HEDGING MY BETS
It’s less than three months until they start breaking ground at Hampton Court Flower Show. That means midsummer is not that far away. Of course, show garden preparations will have been going on for many, many months prior to now.
As warmer and longer days usher along plant growing, the work intensity ramps up for everyone connected to the build.
There’s no denying and for very good reasons too, that the cost of buying show plants from a grower is inordinately high, although there is without question a lot to be said for giving another person the responsibility of doing that.
As my planting plan for our first ever show garden ‘The Spirits’ Garden’, stated I had to have twelve brightly coloured nasturtiums for my garden, out of all the plants required, I decided to try my hand at growing those myself. They seemed the easiest to have a go at, and at the price the grower wanted to charge me, I had to trim the budget somehow, even if it was only by a couple of hundred pounds.
I sowed one hundred seeds in two litre pots in the hope they would all grow and I would have some fabulous specimens from which to choose the dozen required. I waited with eager anticipation. About ninety five came up.
As they started to poke their little heads through in the pots, my first proper losses were to the snails.
Twenty five plants down out of the hundred, with seventy five left.
Happily growing away and starting to form healthy, bushy and compact plants, the remainder then succumbed to an attack of the anticipated and expected black aphids. Losing about five more who had been terminally affected, I was then down to seventy plants.
It became part of my much loved routine every day to go and spray the remaining nasturtiums with a soap solution, checking under each and every one of the precious leaves of the remaining plants.
Most alarming though, was one day about a week before build up started at Hampton Court. The ladies maintenance team and I were working in a garden in my home village, only to find ourselves in the middle of an enormous early summer storm that pelted us with enormous hailstones.
Running full tilt back to the huge American pickup I had recently bought to cope with the increasing amount of kit and waste we were dealing with, we made our way with an acute degree of urgency.
American car chase style, we sped the mile or so back to my garden only to find holes in every single nasturtium leaf and precious buds knocked off the beautifully bushy plants with the brutal force of the ice pellets.
We were too late.
No amount of garden fleece could help those little beauties. I could have cried.
Not even one plant had escaped the massacre. Thankfully nasturtiums are super charged plants and regenerate at a rate of knots if they are happy, watered and well fed. Much like the rest of us, I guess?
Luckily, by the time the show opened about twenty five reasonable specimens had fully recovered, and any damaged leaves that remained were simply picked off. I took a handful of the dodgy ones too as back up insurance.
Great to have the choice of plants at such a low cost but wow, the stress. No thanks. I decided emphatically that growing and showing was one step too far.
Most formal hedges are straight or parts of them are.
An intrinsic part of that first garden I could not afford to get wrong was the curved and sloping hedge. That was a job for the professionals.
My first visit to the hedge grower was in early February.
It was one of those gloriously frosty mornings in rural Norfolk where mist hangs low in breezeless valleys and the sun peaks over the top.
If the wholesale nurseries with perennials are plant heaven, this was hedge heaven and I was there to check upon my key element of the garden for the very first time.
Accompanied by the manager, we made our way past the mansion, through the enormous parkland estate, then on through a maze of Christmas trees, tracks and fields until we reached the area where my particular run of hornbeam sitting midway up a hill.
Prior to that day, the grower and I had only communicated by telephone and email, with me sending him plans and descriptions of what I was trying to achieve.
There in the sparkling early morning light sat my almost circular hornbeam hedge. Lower at each side on the front, with the height of the curves being fifty centimetres there, sloping up to the approximate corner height of two metres, and running along the back where the wall would be. The beauty of this living object grabbed me and I was momentarily lost for words.
It was everything I could have hoped it would be and more besides, as at that moment, the skeleton of the leafless hedge was so delicate, I could only imagine its future beauty when the buds would begin to break, allowing the downy lime green freshness of it’s new growing year to make a grand entrance.
It was perfect, completely perfect and for me, the most important and symbolic feature of The Spirits’ Garden.
A curved and sloping hornbeam hedge, designed to portray a pair of protecting arms emulating my father’s.