Saturday, January 26, 2008

You will soon have to learn German!

    The long process whereby one of the world's leading horticultural journals has been dumbed down to yet another magazine (albeit a very good one) seems to be complete. A member of the editorial staff admitted to me last week (regretfully and somewhat defensively) that The Garden is "no longer a journal of record". In other words no longer something you turn to reference or to back up a statement or argument.
    The whole process which began, I cannot remember when, 'The Journal' became 'The Garden' is complete - magazinification. I am all for breaking down the doors of elitism but I personally feel the process has gone too far. The Garden now seems to operate on the same principles as garden TV, that we are all beginners, that none of us want to know about the latest science, research results, innovative techniques or read what experts write (as opposed to in house journalists). There also seems to be an assumption that we are all interested in design. Hello! This is the Royal HORTICULTURAL Society - we are first and foremost gardeners. Design certainly has a place in the journal but I suspect many gardeners would like to see less snazzy decking and more horticultural know-how. Besides which, other magazines do the design side so much better. The Plantsman has taken over some of what The Journal used to do, but only partially. Can't we have something in-between.
     What `I think many of us object to is the assumption that a journal cannot cater for both beginners and experts alike, and that many people new to gardening or with little knowledge might actually be interested and stimulated by more in-depth 'expert' pieces.
    It is a relief to turn to Germany's 'Gartenpraxis' - apart from the fact that it is in German!, and therefore a bit of a slow read (though a dictionary on my computer helps a lot). It seems to combine a huge range of material, popular stuff and latest research, pieces by experts, and where to go on your holiday next to see good flowers and gardens. There seems to be an assumption in Germany that people should not be talked down to, that technical knowledge is something to aspire to. Is 'dumbing down' a peculiarly English phenomenon?
    The slow decline of The Garden is, I suspect, part of the commercialisation of the RHS. How many members want to be part of  a business as opposed to a society is an interesting question.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Alasdair Forbes garden at Coombe House

    Anyone who came to the 'Vista debate' at the Museum of Garden History on Jan 8th or has  a copy of this month's House and Garden  (February) will be aware of a very exciting 'new' garden.

   Alasdair's garden is completly unlike any other, although very much in the tradition of the 18th landscape garden in its use of trees, hedges, sculpture and landforms to make philosophical points. In the H&G piece I said that I thought that the garden was the most important intellectual statement in gardening since Little Sparta. Much to my relief Tim Richardson said he agreed with me  after  a recent visit.

    Visiting the garden.
    It will be open for a local charity first weekend of June. Not sure of day or time yet. Keep logging on to find out!
    We would also hope to be able to organise a Vista Outing to the garden. People could either meet there (North Devon) or if there was enough interest, a coach could be organised from London. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED PLEASE EMAIL ME, and let me know whether you prefer an April visit or a June/July one. And whether weekend or weekday is preferred.

    Alasdair has kindly sent me his notes for the lecture, but does not want them posted, but made availalbe to anyone who wishes to see them. So, please email me if you want a copy.

My email is

keep digging, keep talking!


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Saturday, January 5, 2008

If you can’t beat creeping buttercup, creep past it

In the mild British climate the real winners are ‘weedy’ species which can grow at low temperatures. Amongst the most problematic for gardeners are native grasses, particularly aggressive species of rough pasture, and creeping buttercup. Such is their ability to grow at any temperature above freezing, I reckon these guys can often grow 365 day a year. Anyone with a herbaceous planting that does not have a thick layer of mulch will begin to notice around this time of year that there is often a haze of young grass seedlings, or clumps of grass which you did not notice the last time you looked at the border (which was probably November) have begun to grow and spread. Most alarming of all is the relentless march of creeping buttercup, as it extends its runners out of the clumps of perennials where it often settles down, inconspicuously for the winter (or since when you last thought you had weeded thoroughly). In the milder and wetter parts of Britain bare soil in borders can be practically covered in this stuff, practically while your back is turned.
What to do about it?
First – ask yourself how much a problem this really is. Look at the plant – it may spread like a virus, but it doesn’t grow very tall. In fact so short is it, that by the time most herbaceous plants get going in May, they will soon overtop it and shade it out. Meanwhile the yellow buttercups in April are quite pretty – an added bonus. So, it may be a case of live and let live – dense planting of medium to tall, or very spready herbaceous perennials will outcompete the yellow monster – and peaceful co-existence will be the result.
Amongst smaller plants or where you want to reduce competition, such as amongst fruit bushes or new plantings, you will need to control the beast. The best way is to leave it, until it really begins to spread, with lots of nice healthy foliage. Then get out the Roundup ®. The herbicide will spread back and kill the base of the plants, which may be a good 20-30 cms from where you have treated it. Winter spraying is slow to take effect – it’ll be a few weeks before that yellow and wan look begins to spread, the yellow and wan look which brings an instant smile of gratification to the gardener’s face. There is something insolent about creeping buttercup, the way it so suddenly takes advantage of our winter lack of interest in the garden to make so much progress. Get it now, before bulbs have begun to emerge, let alone anything herbaceous and you can minimise its impact for the rest of the year, and even admire the pretty yellow flowers of the survivors. You will never get rid of entirely so you might as well stand back and admit they’re pretty.