This may well be the shortest blog I have ever written.

It is not about President Trump. Nor is about the John Lewis advertisement, Christmas, Autumn leaves or kittens. I have not spared a thought for stewed fruit, the drawbacks of triple cooked chips or small kittens let loose in a wool shop.

Instead it is to draw your attention to the fact that I am giving a seminar in Moscow on 29th November. It will, I presume, be a bit chilly but with luck it will also be stuffed with happy Russian designers, nurseries, horticulturists and students. I also hope for a smattering of potential sponsors because it is all about preparing for next year’s Moscow Flower Show.

The show, which I have judged since its inauguration five years ago, is generally marvellous but needs a bit of a shove to get it to the next level. So two things will happen – I will do quite a lot of talking and looking at show gardens old and new to give inspiration and encouragement to the assembled masses.

Secondly we will talk about a very interesting new exchange programme where one design from a Russian designer will be chosen to be built at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. The delightful folk in Malvern will give the lucky person a grant and will help in every way they can. The finished garden will take its place centre stage amongst the other gardens in early May.

As a reciprocal arrangement one of the gardens from Malvern will be chosen to be built at the Moscow Flower Show (29th June – 9th July 2017). The equally delightful people in Moscow will also give a grant and turn somersaults to help a British designer exhibit at their show.

It will be an adventure for both parties.

So that is my intention. Why am I telling you this? because I want the word spread near and far so that we can have a seminar buzzing with ideas and excitement and you might just know a Russian designer who might like to attend.

The details are here – in Russian.

Likewise, one of you out there might fancy a bit of a jaunt to Moscow – a city which is indefatigably energetic. So if you fancy taking a garden there then the first thing you should do is apply for space at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival (11th-14th May 2017).

I am listening to Temenuschka Vesselinova playing a Mozart sonata.

The picture is of some cedar cones.

Hooray. It is only a month since I last posted here.

I really do not understand spam.

This blog has always had some of the stuff but recently much more has slipped past the electronic equivalent of the Group Four security guards. It used to be very simple – a clamour of sites usually trying to sell me, ahem, ‘augmentation’ pills. Now it seems much more complicated and involves a number of different approaches…
Flattery – this blog is amazing. It has given me an insight into the world that I have not found elsewhere.
Caring: It is important to be under direct medical supervision when dieting. Tea is safer than several small incisions.
Helpful: Your website may be having browser problems: in Internet Explorer they may be some overlapping.
Grateful: This is a cool and useful bit of information.
Critical: This blog is good but it has a lot of spelling mistakes.
Busy; Great information. I have saved it for later
Technical: Your Google rankings are rubbish.
Business like: Would you be interested in doing a guest post on my blog (which was about dumpster rental in Philadelphia).
More criticism: Your content is great but have you thought of changing the layout on your blog to allow more content?
Cheeky: Can you help me stop my blog being bombarded with spam? any tips
Weird: Religion may also be a reason for divorce rates increasing, Today the Hygienitech Mattress Cleaning System is the worldwide leader inn providing environmentally friendly mattress cleaning equipment.
Confusing: I do know what I will be stitching and wearing this spring and summer!
Supportive but confusing: Wonderful issues altogether, you just received a brand new reader. What may you suggest about your post that you made some days in the past? Any positive?


As an example I quote directly from a spam blog comment that appears to want me to buy a jacket – “Insert the yardstick, leaving about 8 inches for the handle. Tape around the sword and handle in moncler paris a figure eight pattern to hold the stick in place. Decorate moncler jackets the handle.”

Or: We spend about $40 on gas for personal use per week, putting $20 per week in our vehicles. His car gets better miles per gallon than my jeep, but I drive less than 5 miles to and from work everyday. If I would run low on gas, I would plan to either borrow his vehicle or ride my bike to work, however, that hasn’t happened yet..”

Another: – “But traditionally, those children borne by legal wives and concubines and those who were adopted are all designated and ranked differently, indicating their order of significance and influence.”

Attached to the various comments are links trying to sell me everything from ice cream makers, cartoons, Instagram followers, travel bags, vibration platforms,pressure washers, YouTube channels, ceiling fans, nudie jeans and, of course, ways to enlarge those areas that need enlarging.

How does this sort of thing benefit anybody? I am sure that somebody, somewhere is making money and I understand that if you sent a million people an email (net cost pretty much zero) and two buy something then you are quids in but how does bombarding a blog such as mine with a modest readership work? Especially as most of it gets caught in a filter – at the time of writing there are 3,632 such messages wriggling in my spam folder gasping their last.

I am bamboozled.


On the same subject when was the last time you actually ate some Spam? as in the proper stuff named as an acronym of ‘Spiced Ham’ or ‘Shoulders of pork and ham’. (Although it might not stand for either of those things – nobody in the know has ever said). When a hungry child at boarding school I would eat pretty much anything and one of the luncheons provided was a slice of spam with some lettuce,  half a tomato and ready access to a bottle of salad cream.
A few years ago, an older, less hungry and (perhaps) wiser person, I decided to try spam again. It was horrible: those intervening years of restaurants, excellent home cooking and occasional puddings had ruined my tastebuds. No longer would I be excited by the flabby rubberiness of a slice of processed pork.

Life is full of such disappointments.

I have not, you will be relieved to know, spent all of my time worrying about spam. I have also been doing busy things the most exciting of which was flying off to Glasgow to look at the site for the new Horatio’s Garden at the spinal unit in Southern General Hospital. I have written lots about it on my Crocus Blog here so will not repeat myself.
What else? Oh. I bought a house, a rather nice house that will hopefully be both nicer and more habitable by the summer which is when we hope to move in. I have also helped finalise the show gardens for both Chelsea and Malvern Spring Festival and planted two and a half gardens. And some other stuff which I will not go into as most people will probably not have got this far anyway as they would have been put off by all the drivel about spam.

I know I would have left by now.

I am listening to You Can’t Outrun ‘Em by Jenny Lewis. The pictures is are of some very handsome Gloucester Old Spot pigs – a little tasteless perhaps when talking about spam but there you go.

This will, I believe be a very short blogpost as time is pressing but I thought I had better write something lest there is concern for my continued existence. Especially as today I managed to reverse my car into hearse. Fortunately it was only occupied by the living (although I suppose that the dearly departed would not have been that bothered) and all was fine.

I have recently returned from the Malvern Spring Show which was, as always, a great pleasure.

It did not begin well as on the first day, Thursday, there was nothing but mud and drizzle. Almost every grassed inch of the showground was squelchy underfoot: I worried that if it carried on like this then if any of our heavier visitors remained still for more than a couple of minutes they would sink slowly and inexorably into the fertile soils of Worcestershire. I spent that Thursday acting as Rachel de Thame’s less glamorous stand-in for Gardeners World. Which was fun if a little damp. The rest of the weekend was mostly sunny so I spent a jolly time frolicking with Carol Klein, Joe Swift and Terry Walton. All ring mastered by Katie Johnson. This is Carol looking even more glamorous than normal.

Carol Klein

Prior to that was Grand Designs at the Excel centre. When the weather is as vile as it has been there are certain advantages to being incarcerated in a large shed for hours with no access to daylight or fresh air. My thanks to the various designers who turned up and worked fearfully hard. Much harder than I did: I gave two lectures, one with Cleve West and one about which I had completely forgotten until five minutes before so had to run the length of the Excel rearranging slides on my iPad as I wove in and out of crowds and hot tub suppliers. I hope nobody noticed my woeful unpreparedness. I also gave two cooking demonstrations (fortunately accompanied by Mark Lloyd as left alone nobody would have learnt anything). Lamb Wellington with steamed vegetables followed by Chocolate Fondant if you really want to know.

After a few days of normal work and a quick visit to the showground where everybody was terribly busy and the rain fell: I did, however, manage to sneak a quick Three Men film for your elucidation.

I am now off to Chelsea to do a mixture of television things and being-an-important-RHS-council-member things. It will be interesting to see how the two blend together. For example all my fellow councillors are on Royals duty tomorrow ushering the Queen and others around the show with respectful gestures and loyal greetings. I am stalking them with a television camera.

I will see you all on the other side (of Chelsea, not the Styx: I am not allowing my hearse reverse to make me morbid.)

I am listening to a remix of John Cougar Mellencamp singing a little ditty about Jack and Diane (two American kids growing up in the heartland). It is still pretty dreadful in spite of the remixing.

The picture is of a beech leaf. Grateful to have it as there are precious few flarze around in this garden right now. I am hoping that the promised Chelsea sunshine will sort out the situation by the time I return.

I have never really gone for paganism.

Not that I am particularly squeamish but have never really found the time to indulge in unspeakable acts with goats or whittle arrows from mistletoe. I have never danced naked at Stonehenge (in fact my entire experience of naked dancing has been a bit limited: which will come as a great relief to all). Spells, chants and hexes have never been in my repertoire. Although I don’t mind a bit of drumming and I am pretty good on Greco-Roman pantheistic mythology.

However, I have welcomed in the summer by celebrating the ancient festival of Beltane on the Isle of Colonsay. The idea is, obviously, another one of those mayday things: in this case the moment when stock is released back onto the hills for a bit of free ranging. Being pagan (and Scots) it also involved fire: last year’s celebration got a little out of control as a sizeable chunk of island heather caught fire. This year was quieter and involved six teams of two climbing to the tops of Colonsay’s six highest hills and waving burning torches around. All this began with an alarm clock playing Iggy Pop’s The Passenger at 3:30AM (i). This is not a hour when anybody should be awoken: in certain circumstances it is okay to go to bed at 3:30 but not to get up. It plays havoc with one’s body clock.

We then climbed a hill in the teeth of a brisk wind and lit the torches. It was rather a marvellous moment to see the other beacons twinkling in the distance while the sun slowly rose. Here is a picture. The two bright dots are other team’s torches.

I then went back to bed.

I have mentioned Colonsay on these pages before and urged you all to visit (there are cottages and a small hotel for your comfort). Typically none of you listened and that is your loss as the weather was truly sensational: especially in comparison to the drearily continuous rain that has beset the south. (ii) As a result I have a slight suntan and you do not.

Show season is now upon us: I am writing this in a conservatory, inside an exhibition hall within the Excel centre. It is Grand Designs Live and I am running my own personal design studio populated by very industrious newly qualified garden designers dealing with the varied problems brought to our door by visitors to the show. So far I have dealt with a small terrace, an overgrown hedge, a bit of woodland, some very narrow borders, a large shed, somebody whose plant knowledge only stretched to marigolds and a sloping terrace. I have also delivered a lecture about vegetables (along with Cleve West) and done a cookery demonstration (lamb wellington with steamed vegetables followed by a chocolate fondant).

All in a day’s work.

Thursday I go to Malvern to frolic and tart around in the theatre there: this year, for a bit of variety, I am also doing a bit of stuff for Gardeners’ World (to be broadcast, presumably, on Friday). Which is nice. A thought must be spared for the landscapers, organisers, nurseries and designers at Malvern because the build-up has been thoroughly miserable with rain every day. Plants are reluctant to flower (Cleve West’s beech hedge has arrived at Chelsea devoid of any leaves: a naked hedge) and it has been very tough. I hope that there is at least some sunshine over the weekend. Go along and be nice to them all.

I have had a request for a better picture of my rather fine fruit cage, it would seem churlish to refuse.

While we are on the subject of fruit: I went to a fascinating orchard the other day. It was at the East Malling Research Institute in Kent where I was on an RHS Council jolly. There were fruit trees trained in all sorts of interesting ways: goblets, espaliers, cordons, things that looked like small huts and these fabulous serpentine shapes. Hatton Fruit Garden, it was called, open once a year for the National Gardens Scheme. You should go if you remember.

That is very probably enough for the moment from me.

I am listening to the infernal rumble of people shopping for home improvement items.

The picture is of some very young grapes.

(i) This has long been my alarm setting of choice. I find it strikes just the right note of urgency and cheerfulness. If it was an animal I imagine it to be a very reasonable minded opossum. Probably quite mature for its age

(ii) Warning: weather can change frequently. The value of your investment in weather can go up and down.

You may be relieved to know that I not only survived Grand Designs but enjoyed myself. We did a Three Men Show Live on the big stage on Sunday. A large proportion of the Grand Designs audience are there to look at patio doors and thermally insulated windows and not gardens, as a result they had absolutely no idea why we were there or who we were but those who watched seemed to giggle a bit. I then did a cookery demonstration where I learnt to grill sea bass and a risotto with condensed milk. I then had to eat lunch with three strangers. It was the best meal I had had all week.

I have now moved on and am writing this from Malvern (i) where I am ensconced in an hotel room of a much higher standard than last week in the Novotel. As always I have had a very jolly few days (one more to go) with gardens and plants and Joe Swift and authors and the Director General of the RHS and sheep and wildlife experts and Matthew Wilson and long life cupcakes and a baby hedgehog and slightly tough roast beef and Chris Beardshaw and a scattering of delightful bloggers and tweeters and Mike Dilger and a mummified grass snake and a fantastic Hungarian cafe band from Haringey.

Malvern is always a corker. I am now off to eat curry (ii) but, before I go……

I have an announcement of great import and seriousness to make.

If you are a member of the RHS then, later this month the June edition of The Garden will flop, exhausted, onto your doormats. Attached to this august journal will be a leaflet.

Do not, please, chuck it directly into the recycling bin but stay your hand and settle down somewhere to comfortably browse.


Right. In your hand you are holding the necessary bumpf for the RHS Council elections. You will soon notice that among the candidates for election is one James Alexander-Sinclair.


Yes. I am standing for election to the RHS Council. This is a body of seventeen people whose job is to help run the joint, advise on its future direction and to generally rally round and keep the society on track according to the charter which says, and I quote, “The encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches”.Your gut reaction will be to say “What? that crusty old load of reactionary buffers?”
Things change and that conclusion would, in my humble opinion, be wrong because, actually, the council consists of a number of dedicated and interested people all with an abiding interest in gardens, gardening and the future health of the RHS.

So that is what I would like to do should you mob choose to elect me.

I have written quite a few pieces knocking the RHS for being slow to change and narrow in it’s outlook. I then thought that, rather than jeering and throwing rotting fruit from the sidelines, really I should try and see what I could contribute to actually make things change. Hence this candidacy.

The RHS has many facets. The publicly obvious stuff like running world famous flower shows and large gardens in four corners of the country. The less visible things such as trialling plants and offering courses and education for Gardeners. And the largely unsung stuff such as complicated scientific research into plant pathogens, bugs and diseases. All together this is a vital organisation working for gardens and Gardeners in this country. This is why it seems odd that, when I stand up in a lecture and say, “How many of you are members of the RHS?” not everybody puts their hand up.Often it is only about half the audience. Everybody who has a garden should go the the RHS as a first stop: from the novice gardener in their first house to the experienced gardener stumped for a plant for a problem place. We need more members and need to communicate what we do to as wide an audience as possible.

I have been gardening for (and this quite a depressing thought) slightly more than half my life. It has given me enjoyment, friends, knowledge and reasonable living (riches beyond the ken of man were never really on the agenda) for most of that time and I feel that, at the very least, I ought to give back a bit. It should also be very interesting, illuminating and (I am assured) fun.

So, and I apologise if I sound a bit like a shiny suited Parliamentary candidate, I would ask you to fill in the form on the back of the leaflet and send it in, it would also be nice if you chivvied any of your friends and relations who are also members to follow suit. If you feel that this is not enough and direct action is required, then you may, if you insist, camp outside the RHS Headquarters carrying placards and chanting.

Just do it quietly. And don’t pick the flowers.

I am listening to birds chirruping contentedly in the wooded slopes of the Malvern Hills.

The picture is of a very old and gnarly sweet chestnut.

(i) In the spirit of open disclosure I must declare that this is not completely accurate. I wrote most of it in malvern but have now returned home and have spent today picking over Cleve west’s leftovers at Crocus. I am now listening, not to birdsong but the mellifluous tones of the first lady of France, Carla Bruni, singing J’en Connais. On reflection the birds were better.

(ii) Curry was eaten in the company of Mike Dilger: wildlife expert from the One Show and all round cheeky chappie. A jolly evening.

I am sitting in the Novotel at Grand Designs, well not exactly at Grand Designs but very close.

There are a number of interesting things happening at the show including the customary handsome display of hot tubs. I am running a very smart Garden Design studio with my name on a big yellow cube dangling from the ceiling.


The form is that there are four newly qualified garden designers giving free consultations while I hover and offer sage advice when required. All very jolly, you can come and take advantage of all this if you hurry: the show runs until Sunday night and Three Men are cavorting on stage in the afternoon.

The Novotel meanwhile has surprised me. My first impression was that it was the sort of place where former communist apparatchiks would come to drink themselves stupid, cavort with doughy thighed good time girls and, in certain cases, fling themselves from windows. Actually it is quiet, cleanish and has a view of the Victoria dock. The breakfast, however, is utterly loathsome: in particular the scrambled eggs.

After Sunday there is Malvern to look forward to next week. This will be my seventh Malvern (I think) in which time it has changed a great deal. This year there is more serious side to the show as the theme of Biodiversity runs through the things that are happening in the theatre: this leaves no room for Joe Swift and I to do flower arranging. This will doubtless come as a huge relief to the ranks of Floral Artists out there as we did little to promote high standards in the world of competitive floristry. Instead there will be wise words from Matthew Wilson and Jekka McVicar (on Thursday), Chris Beardshaw (on Friday), Joe Swift (on Saturday) and Mike Dilger and Terry Walton (on Sunday).

I will be flitting around doing links and other stuff including an interview with Sue Biggs on Friday morning: she is, as I am sure you know, the Director General of the RHS and a thoroughly good egg. If you wish to ask searching questions about the future of the organisation then this is the place to be – hecklers welcome.

We also have a book slot where I chat to various garden writers and you get the chance to buy signed copies of their glossy ouevres. Included are the Guardian Royal Bouquet correspondent, Lia Leendertz. Martyn Cox (who writes a couple of books a week), Noel Kingsbury (also very prolific but with a Phd: Martyn just has a gelled forelock),) Anne Wareham who will talk about her book -The Bad Tempered Gardener – which is opinionated and alternately annoying and amusing (a bit like picking a scab) and Mark “Veg Head” Diacono whose book, the Taste of the Unexpected, is quite old now but still very readable(ii)

I am exhausted already. I am hoping that there will be various bloggers and Twitterati loafing about as well.

I have also found some time this week to visit Arundel. Rather a pretty town with a castle and softly flowing river overlooked by gentle Sussex countryside blah, blah, blah. There is also a rather remarkable garden belonging to the Duke of Norfolk and designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman.

My visit was quite fleeting so this will not be any more than a quick postcard but, in brief: Trademark whopping oak structures, some very floaty planting (excluding a rather ugly variegated elder at one point) and some spectacular fountains including a dancing coronet – a gold crown rotating on top of a high power jet of water surrounded by exquisite shell work.

Proper Bannerman showmanship in other words. Beautifully constructed, theatrical and exciting.

There is, however, a strange arrangement of rock and palm trees sitting in the middle of a grass labyrinth which I really could not fathom. Why was it there? It seemed like a step too far. There may well be a perfectly logical explanation but it looked cluttered and detracted from both surroundings and labyrinth. I must do some research to discover what is going on.

I am listening to the gentle hum of the air conditioning as I cannot work out how to open the window, nor can I understand the taps. There seems to be no clear indication which way is hot and which way cold so I am skittering between third degree burns and hypothermia. At the risk of sounding like a disgruntled old Colborn: what is wrong with having one tap labelled ‘Hot’ and one ‘Cold’.

The picture is of ants on peony buds.

(i) I was reminded by @nicelittleplace on Twitter the other day that the abbreviative noun for a group of floral artists is Flarts. As is “Over there is the Flart tent”. This is not intended to be at all pejorative but merely affectionate. The other acronym is for the Chris Beardshaw Scholarship Gardens who are known as the CBeebies.

(ii) It also has many other uses for those who have been given a copy as a gift but prefer not to read such stuff. For example, as a chopping board, a waterproof hat, a partially effective cricket box, a frisbee, an oven glove and a way of ironing out unruly body hair. It has also just been nominated for yet another award (yawn) this time by the Guild of Food Writers. I think it unlikely that any of the other authors (not even Anne) are in the running for that one. Bravo.

Have just been invited to appear in a sort of Gardeners’ Question Time thingy next autumn in Alton for a charity called Wellbeing in Women (sounds rather dreamy – Autumn in Alton – I should probably accept).

I have also had a lot of conversations today with the very lovely Nina Acton who runs the Malvern Spring Show (May 11th-14th). Malvern is the first big flower show of the year and in the most beautiful surroundings. I have been there for the last couple of years and will be there for all four days this year. Last year we introduced a big theatre where I was joined by Alan Titchmarsh, Joe Swift and Chris Beardshaw (picture left – I am the scruffy one, Chris is the wise one giving out handy tips).

Joe and I had a fantastic time interviewing the designers and growers and intend to do it all again this year. However, we all got so overexcited last year that Malvern now has an extra day -Thursday – and we are going to put on a debate. What form exactly that will take remains to be seen – but whatever happens, ‘twill be well worth attending. Aside from all these theatrical shenanigans there is a vast floral marquee, show gardens and a new feature called “Borders without Gardens” where students design and plant a border. Details will follow.

Steve has removed the steps to both my office and the kitchen door which seems a little alarming. It is, however, one of those things that has needed to be done for about a decade. When we built the house I built some things very quickly using whatever was lying around – this worked well in most cases but the office steps are too high and the slabs are disintegrating. So where there were two steps there will now be three.

It has just dawned on me how exceptionally dull that photograph and the last couple of sentences are, I apologise and will stop that train of thought immediately.

How can the rebuilding of my office steps be a suitable subject unless I am trying to write the world’s dreariest blog. In fact I wonder what is the world’s dreariest blog – perhaps there should be a prize. There is a place that claims the title at but as it is intentionally dull then it may disqualify itself. I don’t know where to look for blogs – if anybody ever reads this and knows, please tell me.

Do you think this entry is too long?

Jarhead is a very good movie. Great performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaall and Jamie Foxx), fab photography and a very zippy soundtrack. At this precise moment I am listening to “Raindrops keep falling on my head”  sung by B.J.Thomas – which is a little embarassing but honesty is all. The vulgar photograph is a ripening Phytolacca seedhead.