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 visited the Chelsea Flower Show during buildup and found it marvellous. So marvellous that we made this film to amuse whomsoever needs amusing.

I am now off again to visit the show again. While I am there I will be flouncing around in front of a camera for the BBC Red Button. This is the television coverage for connoisseur. There will be a series of films: some with me, some with the formidable Christine Walkden and some with Toby Buckland. This is available all the time for people with satellite and cable televisions or after about 7pm every evening if you are on Freeview. Apparently the French Open tennis takes priority which is a bit rich if you ask me. All you need to do is press the Red button on your remote control.

I will be wandering around the Great Pavilion expostulating on plants and nurserymen and will be on an endless loop on Tuesday and Thursday. I think, details are here.

Other things have happened but I have not got the time to tell you so that may have to wait until my next blog. By which time I will have realised that they were not that exciting anyway and they will have been overtaken by other stuff. Such is life…

I am listening to Pushing the Envelope open by DJ Z-Trip and DJ P (i)

The picture is of an Allium Christophii.

(i) I could be the only potential RHS Council member who has this song on their iPod. That may, or may not, be a plus point in the forthcoming election.

Everything is a bit frantic because, and I may not have mentioned this before, I am going on the longest holiday I have had since I was about 22 (when life was just one long holiday spent loafing about smoking and not going to bed very often). We are going to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for three weeks and, as five days in Italy is the most time I have spent abroad in the last thirty years, you can appreciate that this is a BIG THING. There is far less than a month to go and a lot of loose and flappy ends to tidy up before leaving. Days need to be organised and packed with constructive activity. Diaries must be synchronised and backlogs must be cleared. Contractors must be left with concise instructions, plants must be ordered in good time and clients must be soothed and stroked.

Except I know (and probably you know) that I am not that efficient and am easily distracted by writing this, or chatting or going on a train or something.

For example, I came back on the late train the other day. Friday night in London is not a pretty sight. I began the evening in a bar that was like the Dante’s vision of hell on three levels. But with extra noise, extra people, extra heat, extra purgatory. It was an appalling ,heaving mass of humanity and ghastliness. I ended the evening on a late train that was full of people eating smelly food. The good drunks were quietly snoozing, the bad drunks are noisily arguing. Other people were having indiscreet telephone conversations with either grumpy spouses or whomsoever.

A woman behind me is ringing a whole string of people and entreating each one that they have to keep the fact that she has called them secret. There is then a long story explaining that she has been out with Chris and she (Chris) got so drunk that she was arrested by the transport police and was calling her (the woman making the call) all sorts of names. Apparently she don’t know where she (Chris: are you still with me?) is  and she don’t trust the Old Bill. She’s got a bad leg and that is why she collapsed . Dave got the right hump with her (at this point I got a bit lost having not been introduced to Dave). She had not done anything wrong for once in her life. She didn’t know what to do. She mustn’t laugh but she (Chris: keep up at the back) really should not drinkl. She (telephone lady) was threatening to hit her and everything to bring her to her senses. “I’m relatively sober you know” (Yeah, Right). Nightmare. She said to the copper “go on lock her up for the night, I don’t care” but she does care.” If she’s dead in the morning, I’m suing you”.

Then Chris rang, just as we got to Bletchley. She’s okay and not in a police cell or hospital ward. There was tearful reconciliation and everybody is happy. Phew.

The bit in between was marvellous and entailed chat, delightful company,  some indifferent food, a man dressed as Hitler, a girl with nipple pasties and some dancing.

You see? Nothing but distractions wherever I turn.

I should be writing June copy for The English Garden. And April stuff for Gardeners World. And making plant lists for four clients. And buying a Valentine’s Day Tree for someone (i). And getting a lake sorted. And organising three hedges. And hassling people (greenhouse people in particular). And wondering where the tree surgeons have gone. And remembering to buy a new yard broom. And a whole lot of other stuff.

Anything really but writing this…

You may recall that I went to Cumbria twice in a week last month. This week I have been on the M3 three times in four days. This, in itself, is not an interesting fact. In fact it is very dull. If somebody turned to you in a bar and opened the conversation with that fact you would immediately start wondering whether you could squeeze through the window of the gents in order to escape (ii). I just mention it as it is the first time in over a year I have been that way and it is odd how things come in multiples sometimes. I am now boring myself.

The point, such as it is, is that one of those journeys ended up here:

My apologies in advance for the somewhat peculiar ‘related videos’. Suffice to say that if you were after tips on propagating Cyclamen you will leave unsatisfied.

The picture is of an oak bench I designed with a particularly gorgeous frost shadow.

I am listening to Houston sung by Dean Martin. “Haven’t eaten in about a week, I’m so hungry that when I walk I squeak.”

(i) Not ‘for someone’ as in ‘for someone’. But ‘for someone’ as in ‘on behalf of a client to give to someone’. If you get my drift.

(ii) I have tried to escape through the window of a Gents once. It is not to be recommended: especially if the window is too high and small and you end up falling in an urinal. Unless that is the sort of thing you enjoy, in which case please carry on.


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.

You catch me at a low ebb…

It was the Garden Media Guild Awards yesterday and it was my day to be bridesmaid and not get to wear the full meringue. This happened not just once: I got shortlisted twice but in the Blog of Year Category I lost out to the supremely deserving Lia Leendertz and in Journalist of the Year (which is a terribly grown up category) to Victoria Summerly (who not only writes beautifully but is a proper journalist rather than a part time chancer like me). Here is a picture of Carol Klein’s shoe (as is traditional). The heels are, apparently, excellent for dibbing.

It is an odd thing this awards lark. In the days leading up to the lunch there is a lot of anticipation and moments of both doubt and imagined triumph. Then one has a jolly time with nice people, lots of kissing (i) and slightly strange food – pudding was something called a Blackberry Tendance. When the actual moment comes, one is initially disappointed but soon gets over that and quickly becomes genuinely delighted that the people who won, won. If you get my drift. I guess it helps to lose to really nice people rather than cads and rotters.

If I carry on like this then I am going to sound insincere and make people feel queasy. Suffice to say that I have two runners-up certificates to cover up the blank spots of the wall.

May I extend hearty congratulations to not only  Lia & Victoria but also to Mark Diacono (in spite of his barnyard ways with gentlemen’s tailoring).

Anne Wareham for her shiny new look ThinkinGardens website: even though she called me smug in a comment on my last post.(ii)

But most of all to Dawn Isaac for her best New Talent award. We need more new talent (iii) and, although only a bit new, she is extravagantly talented.

As a consolation prize I did win the Award for Best Dressed Gardener in Martyn Cox’s OMG Awards for the second year running. I have a certificate and my tailor will be thrilled and although I realise that it is just a sop to compensate for my being too over the hill to qualify the the Most Snoggable Award I am very pleased. My female equivalent is Laetitia Maklouf who has the edge on me by being not only well dressed but deeply gorgeous. I think we should learn to dance the Minuet together (iv): although she is probably already an accomplished ballroom dancer in possession of many proficiency badges and exotic dresses made mostly from stretchy fabrics.

On other matters you may remember my wittering on about the letter of complaint about me that was published in Gardeners World Magazine a month or so ago. For the keen the link is here, for those with better things to do I will paraphrase… “Am I the only one who thinks James A-S is really annoying?”

In response, some people emailed GW Magazine to express their opinions and the answer was that yes, some agreed  wholeheartedly with the correspondent and James A-S is supremely irritating.

“I get so cross when I read the nonsense that emanates from the mouth of Mr Sinclair…”

but others (all of whom win my undying love) disagreed. I have, apparently done my bit for international relations…

“I am German and the first time I came across one I thought “hey,perhaps the British aren’t as stiff upper-lipped as their reputation” “

and marital harmony……

“James’ column…causes me to laugh out loud and I annoy my husband by reading it to him when he is trying to sleep”

Let us hope that he majority will have their way and I will continue to write the column until sacked by the Sainted Mr Adam Pasco.

By way of light relief, I shall introduce you to the latest Three Men Went To Mow offering. We spent a very jolly day at Kew Gardens last Thursday and this is the result.

[youtube clip_id=”Ui__ZgxGq9c”]

I am listening to Red Garters sung by Rosemary Clooney and the Paramount Studio Chorus.

Last year it was all so different.(Sniff!)

The picture is of Cedar cones.

  1. It was particularly cold outside yesterday but very warm in the building. The secret in this situation is to adopt a two part strategy. On first entering (while still cold) only kiss people who have been there a while and have warmed up a bit. Then when warmed up start kissing those who have just arrived and are a bit cold. Works like a thermostat, but softer (except when kissing the slightly rugged and unshaven – eg Matthew Wilson, Terry Walton or Gary “Grizzlybeard” Rogers). Do not get carried away or you are liable to be ejected.
  2. Believe it or not I was nominated for a new talent award once. I lost to Sarah Lancashire.
  3. If you remember I ventured the opinion that, as most of AT’s programme was actually very good then one should ignore the odd things he wanders off to make. My point was, if I recall correctly, that gardening television (not Gardens per se) doesn’t matter so much that it is worth getting into a froth about. Some is good, some is not and it is better not to get worked up about it: if you want to get in a tither then go to the Daily Mail website or watch Question Time.
  4. I learnt how to ballroom dance when I was about eleven. Sadly I have forgotten all of it except the basic waltz steps. Also as it was an all boys school and I was quite small I was always made to be the girl and had to dance backwards.

To begin with some horticulture….I have been at the NEC in Birmingham this weekend and came across an inner courtyard (mostly used for smoking and sandwich eating) that was planted exclusively with Heucheras in various colours. It was like a secret Heuchera refuge: like that bit at the end of Farenheit 451 when they escape to a hideout where each person hasmemorised a book but without the message of hope and redemption. There were red ones and diced carrot coloured ones and spotty green ones and urine yellow ones. Had you been in the NEC and witnessed a pale faced fellow with weak knees and wildly staring eyes escaping down the travelator then that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was I.

I have seen visions of the apocalypse and the Four Horseman all carried Heucheras (except one who had a flowering currant).

Some of you may know that I have a monthly column in Gardeners World Magazine. In it I have a lovely time describing plants in increasingly irrelevant ways. It is not the most serious piece of journalism in the world and is intended as light relief with a small smattering of horticulture. This month I have attracted a letter of complaint which can be viewed on page 122 but, for those of you too skint or tight to buy your own copy of this excellent magazine I will reproduce it for you.

I love your magazine but I wonder if I am the only subscriber who finds James Alexander-Sinclair’s choice of similes unfortunate. I don`t wish to link balmy summer evenings with “post coital cigarettes” (i). Even more offensive did I find the comparison of fluttering leaves to the “quivering lips of a troubled toddler” (ii).  I don`t want to be reminded of “troubled toddlers” when I am trying to relax with a garden magazine. I have never found the pictures of crying children amusing or attractive. There are too many miserable children in the world – I focus on them when I have to, but while reading Gardeners World.

It was the same with description “fuchsias looking like hippos in tutus”, though not offensive, is not how I would choose to remember one of my favourite flowers.

These kind of descriptions are getting more frequent and less palatable.

If I am the only one who minds, then I will just have to look elsewhere for my escapist pleasure I suppose.  But if it is an oversight, please can the author restrain himself a little ?

I am a married woman with grown up children and 3 grand children and I have no quarrel with the birds and the bees, or sex, or children or tears – but to me a flower is a flower – a thing of beauty in its own right.

  1. This is a reference to a phrase in the August edition “…the bustle of June and the flurries of July are over and this is the closest our gardens ever get to a post coital cigarette”. Somebody else sent an email in about this as they thought I was encouraging young people to start smoking.
  2. A reference to my description of the leaves of Tetracentron sinense “….are they not as finely shaped and as furrowed as the unbotoxed brow of Michael Douglas? Do they not flutter as finely as the quivering lip of a troubled toddler?”

It is never my intention to upset people so my apologies to those who take offence but it does at least mean that somebody is reading the stuff. Although it would be better if they did not take things too seriously. I have never been complained about before so cannot help part of me feeling a tiny bit chuffed.

On the other hand I have been finally taken seriously by the gardening intellectual elite: my blogpost about Highgrove has been published on ThinkinGardens. It slightly ruins its gravitas by beginning with a picture of a mongrammed Cupcake. I am not sure that many of the more radical political pamphlets of the Nineteenth Century began in that way but I suppose that in this modern world there is always room for innovation.

Appearances can be deceptive. While sitting happily on the train the other day I was joined but an elderly lady. Sensible beige shoes. Tan tights. Buttoned cardi. Floral dress. The full works. She then unpacked a Tupperware box with sandwiches and a battered flask and got herself nicely settled. The large sensible handbag was then delved into again and I must admit that I was expecting a barley sugar and a copy of  The People’s Friend. Instead, she produced a shiny new net book and an iPod.

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

When I say ‘never’ I actually mean ‘usually’ because on the way back my neighbour removed her shoes, put them on the table between us and sang loudly to herself. I judged that book as being a trifle deranged.

I changed carriages.

We (Joe,Cleve and I) have quartered the country doing the Three Men Live Shows. Firstly at the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr in what is, apparently, the greenest building in the country (wind turbines, green roof, floors made of recycled stuff etc). It was a good evening: we were beautifully looked after (you might even say cossetted) by the staff and the audience seemed to leave happy: maybe they were just happy because they could at last go home.

We failed to see any of the garden as we arrived in the dark. We were one of a series of RHS Lectures to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Harlow Carr. Oddly many of the posters had been defaced. We have no idea how this happened and thoroughly disapprove of such behaviour.

We also missed most of the historic spa town of Harrogate (i) as we left early in the morning to get to gig number two (and three) at the NEC Birmingham. En route, somehow I managed to lose my wallet which was really very annoying indeed. Two performances at the NEC went down well. We did one on the Gardens stage which is about the size of a snooker table and another on the main stage. This is normally occupied by Kevin McLoud or a procession of architects saying things like ‘The door handle is the hand shake of a building”. Us playing silly games and talking nonsense came as a bit of a change.

I am listening to Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives.

The picture is of a very ancient and pleasingly gnarly Acer campestre in a hedgeline.

It may be that .me is being tricky about comments. Don’t forget it is also available here.

(i) We stayed in one of those very old, formerly grand hotels that have received a cheap makeover. This involves putting too many cushions on the bed and hanging drapes around the place in order to make it look designery and chic. It doesn’t work: hotels should be judged on mattresses and showers neither of which were much cop. I had an ‘invigorating’ whirlpool bath in my room and, having not experienced such a thing outside certain films so I looked forward to being aerated. Needless to say it produced neither bubble nor froth. I emerged clean but uninvigorated.

Literally two people have urged me to get on with the next episode of Three Men Went To Mow so, without further ado, here it is. It was filmed at the Gibberd Garden in Essex.

[youtube clip_id=”KyqukNE1tQA”]

There has also been a complete uproar from an eager folk wishing me to get on with it and get WordPress sorted out. In case of random attacks I have had to let the Rottweilers roam freely at night outside my house and there are buckets of water placed at strategic points in case of flaming arrows.

I have listened to my public and, as a result, this blog will be simultaneously published both here and here for the next few weeks before the gentle withdrawal of support from .me. I will be very sad to leave .me as the format is ridiculously simple but I guess I will get used to all that WordPress loving. This WordPress site is a little bit incomplete – no links etc yet – but nearly there.

We are currently adding bits on to one of my favourite gardens: the one that was featured in Gardens Illustrated a couple of months ago (with magic prose from one M.Wilson – Lord of the Hedges).

We are adding a herb garden and moving the wild flower meadow(i) a bit further down the hill. The courtyard that we planted a couple of years ago is looking sensational. If I might say so: so good,indeed, that I give you two pictures so you can say Oooh or Aaah depending on your preference.

My only other piece of information this week is that I have been thinking (ii) about the fact that newsreaders often have odd names. Firstly there is the magnificently named Fenella Mimosa Fudge. Followed by Debbie Tubby, Ettalie Pegram and Sabrina de Cauncey Mayflower (iii)

I am listening to You Could Have Had Me Baby by Esther Phillips

The picture is of some particularly handsome fungus.

Last year I was swept up in Olympic rowing and box hedges.

  1. Says he blithely… it is not quite as easy as that but will hopefully work in the end.
  2. Not especially deeply, I would like you to know.It is not as if I have been sitting in a darkened room smoking a pipe and taking cocaine in order to sharpen my faculties. Just gently musing as I was going about the place.
  3. One of these names may have been invented.