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 24 – Planting in Nottingham
I returned to Nottingham last week to check that the plants were developing as expected… they are. The Euphorbia wulfenii, Digitalis “Helen of Troy’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, and Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ are all knitting together nicely under a canopy of pinnate leaves of the multi stemmed Rhus typhina.
Week 22 – Half-term holiday in Norfolk
Relaxing with the family is always a time to reflect, let my mind settle and allow my eyes to see the world around me again. The north norfolk coast is an amazing place full of wildlife and wide colourful skies. Slowing down the pace of life is essential for my soul to survive and it’s often when I notice the most simple beautiful things around me.
Week 19 – More living wall maintenance in Knightsbridge
This week it was all back to Knightsbridge to check on another of our walls. Although very different in scale to the pair of walls we visited last week, this little living wall packs a real punch. I have to admit it is one of my personal favourites. It’s packed full of flowers and it is packed full of fun. Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’ and Erigeron karvinskianus are currently stealing the show but there’s lots of other delights waiting in the wings ready for their star turn. Move over… Bravo!
Week 18 – Knightsbridge living wall maintenance
Last week we were back in Knightsbridge carrying out our regular health check on the pair of living walls we installed last year. I was delighted to see that the plants are knitting together beautifully to create a wonderful green tapestry. Liriope muscari, Soleirolia soleirolii, Euonymus fortunei ‘Harlequin’, Brunner macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’, Asarum europaeum and Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ with their differing leaf shape, colour and size have combined to create a picture that I rarely predict correctly. That’s the joy of experimenting with plant varieties and planting combinations… surprise!
This week I returned to a garden we planted last year in Pinner, North West London. I grew up in neighbouring Stanmore and for one reason or another I still find it emotionally challenging to return to the area. On this visit, to my delight, I arrived to find the garden is doing very well. The sort of very well that means more well than one could ever have hoped for. Healthy plants, developing perfectly are knitting together and harmonising in such a way that leads to an end result that is more than the constituent parts. So, I would like to say a heart felt thank you to the plants for reminding me that it is they that are the stars of the show and it is they who are actually in control of what us designers like to try and take credit for. Plants take a bow. I simply planted you. You did the rest. Bravo.
Week 16 – Maintenance
This week I returned to Nottingham to check on one of our living walls. We like to return to each installation every three months to top up the liquid feed, monitor the health and progress of the plants and to undertake any pruning or plant replacement as required. This particular wall is now into it’s second year, is in fine health and starting to mature nicely. The hydrangea are putting on a bit of scale, the Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (or slender sweet flag) is forming a striking sweep, the ferns are romping away and the hellebores are very happy indeed. If the plants are happy, then I’m happy and that usually means the client is happy too. As Alan is fond of saying – JD (job done).
Week 14 – Viola riviniana
It’s the Easter school break and I’m on holiday in Pembrokeshire. This is a part of the world I know well, return to often and love like an old friend. Walking the coast path is a favourite family activity and yesterday we all walked from Whitesands Bay to St Davids Head. A dramatically beautiful walk along a well trodden cliff edge path, past the ancient Cromlech Stones, which are Neolithic burial chambers (around 5000 years old), dozens of wild horses and a plethora of beautiful flora. The bracken smells like butter and the masses of violets create subtle drifts of purple that are incredibly beautiful. The Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana) grow well on nutrient-poor soil and this type of vegetation is characteristic of the coastal peninsulas of St Davids and Stumble Head. The plant is an early nectar source for butterflies and is the larval host plant for a range of Fritillary butterflies, including the Small Pearl-Bordered, the Pearl-Bordered and the Silver-Washed Fritillaries. It flowers from April to June but its flowers are not scented, unlike those of its cousin, the Sweet Violet. They are tiny… so get down on one knee to get a closer look and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Week 12 – Planting in action
Gardening is not known as an adrenaline filled pastime. This is as good an ‘action’ shot as you’re ever really going to see. But just in case anyone wanted to see behind the scenes, this is the reality. Mud, compost, plants, spades, a wheelbarrow and lots of plastic pots. In fact that’s actually one of our pet hates. Plastic pots. As opposed to throwing them away we try keep all the pots so Alan can re-use them to pot on the next batch of plugs and 1L plants. Surely this is the least we should all be doing in order to do our small part in reducing unnecessary land fill. Better still let’s start to see a complete rejection of plastic pots and move to an effective biodegradable replacement. Now there’s a good business plan. In the meantime we’re going to push on and finish this monumental planting job. After all the sunshine has arrived.