I am off on a trip…
Firstly, it involves a train from Banbury to Heathrow via Hayes and Harlington. Very simple in theory but, as is the way sometimes with the oft laid plans of mice and men, likely to gang aft agley. It is like dominos- one train is ten minutes late so you miss the next train by nine seconds (after a frantic rush across a bridge and a shove through an oncoming crowd ). This means being stranded on an empty platform at Hayes and Harlington for an hour before finally arriving at the airport.

I am going to Moscow to give a seminar nominally entitled Gardening across Continents with the aim to jazz up the world of Russian horticulture. More specifically to talk to them about show gardens, design and planting and also to talk about an exchange we have instigated at Malvern and about which I wrote in my last blog.

Red Square at night

It is an overnight flight- not long, only about 3.5 hours – in that it leaves at 10:30 (london time) and lands at 5.00 in the morning (Moscow time). I, however, am far to old and set in my ways for this sort of interruption to my routine. I go to the hotel and go straight to bed.

It is cold out there: about minus 10. This raises a few sartorial dilemmas: I emerged into the street all wrapped up like a bear in a duvet. Coats, hats, Horatio’s Garden Alpaca Socks (available here and a perfect Christmas Gift), gloves etc. I walk five steps and get into a car so hot that you could probably roast a duck in the glovebox. I then go to an equally hot office followed by a sweltering restaurant, another car and back to a hotel room where, in my absence, a diligent cleaner had cranked up the radiator. I flung open the window and welcomed as much icy air as possible. Tomorrow I will not be so thermally aware. The restaurant, by the way, was next to the Bolshoi Theatre and involved crab from Kamchatka (a species of red king crab that has a leg span of nearly six feet) and six different sorts of caviar.


Theatre filling up

The reason why I am here: I tootle along to the auditorium of the Moscow Museum where there is a milling multitude of assorted interested parties. I am quite happy giving talks of an hour or so but today I am doing four talks of about one and a half hours each plus a two hour Q&A. It is quite tiring – there is a relay of simultaneous  interpreters who do a sterling job trying to keep up with me: they change over every twenty minutes to prevent exhaustion. It is interesting as the audience each have a headset into which the interpreter drips a translation of what I am saying but, like an old fashioned transatlantic telephone call, five seconds after I have spoken which means that timing of jokes and frivolities can be a little tricky. You deliver a punchline, pause for reaction and then, just as you are about to give up, a small section of the audience – those who get the joke – laugh politely.


The main purpose of the day was to drum up some entries for the Malvern/Moscow exchange so many participants brought sketches and ideas which continue to flood in – it will be a good thing and you should all come to the RHS Malvern Spring Festival to see what happens.

I have no idea why there is a chicken on the lollipop stall

We retire to a Chinese restaurant where all the waitresses are dressed up as members of the Red Guard which seems like an odd thing to celebrate. They jazz up their khaki uniforms with very red lipstick. The food is delicious and we then troop off to Red Square where there is a bustling Christmas Market and a skating rink – which was sadly barred to us as it had been booked for some spiffy private party for Prada (I think). We posed for many photographs – for that is one of Russia’s favourite national activities and Valenkis (felt snow boots as worn, if I remember rightly, by Solzhenitsyn in “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch”) were bought for me. The snow is light but the air is a strange dry cold which seems innocuous at first but then gives you a headache and seeps into the bones.
It is fun and I dance with a group of people dressed as Christmassy Cossacks.


And home again – first breakfast in the hotel, an early cab through the appalling Moscow traffic, second breakfast in the Aeroflot Executuve lounge (hmmm.) Third breakfast (strictly speaking an early lunch*) on the aeroplane as we fly through clear skies over miles and miles of snow dusted birch forest. Then an equally fabulous approach to Heathrow all along the river from the Thames barrier. Every landmark is clear and glinting in the sunshine – I can even pick out my mother’s flat.
Then four trains and home again.
The time difference may only be three hours but I feel as if I have been pushed slowly but steadily through a mangle .

Birch forests, lakes and snow
Millennium dome and the Thames

I am listening to Slow Movin’ Outlaw by Waylon Jennings.

The picture is of the Bolshoi theatre.

*Russians have a very charming way of saying lunch. ‘Then we will have a lunch…” pronounced larrrnch. Sometimes it is a “friendly larrrnch”.

More than a month since I last wrote this blog. Ooops.

Odd how sometimes one has lots to say and other times the conversation dries up a bit and we lapse into a convivial silence for a bit. I then worry that I should be blogging while you sit back and enjoy the peace.

I also have a mild problem in that (whispers) this is not the only blog I write and sometimes one of the others snaffles the ideas. Yes, I am a blog bigamist, I am faithless and feeble of will, I will chase after any old blog shaped skirt that winks at me to the detriment of this old and faithful thing. Unspeakable and caddish behaviour but, in my defence, (which is a pathetic defence) I am going through a mid life blog crisis and will attempt to mend my ways.

At times like this I think the snappy checklist school of blogging is what is called for: in no particular order except the order in which they tumble from my head.

1. Last month was the Garden Media Guild Awards at which I won nothing although the sibling of this blog (see above – the use of the word sibling makes my unfaithfulness somehow worse) was shortlisted. I fear that there may be a drift away from self-indulgent nonsense blogging towards fact and useful stuff about gardening. Such is the way of the world.

2. Chelsea Press Launch. On the same day I compered the press launch for Chelsea Flower Show 2013. It was in the Connaught Hotel (thanks to the kindness of M&G) where each person was provided with a little tin of mints: to be perfectly accurate two tins of mints: one from M&G and one from the Connaught. Small tins of mints are obviously the absolute bees-knees of corporate gifting.

3. I returned to the Connaught after the GMG Awards thing. Many repaired to the pub, some hastened home and others simply lay down in the nearest doorway and slept. I thought that what the afternoon demanded was not a hot, sweaty and loud pub but ridiculously expensive cakes and small sandwiches to the sound of a harpist. We were an exclusive and generally delicious band of cake eaters – The Connaught has an exquisite entrance with a narrow revolving door. A proper one with brushes on the floor and room for no more than one person at a time.

4. I drove to Devon in the worst of the rain. Usually I am sweetness and light to my fellow man, always happy to give the benefit of the doubt and lend an umbrella to a stranger (i) but the odd moment of schadenfreude is always satisfying. Picture this: early morning, skiddy roads, grey skies, rain and general dullness. Everybody trundling along carefully avoiding accidents and driving too quickly through large puddles lest we soak pedestrians. Everybody? no, not everybody one person (sex unknown but the smart money is on male) in a low slung BMW is driving like a jerk. Swinging around, overtaking badly, all that stuff. We approach a large flood. I drive in, he drives in behind me. I drive out…….. Oh dear. I am alone.

5. Lectures: I seem to have given a load of lectures over the past month or so – at one I was described as “not as buff as Chris Beardshaw” which as good a thing as any to have as an epitaph. I know my place and I no longer have buttocks so taut you could bounce 2p pieces off them.

6. I have a newish car. I am unnecessarily thrilled by the little extras and left cold by the important bits. The engine size, mileage per gallon or resale value is of very little interest to me. I am, however, very excited by the fact that my telephone plugs into a little USB thing in the glovebox. That there is a button that shuts the boot automatically. That something beeps when I reverse anywhere near any solid objects – the closer you get, the more frantic the beep, this is particularly useful to avoid incidents such as this. All this and an entire picnic table in the back seat which I will never use.

7. I have laid out a lot of plants in various parts of the country. Sometimes in truly horrid weather. I have got an interesting project in Sussex at a garden called Borde Hill. We have just replanted a narrow border which is romantically named Paradise Walk. It has been stripped and replanted with a spatter of herbaceous stuff. There are Monardas, Kniphofias, Zizias, Geranium Rozanne and many other jolly things. I would show you a picture except that a patch of mud covered wityh pots is not a terribly inspiring sight. Instead I urge you to visit Borde Hill next summer and see for yourselves.

8. That is probably enough for the moment, other things have happened but if I tell you everything you will never get round to eating poultry and flatulent vegetables.

Next time I blog there will be a new Episode of intoGardens in the App store. It is a thing of extreme beauty and deserves to be seen by every iPad owner in the world. My problem is that I do not know all of them so would very much appreciate any help you might be inclined to shovel my way. Spread the word please, people and I will be forever in your thrall.

I am listening to a slightly stroppy ticket collector on the Euston-Manchester train. The picture is of the window of Scott’s Restaurant in Mount Street looking festive.

Happy Christmas to all and thank you for reading my tosh once again.

(i) This may be the reason why I have no umbrellas


End of year and all that. Janus (i) looking back and forwards. Resolutions and Regrets.  Choices made and Opportunities lost. Time for a bit of soul searching: learning from the mistakes of 2010 and consolidating plans and ambitions for the Twelvemonth yet to come.

Or not. I think that would just depress some, delight others and bore the majority. And distress me unnecessarily.

What else? Christmas already and, if you needed actual proof, the Three Men Went to Mow festive offering is here for your mild delight. Another one filmed at Kew Gardens.

[youtube clip_id=”O2GP3XxJbKg”]

As everybody I have encountered recently has but one main topic of conversation viz. Snow: I feel that I should fall in step with the majority. The A43 has been pretty dreadful but everything looks very pretty….

Enough about the snow. No matter how much falls here we will always get outdone by Canadians so there is not much point trying to compete.

This picture is my contribution to the growing canon of Blog published snow shots. It is interesting how very similar they look to other snow pictures that I have taken on previous occasions. Sue said the same thing about frost. I have about 25,000 photographs on my computer. Most of them are completely pointless but I never seem to find the time to do anything but the most elementary editing. I suppose it is the inevitable side effect of digital photography. When I was younger (stop yawning at the back) it was drummed into me that pictures should not be wasted. Every shot on the 12 picture roll of my 126 Instamatic was precious: not surprising as the cost of developing six pictures of a very distant seagull sitting on an indistinguishable bit of field was considerable. If one balances money against artistic achievement.Today it is wonderful to be able to take 200 pictures of something in the hope that at least one of them will be good. Except that I still end up with 199 bad pictures cluttering up my hard disk.

The thing about snow (and I know I promised not to go on about it but bear with me a moment….) is that is rather stops things happening. I know that is quite an obvious statement but it is true. I have a couple of thousand bulbs loafing around the barn waiting to be planted. And some roses. And we need to get some trees in and a couple of other clients are inaccessible except by tractor. And everybody wants it all done by Christmas.

And it is not going to happen.

But the other interesting thing is by about now people (and I include myself in that group) realise that it doesn’t actually have to be done by Christmas. It will be fine if done in January. Or February. Everybody becomes much more relaxed. And bonhomie takes the place of panic.

I thought I would supplement the Three Men thing with a short film of my daughter dancing in the snow for those discerning folk who have had quite enough of Joe, Cleve and I swanning about.

So…. Happy Christmas to you all. Thank you for reading, commenting, participating in and supporting this Blog over the past year. I will endeavour to keep on providing drivel and elementary gardening for the discerning reader. Whether you want me to or not.

I am listening to Brownsville Girl by Bob Dylan.

The picture is of a slightly bewildered snowbound hen.

(1) Janus and hence to January. The Roman God of gates, doorways and time. A busy fellow all things considered. Especially as, having two heads (one forwards and one backwards facing) he has twice as much beard maintenance, eyebrow shaping and tooth brushing to deal with.