their headquarters in Enbrook Park, Folkestone. It's a thrill to build a show garden and even better to see it live on in perpetuity so Happy Birthday! Meanwhile I'm feeling sorry for everyone at Chelsea who have been up against it this year, not just because it's been raining for the last two weeks but many of the plants, responding to the heatwave in April, have already done their thing. I guess nursery owners with the largest cold-storage will be looking slightly less stressed than most.

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16/05/2007 18:21 - Trial Run

It doesn't matter how old you are, there's always a touch of nerves when a garden that has existed on paper for months suddenly becomes a reality. I set off this morning wondering exactly what pupils from Amherst Junior School of Sevenoaks would make of our efforts at RHS Wisley where the Teaching Garden (part of the new Clore Learning Centre) is nearing completion. Martin Harvey, the project manager who has worked tirelessly to ensure everything comes in on time and within budget, was breathing down my neck as the children filed into the 'hub' of the garden, a hexagonal seating area bounded by a hornbeam hedge that will in time enclose the space making it more intimate. The space needed to accommodate 30 children and I'd assured Martin that it would be big enough. For a moment, after 29 children had sat down it looked as though I'd cut it a bit too fine but then someone spotted a teacher among the children and, once she was unceremoniously marched out, there were room for two more small bums bringing the total to 31. A huge relief! Pupils from Amherst had been present at the initial fundraising drive in 2005 and had witnessed the first turf being lifted at the start of the works so it was a special day for them to be the first school to visit the garden. By 2008 they reckon over 16,000 school children a year will visit the garden and benefit from hands-on experience. I don't really know what I expected but the enthusiasm from the children seemed heartfelt and their ability to spot (and respect) insects in the garden most impressive. The fact that few were frightened of insects was reassuring but I almost fainted when the majority of them put up their hands after I asked them if they like sprouts! I can't remember anyone liking sprouts at that age! I got a few of them to plant some just to prove they were genuine and not pandering to the press. Log piles, the pond and the vegetable plot were the favourite parts of the garden for most of them so I guess ornamental plants are going to have to work hard to earn their keep but there was, nevertheless, plenty to talk about and no sooner had they arrived they were a distant trail of fluorescent jackets snaking their way back to a waiting coach. We all agreed that it went rather well.

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06/05/2007 22:52 - Wittering West

With things at the office hotting-up, I felt like I was bunking-off school last week, attending a couple of horticultural events and catching up with friends. First was the centenary celebrations of Hampstead Garden Suburb where local residents Donald Sinden, Jonathan Ross and his wife Jane Goldman kicked off the year's events and unveiled a flowerbed (designed by Stephen Crisp, Head Gardener at Winfield House) to mark the occasion. Second was a press day at Jekka's Herb Farm where we were given a taste (literally) of what to expect from Jekka at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. Her theme, "Reds in the Bed", launches her new seed collection that uses red lettuce, pak choi and other hot tones to brighten up our salads this summer. I took the train to Bristol so wasn't tempted to come back with bags of plants, but did snaffle a few packets of seed from her new collection and three types of pursuance which I've never grown before. If I'm honest, I've never been that interested in salads but growing our own and picking them fresh makes a huge difference in taste. I've been accused of "wittering on" about slugs in the past so I promise this won't be a recurring theme, but slugs and snails at our allotment run to alarming numbers so at this time of year we usually grow lettuce in pots that can quite easily be eaten on the plot or brought home and left on the window sill to pick at our convenience. It might seem a daft way to garden but it beats the disappointment of seeing all your hard work disappear overnight. Having said that, the dry spring has meant that slugs and snails have been slow to get going this year and with such abundance of growth elsewhere on the plot I'm hoping the damage once the rain comes, not to mention the "wittering", won't be so bad. Even organic gardeners think we're mad transporting our slugs to the other side of a stream at the back of our plot but I bet we're not the only ones who can't bring ourselves to kill them. I once found a perfect circle of snails, all facing inward as if they were having a conference. It was fascinating (though my only witness thought it a little spooky). Respect ever since. OK, yes, I know I'm wittering again but wittering with a touch of respect is much better than whingeing just because creatures that have lived on this earth for millions of years have learned to breakfast early and in style. Anyone else share our feelings?

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26/04/2007 10:41 - A Right Hoot

He may hate me for saying this, but Rick Joseph, pictured, is the sort of quietly-eccentric character that makes allotments so unique in the gardening world. He claims he has no talent for music but lately he's been heard playing the watering can, hose, flexi-tube in fact anything hollow he can get his hands on save perhaps empty snail shells for which he's have to purse his lips tighter than a lemon taster scratching a blackboard. He taught me how to tease a note from my plastic Haws watering-can the other day and reckons everyone should have a blast every Sunday at midday when the allotment shop closes. It may take a while to spread the word but eventually it will be like Lord of the Flies gone mad or even a Lord of the Rings type of call to arms, initiating a sense of bonding between allotment folk that never see each other. It should be fun and, if the cacophony keeps the rabbits, slugs, deer, pigeons and squirrels off our crops, so much the better.

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19/04/2007 10:42 - Earth walls and surplus leeks

Earth-rammed wall. There's something wholesome and satisfying just saying the words. We're building a couple (to form the boundaries for the teaching garden at Wisley) using excavated soil from the large pool in front of the new glasshouse. As long as there is enough clay in the soil, earth walls can be built without the use of cement, making it a very useful substitute for bricks or blocks. Unfortunately the soil at Wisley turned out to be too sandy so a little cement was necessary to make it stable enough. The earth is 'rammed' into shuttering (that will be used later to build a shed) in layers so there is no telling exactly what it is going to look like until we break the mould. A tube inserted into the wall means that children will be able to whisper to each other from each side of the garden. I've already spotted a couple of adults using it, which is a good sign. Meanwhile back at the plot, we're eating our own lettuce now and will, (provided we get our sowing right), continue to do so until winter. We're also being very generous with leeks at the moment, which will soon go to seed if we don't eat them. It's always the same. To begin with we're quite thrifty when it comes to pulling leeks for fear of using them up too soon. Now we're panicking that there might be some waste. Fortunately unlike rhubarb, (which we're already beginning to tire of, especially as there is some still in the freezer from last year), it's difficult to overdose on leeks and if one or two go to seed the bees will be grateful. The lunar planting thing is going ok too. It's not always convenient but I'm sticking to the calendar even if it means having to wait several days to sow or transplant. I ought to plant some 'controls' (as Jennie pointed out) so maybe we'll choose a day when there is a big black cross in the guide (Nick Kollerstrom's "Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2007: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers" warning us not to do any gardening at all. Regardless of whether it works or not it really helps me to focus on a small number of jobs at a time rather than trying to plant or tend everything at once, especially at this time of year when most garden designers are rushing around like headless chickens on speed.

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16/04/2007 14:23 - Rain now please

Popped in to see, garden designer and TV presenter, James Alexander Sinclair and his family on Sunday who lives in Northamptonshire, just up the road from my father. Boy was it hot! Too hot for the middle of April really but we enjoyed being shown round the garden and marvelled at the frothy blossom of a beautiful cherry tree. The blossom everywhere this year has been spectacular making it one of the most memorable springs for sometime. Now we need rain otherwise it'll be hose bans again before you can say Schefflera petelotii, James's latest, and most prized, acquisition from Crug Farm Plants. Visiting rural folk can be quite unsettling for anyone who spends most of their time gardening in the suburbs and I came away yearning for a little more space in which to experiment. The allotment may not be enough. Also came away thinking it's high time James had his own gardening series. His colourful, and often acerbic, wit coupled with his oblique take on the gardening world is highly entertaining and should be served in liberal doses, especially for those who take their gardening far too seriously.

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05/04/2007 18:13 - Footie Fungus

Just a quickie. A fellow allotment holder found this fungus on his plot. He said it was football shaped before it dried out and became more skeletal. I took it to the to Dr Peter Roberts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew yesterday who identified it as the 'basket fungus' Ileodictyon cibarium. It was, he confirmed, a rare find. Apparently, it was introduced from New Zealand, with the first British record in 1955 from Hampton, Middlesex, just a stone's throw away (a poor turn of phrase for an allotment holder with a greenhouse) from where this one was found. Like the 'red cage fungus' Clathrus ruber, it produces spores in a smelly slime on the inner surface of the cage. This attracts flies which help spread the spores. Its shape allows it to be blown about, also helping the distribution of spores. They have kept the specimen at the herbarium at Kew. Being very close to Brentford I'm hoping that practical jokers at Kew don't think of sending it as a present to the manager of Brentford Football Club as a symbol of our deflated season. That would be very unkind.

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04/04/2007 15:51 - Frog update

After describing a cloudy appearance to our spawn in recent years before disintegrating, Froglife thinks that it has been infected by a fungus. They don't advise treating the water as it may affect the natural balance of the pond. Also the fungus affecting the spawn shouldn't affect the frog population which can vary quite considerably from year to year for no apparent reason. We'll just have to hope they return next year.

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03/04/2007 14:33 - Teaching Garden

Thanks for all the feedback especially on the frog situation. I'm in touch with froglife (www.froglife.org) and will let you know what they think is going on. What's clear from their web-site, however, is that spawn shouldn't be re-located unless absolutely necessary (eg destruction of a habitat) as it risks spreading diseases and parasites that are harmful to frogs. Anyway on the design front, drainage issues have been sorted at the Teaching Garden at RHS Wisley. The weather's improved and the contractors are on the home stretch leaving the central space clear for planting. I arrived on site a bit shaky having taken an embarrassing tumble down Porlock Hill in Somerset, the day before. Horseplay is definitely not recommended on steep slopes at my age. I didn't damage the camera I was filming with which was quite remarkable. The resulting footage, (mostly of leaves and earth but with a brief flash of blue sky during the somersault), was hardly one that will remind me of the beauty of Exmoor where I spent much of my childhood, but my family think it amusing enough to file. I wasn't surprised when I put my back out five minutes into the planting session at Wisley, but was amazed that it was only the weight of a 9cm pot that floored me. Fortunately David Jewell, (Superintendent of the Floral Ornamental Department), had mustered plenty of help from staff at Wisley so all I had to do was point and advise. Frustrating as it was, it meant that most of the planting was done in a couple of days and it's now looking like a real garden. I did manage to redeem myself by planting a row of Accent potatoes in the vegetable section. From certain angles it must have looked like a hen laying eggs from a height as I could only squat and drop each spud into position. Needless to say there were plenty of references to 'chitting' but pain had temporally disengaged my sense of humour.

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22/03/2007 17:42 - Lunar fruit and flying crutches

Call me an old hippy but I've started using the lunar calendar ('Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2007: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers' by Nick Kollerstrom) as a guide for sowing seed and potting on. I'll expand more about this as I get to know the routine but today was a 'fruit' day so, despite the fact it was snowing at the allotment, I transplanted tomatoes and sowed a few more peas and broad beans in anticipation of all the slugs who will soon be waking up with one hell of an appetite. I then went to meet Jeremy Salt, from Henley Salt Landscapes, at RHS Wisley. Jeremy is building my design for the teaching garden adjacent to the new glasshouse there. The site looked like a swamp a couple of weeks ago but is now ready for planting before the final phase of building commences. It's a wonder that Jeremy can even stand, let alone supervise the unloading of trees, as he fractured his hip on a recent skiing holiday and had to be air-lifted off a mountain. I think he secretly enjoyed the adventure even though it was only day two of his holiday. Heavy work is impossible for a while, but he did come in handy the other day when they had to test the practicality of using in a wheelchair in the garden. His annoying habit of waving his crutches around to make a point has everyone donning a hard hat whenever he approaches.

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14/03/2007 12:53 - The dubious gender of John's coat

What weather! Perfect for gardening. All those soggy sites are drying up nicely. We spent the whole of last weekend at the allotment digging and planting brassicas, spinach, chard, coriander and basil. It was bliss apart from having to fix a puncture on my wheelbarrow five times! Each time the tyre went flat again I got closer to hurling it high into the trees behind our plot in a fit of frustrated rage. Eventually I calmed down enough to examine the tyre more carefully and found no less than eight tiny thorns that were causing the trouble. Lesson learned. Anyway I thought I'd introduce you to one or two characters at our allotment. I'll start with Sainbury's John, so called because his name is John and he works at Sainsbury's. He also does a fair bit of charity work for local schools in his spare time showing children how to grow vegetables and plants and can usually boast the biggest garlic on the allotment. Unfortunately his shed was one of a number broken into recently and his coat was taken. Others also had items of clothing taken (tools were left well alone) suggesting that it may have been a homeless person looking to keep warm. Interestingly though, John's coat was the only item of male clothing taken. All the rest were women's clothes including a swimsuit (there is a swimming pool close by) so John is perplexed as to what attracted the thief to his old duffle coat. We've told him to check which way the buttons do up when he gets round to replacing it, and steer clear of pink.

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09/03/2007 12:43 - Vanishing frogs

Where have all our frogs gone? Our pond is normally like a virtual washing machine this time of year, with contorted arms, legs and strained grimaces from females trying to maintain some sort of dignity among the melee. The night chorus of the mating ritual is usually louder than a Mississippi swamp. For the second year running it is silent. Maybe our thriving newt population (that breakfast happily on frog-spawn) have made a serious dent in the local frog population? Has anyone noticed the same?

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09/03/2007 12:31 - Mud

Spent the other day visiting contractors trying to make the best of some appalling working conditions. One, in Twickenham, is fortunate to be near the river Thames where the alluvial soil is relatively free draining. Another is at the bottom of a hill in Surrey and is virtually swimming in mud. Extra drainage will have to be installed and planting will unfortunately be delayed. Having always enjoyed building my own gardens over the years, it still feels strange turning up on site and not doing any physical work. The longer you work in a space the more attuned you become to its character. It becomes a more intimate relationship. The office, computer and drawing board are, of course, necessary these days but sometimes I get a strong urge to muck in for a good day's grafting. I guess I'm fortunate to have the allotment where I can release this pent up frustration. Back soon with a question about frogs.

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06/03/2007 14:31 - Chilli omelette and strange sculpture

Went to join the sculptor, Johnny Woodford, for a delicious breakfast (spicy omelette with red chilli) today at his field in Sussex. Johnny and I made several show gardens together at Hampton Court and Chelsea. Clients, however, were always a little nervous of our slightly 'alternative' take on garden design so we would only get together when a someone wanted to push the boat out a little. At the moment much of Johnny's energy is now spent making structures such as offices, playhouses and occasionally sedan-like, portable toilets, a must for anyone going to Glastonbury this year! Familiar sculptures skulking around the woodland edge brought back good memories of our collaborations. Other new and curiously ambiguous forms are, I'm pleased to say, as unconventional as ever. I'm pleased to see a healthy response to the plight of Manor Garden Allotments. Fingers crossed their campaign might make the planners think again. For those interested in the steel capped spikes at my allotment they were salvaged from the River Thames and were once used as pile drivers for landing stages etc. They make interesting objects at the plot and are useful as a support for netting brassicas and other vegetables. While I won't be able to answer individual requests for help designing their gardens I can recommend the Society of Garden Designers (www.sgd.org.uk) who provide a nationwide list of accredited designers and their details. You might also have a look at Andrew Wilson's 'The Book of Garden Plans' (ISBN 1 84000 734 6) and his latest publication, 'The Book of Plans for Small Gardens' (ISBN 978 1 84533 206 8) both published by Mitchell Beazley. I'm off to check on a couple of jobs now to give moral support to some contractors battling in conditions resembling the Somme.

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01/03/2007 18:43 - If the cap fits

Welcome to my first ever blog. In fact it's the first time I've kept a diary of any sort and something I've regretted over the years as a diary is an invaluable reference for sowing times, success/failures and how the seasons compare from year to year. During the course of the year I intend to flit between the world of garden design, allotments and everything that happens in between from visits to nurseries, gardens, exhibitions and flower shows. My partner, Christine, and I have had an allotment for seven years now and it has become a big part of our lives. I'm never sure what clients think about it. Garden designers aren't meant to get their hands dirty I'm told so, in a sense, garden design and allotments are poles apart. The truth, of course, is that garden design is not really as glamorous as it's made out to be and the allotment serves as a useful leveller where everyone, regardless of age, ability, race or religion can share in the simple pleasures of growing their own food. It also allows us to keep in touch with the seasons and serves as a useful bolt-hole from our small town garden that seems quite happy looking after itself without us interfering too much. However, paranoia about what hat I should be wearing (designer vs allotment flat cap) reached a climax when the BBC came to film a few weeks ago for tonight's Gardeners' World allotment special. In the end I chose a red felt hat made by a friend (www.feltbug.blogspot.com) just to remind everyone that I'm a designer. It turned out to be a good choice as it kept my head warm in the persistent rain. I'm hoping they cut out an embarrassing moment where I almost fell off my bike (like Alys, I have a Pashley too) into a fat rosemary bush. Yesterday I went to visit Hassan, a plot-holder at Manor Park Allotments in East London who, along with 80 others, is facing eviction due to development around the 2012 London Olympics. Crossing the River Lea to get to the allotment is a refreshing experience as you leave the grime of the city behind you. The great bank of plum trees in blossom accentuated the island effect and it was spectacular. The 100-year-old allotment was left in perpetuity by philanthropist, The Rt Hon Arthur Villiers, to families in the Lea Valley so they could grow their own food. But a century of evolution, biodiversity and social integration is about to be bulldozed to make way for a series of footpaths for the four-week event. Plot-holders there are campaigning to save the allotments which they say could provide the perfect seal of approval for what is being described as the greenest Olympics ever. It makes sense to me as they share the same values: friendship, tolerance, integration and cooperation. The Olympic ideal in a nutshell. My guess is that a ramshackle collection of sheds doesn't quite jell with the planners' vision but I reckon they're missing out on a great opportunity to do something special. If you'd like to know more, check the www.lifeisland.org .

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