Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Time off for (good) behaviour

After a long run of plant fairs and sales, we had a free weekend in the middle of May, allowing us to catch up with things and to have a day out. Back in March, we went to Alfriston, to look at the Clergy House, and have lunch at the Cricketer’s Arms in Berwick. On Saturday, we retraced our steps to the Cricketers, and thence to Charleston Farmhouse in Firle, with its long association with the Bloomsbury set. I hadn’t actually realised that it wasn’t Virginia Woolf’s house, but that of her sister and her extended family. Being of a conventional nature, one rather admires the chaotic yet highminded lifestyle.
A hot afternoon, we were kindly guided to a shady parking space in the old farmyard in honour of the dogs, who joined us on a wander up towards Firle Beacon through fine Sussex farmland. Back at the farmhouse, it was Festival time: a marquee full of polite applause as some literary figure opined sagely. Tea was taken in a wildish orchard, overlooked by a redbrick sphinx peering out of a bush.The garden was delightful, a blue riot rapidly reaching its peak. Some interesting plants, including a small mauve allium, and an electric blue anemone that I didn’t recognise. Big bold clumps of plants with the dignity of long tenure.
We enjoyed our tour round the house:the decoration, startling at first, tied the building to its time and inhabitants :so different to the lives and tastes of middle class opinion.European and outward looking, yet, in its general dottiness, English.
As a counter to all this, I spent half a day in Surrey on a speed awareness course, having fallen foul of a speed camera on the A23 back in the winter.
A full weekend of plant selling ahead:Horsmonden Farmers Market on Friday, a return to High Beeches on Saturday, followed by Finchcocks’ Garden and Jazz Festival on Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.

The wonderful garden at Charleston.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Castles in Kent

Last weekend was, as is the case in May, spent selling plants in a couple of historic gardens. On Saturday, we were at Saltwood Castle ,supporting the NSPCC plant fair.This is a remarkable and romantic site, very rarely open to the public. Our pitch was on the lawn ,surrounded by ruinous ecclesiastical buildings, all protected by a high flint wall, patrolled by battalions of unearthly peafowl.This, understandably, is a very popular sale, and people were queuing before the start at ten. We sold plenty of plants, despite problems with perishing recyclable bags. Our lovely Siberian Irises and Gladiolus communis ssp Byzantinus were particularly popular and sold out both at Saltwood, and at Godinton on Sunday, which was a quieter day, though still windy. This was run by Plant Heritage, and held on the lawns in front of the jacobean brick mansion house, which is now in the hands of a conservation trust.Set in traditional, peaceful parkland, this house is only a stone’s throw from the grimy metropolis of lovely Ashford.It has much of interest for the gardener:the walled garden is home to a collection of Delphiniums, curated by the Delphinium Society, and the formal gardens were laid out by Sir Reginald Bromfield at the start of the last century. For our sins, we have never ventured inside the House.
Next Friday , we return to Horsmonden Farmers Market:we hope to catch up with old friends. On Saturday, we’ll take some plants to Macmillan Nurses Open Garden at Church Farm Oast in Sissinghurst, before we load up to go to the Lullingstone Castle Plant Fair on Sunday.
The little rain we had last Friday freshened things up, but the round of watering has begun again. The grass for the cattle appreciated it, but it really wasn’t enough. I’m planning to move the Sussex youngstock up the road to some fields that are in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.We cannot use fertiliser or spray on these, and after about eight years, we are seeing an increase in the range of plant species. Most excitingly, I’ve seen spotted orchids, and am looking for Green Winged Orchids, as they are in the area, but I’ve not (yet) seen them on this farm. Quite apart from their innate beauty, wild flowers are part of the “ food chain”, and provide a habitat that benefits insects and birds.
When we first started the nursery, we were living in our cottage, and had our poly tunnel in the field. To level the site, I imported a lorry load of sub base.When we moved to the farmhouse, the tunnel came with us, but the stone remained.Now, 4 years on, we are planning a second tunnel, so I’ve brought back and spread two trailer loads of stone to level the site. During my quieter moments, I hope to dig the post holes, concrete the sockets, and gradually put up the tunnel. We’ll have to enlist some help to build the doors and put the skin on.We will be looking to increase ventilation by means of removable side panels.

Another iris picture!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Plant fairs back in Kent

Plant sales back in Kent
After a hectic bank holiday weekend in Surrey and West Sussex-the Plant Heritage Fair at Denbies, and a stall at High Beeches Gardens,we are back home to recharge batteries and to catch up with work on the farm and nursery. Next Saturday, we will be at the NSPCC plant fair at Saltwood Castle, near Hythe.We visited this sale a couple of years ago as customers:set in the romantic surroundings of this medieval castle , we are really looking forward to taking our plants there. On Sunday, we’ll be nearer home at Godinton House,near Ashford for the Kent Plant Heritage Fair.
At all the events we’ve attended,talk has been dominated by the dry spring and the speed at which plants are coming into flower.Our bluebells are almost over in the woods, and many of our garden plants are showing signs of stress.I walked the fields that we’d shut up for hay this morning: some are so dry that I can’t see us getting more than one round bale per acre off them. The grass is beginning to flower:even if we get some rain in May I fear it will be too late for the grass to bulk up satisfactorily.The cattle are finding enough to eat now, at least.

The photo is of one of the unidentified Siberian Irises that seem to love our garden.I tend to prefer them to the bearded iris, as they have a longer period of interest-I like the narrow strap leaves, the flowers and the dried stems and seed heads that last into autumn and winter.We bought a named variety at Denbies-Perry’s blue, a lovely pale blue that will be a contrast to the rich dark blues and purples of our existing plants