Week 35 – Summer Camp
It’s coming towards the end of the holidays and everyone’s feeling a little sad as it’s been an amazing summer of outdoor fun. We’ve camped more this year than ever before, all in all about 14 nights. That’s a long time to spend in a tent. This week we’ve pitched up just outside St Davids, Pembrokeshire. It’s called Pencarnan Farm and I’ve been promising the kids for years that one day we would camp here… for obvious reasons… the view is simply stunning and there’s lots to do! Swimming in the sea, body boarding, kayaking, fishing off the rocks, digging in the sand, rock climbing, coast walking, fishing, eating ice cream, cooking fresh fish over an open fire, watching the sunset, sitting under the stars, spotting shooting stars and eventually falling asleep in the fresh air… then waking up to the most amazing dawn view of mist rolling down the valley and out to sea. Amazing. Thank you Wales, it’s been great… again.
Week 34 – The Great British Bake Off
I have an admission to make, I love the Great British Bake Off (and Noel Fielding). I also love a nice piece of cake (preferably with a cup of tea). I like most types of cake, but I definitely have some favourites. If I had to choose a favourite slice, this week it would probably have to be lemon drizzle, but next week it’ll be different. It’s the same when it comes to choosing my favourite plant. Right now it’s most definitely Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (which is currently looking amazing in our latest living wall)… Next week it’ll probably be some unpronounceable fern. That’s the beauty of plants (and cake) they’re all so lovely (and tasty). Just don’t get them mixed up as eating plants is not as nice as eating cake (and planting cake is just stupid).
Week 33 – One year later
This is the living wall we installed last summer in Eaton Square. It’s extremely rewarding to arrive back on site to be greeted by such a sight… I am thrilled with how it’s doing. It’s moments like this that make all the hard work seem worth it!
Week 32 – Checking on progress
I’ve just popped into our nursery to check on our latest living wall. I’m delighted as it’s looking good. In just a few weeks time we will be installing this in it’s new home in Belsize Park. Both Alan and I agree, it’s one of our best yet. I think Alan is going to miss it…
Week 31 – Red Admiral butterfly, Devon
Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta
It’s the summer holidays and true to form the family Shepherd-Gray has headed to the coast. Walking along the cliff paths of the South Hams (in Devon) it’s hard not to be enchanted by the erratic dance performed by the numerous butterflies swirling around our heads. The Red admiral is probably the most common of all the butterflies in the UK and they are everywhere this year! These delicate creatures seem so fragile yet strangely sturdy at the same time. Apparently in Britain and Ireland the most important and widely available larval foodplant is the common nettle (Urtica dioica). What!? Who would have thought the scourge of both gardener and walker alike actually had a valid use! It’s certainly made me feel (slightly) more fond of the dreaded stinger now I know the role it plays in this super summer dance. Although I’m not sure my kids feel quite the same.
Week 30 – Camaraderie
Definition: the mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.
Coal miners would work together side by side, underground for hours on end. I imagine this intense experience was often difficult but ultimately (when you had a good friend by your side) hugely rewarding. I like to think that Alan and I have the same camaraderie whilst we work at our living ‘coal face’. Our latest living wall is 10m long and has taken us two weeks to complete.
We set up our kit ready for the day ahead. The village is a quiet place and Alan doesn’t like to disturb his neighbours so we respectfully wait until 9am before we start. We chat and joke. We talk about all manner of things but mostly we talk a lot about the plants we love. We exchange opinions on what we think are ‘definite winners’ in our latest planting scheme. We’re testing out a couple of new ones. The pros and cons of Muehlenbeckia and Persicaria affines ‘Superba’ are discussed at length.
We listen to the radio, often working for long periods without talking. There’s a local airfield nearby and we watch spellbound as a Spitfire roars overhead. This is a magical moment. I feel like an excited child. The conversation sparks up again. I went to see the brilliant new film Dunkirk last week. I talk about the film and how it reminds me to make the most of my life in this time of turmoil. We watch the birds dancing around us. I like to think the bullfinch, wren, woodpecker, occasional buzzard and countless wood pigeons are all watching us, wondering what we’re doing.
Radio 6 is our station of choice. Alan is continually amused by my lack of musical knowledge. Who’s this? I say. It’s Skepta, he won the mercury music prize last year!! Oh, I reply. And who’s this!? It’s brilliant. It’s Kate Tempest and she’s one of this years Mercury Prize nominations. The lyrics are visceral, a bit like the film (Dunkirk) I saw a few days earlier. Kate Tempest is an English poet, spoken-word artist and playwright. (www.katetempest.co.uk) She’s got my vote.
“Kettle on” is the call that goes up when one or the other of us feels it time for tea. We have regular tea breaks. Mug in hand we stand back and look at what has been achieved and how we think the wall is coming on. We break for lunch. Alan picks some tomatoes and courgettes from his poly tunnel and we rustle up some pasta. We pick some blackberries and cut back the encroaching brambles.
It’s sunny and hot. It rains. We take cover. The wind blows through and it’s sunny again. “Four seasons in one day” says Alan like some sort of football pundit. We finish for the day, pack away and walk 200 meters to his local and have a pint. Alan goes out for the evening with Alison whilst I babysit Sidney who’s going to be five on Saturday (Happy Birthday Sid). We carry on like this for days and then, as if by magic the wall is suddenly finished. We agree this is a ‘good wall’. One of our best. We’re both happy. Let me get a photo of you for the blog I say… Alan finds this very amusing. As you can see.
Week 29 – Developments
I’ve just checked on the three new living walls currently maturing at our nursery and I’m pleased to report that they are all developing beautifully. I’m particularly pleased as this wall features a number of new introductions to my living wall plant palette. The Gaura lindheimeri ‘Cherry Brandy’ (top left) is a big hit, the Viola odorata ‘Alba’ is a useful new ground cover option (or wall cover as I like to think of it) and the Persicaria affines ‘Superba’ which is a shorter more matt forming variety is looking great at the top of the wall. I love the dynamic energetic mix and hope you all do too.
Week 28 – Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’
This is another first, taking me (rather surprisingly) ten years to include this wonderful plant in my own garden. While most forms of Echinacea have purple-mauve or red ray florets, ‘White Swan’s’ are (as you might have guessed) ivory-white with drooping petals that reveal burnished, orange-brown centres. They are lightly honey scented and very attractive to butterflies and bees, especially bumble bees. Because they are originally prairie plants, they are happiest in a well-drained but humus-rich, moist soil in full sunshine. Removing faded flowers regularly will greatly increase the flowering period, alternatively if you refrain from cutting down the stems until February it will allow birds to feed on the seeds in winter… which personally I think sounds like the right thing to do, as although I love a repeat flower I like the idea of feeding the birds more.
Week 27 – Verbascum olympicum
I planted this in my garden back in the Spring. In June the flowers are packed into long heads which can tower to 3m. Flowers open randomly up and down the spike-like inflorescence and carry on for a long time. We are now well into July and my Verbascum is still in full flow. Apparently it would be unusual not to have a few flowers as late as November. It’s my new favourite. Until my next new favourite comes along…
Week 26 – Half way through the year
We’re half way through the year and what a year it is proving to be. I don’t think my little gardening blog is a place for discussing the more significant events that are occurring on what seems like a weekly basis at the moment, but I do want to express my sadness for my fellow Londoners effected by the recent tragic fire at Grenfell tower. Donate here if you so wish.