Every year I fall into a sort of relaxed stupor around February. My brain tells me that it’s ages until Springtime and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with a bit more hibernation and procrastination. Of course that planting plan can wait until next week.
Naturally, we do not have to rush because it is still winter.
And then, quite suddenly, I realise that it is bloody nearly Spring and there are things left undone that should have been done.
The same thing happens in August when I think that the Autumn will never come so am again caught napping.
This has been going on for years and one would have thought that I should have learned my lesson by now.
Oh no…. Bit dim, Sunny Jim.

As a result I have been in a maelstrom of activity. Unfortunately all this activity is incomplete so, as I take you on a quick tour, the pictures will consist almost exclusively of patches of brown earth and leafless tree: not terribly inspiring but it is only March (in spite of the summeriness of the weather) so give us a break. i will try very hard to remember to come back to these three jobs later in the year.

So, take last Wednesday as an example. I began in a large hole near Shipston-on-Stour where we are digging a truly magnificent lake. It will be like a huge natural infinity pool with spectacular views and vast skies. I am very happy because there are ( I mentioned in my last post) lots of big yellow diggers doing exactly what I tell them. This appeals to my Tonka toy mentality and also to my cunningly concealed control freakery.

Next stop was a very steep field near High Wycombe to lay out the beginnings of a Forest Garden. This is a posh name for a woodland with fruit. Amongst the usual native plants we will intersperse apples, pears, walnuts, chestnuts, mulberries, quinces, plums etc etc ( you get the picture) all under planted with a sea of flowery grass. My fruity friend Mark Diacono is providing various weird fruit trees while I provide taste and style (something a bit lacking in his life- as can be seen from his choice of shirtings). You will notice the pile of trees in the picture: the far slope will be forest garden (augmented by some proper natives to dilute the edibles) while the near slope will be meadowy with some biggish trees.

Final stop of the day was near Chipping Norton where we are planting large trees. I love this sort of thing – more diggers and control freakery: I wrote about it in my blog for Crocus (the one that nobody ever comments on unless I beg). We have also dug a steep sided canyon, when I say “dug” I mean that we have rearranged a vast amount of spoil to make said canyon. It will be flowery and spectacular. All needs to be in place for the end of June when there will, not only be a wedding but a visit from various folk from the Garden Museum who are venturing in this direction to come a see Blackpitts and two other gardens of mine. All in a day, let us hope it raineth not and that the place is not completely trampled by wedding planners. As a bonus we had to plant an Olive Tree that I had bought from the delightful Tim and Jackie at Olive Grove Nurseries. It weighs a ton and three quarters so was not going to be an easy job. But what is more exciting than a digger? You guessed it, a crane. A big extending pole into which all manner of Freudian psycho sexual overtones may be read but, in spite of that, it is the very thing for lifting heavy objects over walls and across pools without mishap. Damn thing better not die.

I have a couple more, similarish, jobs going on but they involve fewer diggers at the moment so are less captivating. I will doubtless drone on about them when the time comes. Suffice to say that we are indulging in a bit of Dunnettry (aka meadow planting in a few places), dispatching lorryloads of the last bare root stuff around the country, searching for water butts, talking to structural engineers etc etc etc.

It is not looking like it will be a spring for relaxation and watching the daffodils flower. Which is odd because this time last year we were swanning around South East Asia with nary a thought about work and stuff. The main picture is of a Camellia photographed at Borde Hill in Sussex.

I am listening to First Night by The Hold  Steady.

At this time in 2008 I was writing about dog bites, Clement Freud and stakes

Last week saw the launch of the 2011 National Gardens Scheme Yellow Book. This is quite a spiffy affair held in the Festival Hall with a very superior line in canapes after all the presentation stuff is over. The President (His Honour Sir Joe Swift) blithered for a bit, Jane Owen (the Simone Signoret of the Financial Times), Wesley Kerr (he of the booming voice and Royal anecdotes) and I chuntered away for a while about NGS Gardens we have known. Joe then gave away a lot of money (i) (about £2,700,000) and we retired for lunch. The picture is of Joe doing the giant cheque thing with Emma Bridgewater – who makes rather nice NGS Mugs.

Oh, just before we went we gave this very small interview for the new Horticultural Channel. It is about 20mins in – although the rest is worth watching as well (you will notice the the snappiness of our suitings in comparison to the all weather gear sported by the other contributors.) Particularly the bit about the allotment lavatory based around a wheely bin.

Lunch was in the Skylon which, though good, was disappointing because,quite frankly, it was a bit low. Yes, it had nice picture windows overlooking the river but with a name like that I sort of expected something closer to the clouds. You would only bruise yourself if you fell out the window. Ann-Marie Powell was present so, as you can probably guess, it was quite loud. And a bit sweary. And very jolly indeed.

I have also done some work which is a novel change after swanning around South East Asia for weeks doing not much of anything. Have I mentioned the spanking new walled garden I am making ? I know I have on one of  the other parts of the internet that holds my collected drivellings (i). Anyway, the story is that we are building a stone walled garden accessed by three magnificent sets of steps and containing a rather fine greenhouse, lots of cut flowers and a selection of fruit and vegetables chosen and supplied by my learned (ii) friend Mark Diacono. Still a way to go.

I have also overseen the placing of a vast Bhutan pine. It arrived last week and was about the size of the articulated lorry that did the delivering. It was so big that the fork lift truck provided was incapable of moving it further than three feet from the lorry. A new lifting thing had to produced and everything ended happily. Damn thing better not die.

Dr Noel Kingsbury has written a book. This, in itself, is not news as he tends to churn out a couple every month or so: the latest is called Garden Designers At Home and includes various garden designers loafing around in their own gardens: these are generally pretty good, giving the lie to the thing about the “cobblers’ children going unshod”. I am delighted that the picture he has chosen to use of me is quite old and much tauter all round than the real thing although it is not as old as Cleve’s. He looks newly hatched.

Among other pictures: Joe Swift is as pink as a baby’s bottom, Tom Stuart-Smith looks a bit like a mischievous sprite (which not a description that usually pops into the mind), Ulf Nordfell has the air of a holidaying diplomat and James van Sweden is the spitting image Joe Swift’s Dad. That is probably enough personal comments. You can decide for yourself as Noel will be signing this book at this year’s Malvern Show.(iii)

Amongst Other News: the shows season is very nearly upon us…..

Exhausted from worrying about Kate’s dress? or panicking about the quality of cake? worried that you have missed out on the souvenir plates? fear not: distract yourself  by planning a visit to Grand Designs Live. It is almost the first show of the season (from 30th April – 8th May) and happens in the enormous barns at Excel in the Docklands. I have done this show (and it’s sister in Birmingham) a few times now. This year is a bit different as I have a Design Studio. Look, there is even a dedicated page on their website. It is an interesting idea: there will be a rota of garden designers giving out free consultations in half hour segments to visitors to the show. My role, I think, is to hover wisely and add both tone and extra information when required. Rather like a supervising professor (hopefully without the halitosis): my co designers are freshly hatched from the best colleges. As such they are much better qualified than me so I will have to watch my step. Bring along pictures, sketches or imaginative descriptions of your gardens and get some free advice. I will have some spare tickets.

On the last day I am also doing a Three Men Went To Mow Live slot with Joe and Cleve. We will not be doing the Stripper unless things get desperate.

The picture is of a magnificent Hellebore hybrid. I am listening to Johnny Cash (live at Folsom Prison) singing Give My Love To Rose.

(i) Actually, if you are really interested, it is here. My first Crocus post.

(ii) I use that word in the more obscure definition where it means not “scholarly, erudite and cultured” but  “lanky, feckless and a bit scruffy”

(iii) Michelle has already done a preview of this year’s show. You can read it here. More information will be trickling out over the next few weeks.

You know those days when one thing tips the whole day into chaos? I suppose it is inevitable really: a cross between Rabbie Burns(i) and the Butterfly flapping its pesky wings above the forests of Brazil.

I spend quite a lot of time driving. More time, even ,than I spend on trains. Last Friday was a marathon and I still feel a little wan. I began by driving from here (Northamptonshire) to Worcestershire where I needed to chivvy some electricians and organise some sturdy fellows who were planting some large trees and a hefty hedge. From there a reasonably short hop to Warwickshire to talk about more trees (and roses, fences, lakes, wildflowers,bulbs and hedges). From there to Suffolk for more chatting and arm waving before returning home in time for slumping.

All went well until about 8:30 in the morning when I found out that the tree chaps would not turn up until 10am. I went to buy a broom in Evesham to fill the time but after that my schedule was completely shot – before it had even begun. Hey-Ho. Apart from the client meetings (which were all very satisfactory, thank you very much for asking) the following interesting things happened…….


This is unfortunate for a blog that feeds off trivial happenings (ii). In this case an entire day when the most interesting thing was a short shower of rain and stopping for a pee at a large Tescos just off the A14.

So, it was fortunate then that I was due to do some light garden visiting this week so I do not have to invent something dubious about which to write. I was invited by the garden world’s equivalent of  teen sensation Olly Murs: Mr Christopher Young the ed of  The Garden to accompany him on a visit to Boughton House which, conveniently, lies equidistant between our houses. For those who do not know, it is a whopping great pile owned by the Dukes of Buccleuch since the sixteenth century (although, of course, they were not Dukes at that stage of proceedings: those of you who wish to research their genealogy may peel off at this stage and go here. The rest of you, follow me…)

The landscape at Boughton is all about trees and views and water: originally there were lots of parterres and paths and formal ponds but over the years they have vanished. There are long rides that disappear off towards distant churches and a remarkable system of canals. These are a series of perfect rectangular waterways dug in the Eighteenth Century in order to divert the river into something rectilinear and formal. They had become a bit choked over the years so in 2006 a programme of restoration was begun: silt was removed, weirs and sluices repaired and the banks lined with oak. They are extraordinarily lovely and slice through the landscape with the litheness and elegance of a bonefish (except,obviously, a bit slower).

At the same time the Mount was cleared of trees (except a fabulous Cedar that is where the herons nest) and resculpted. Many of you will be aware that the very clever Kim Wilkie has been doing stuff at Boughton, in particular an enormous hole called Orpheus. This is a peculiarly lovely piece of work  that in size and shape perfectly matches the mount: in negative. Orpheus descends, the mount rises.


Perfect, Impressive, Majestic and Splendid. It is the sort of thing that makes one sigh from the pleasure of it all. And I did..


As well as this arpeggio of austerity there is a further construction: just beside Orpheus is a stainless steel cubic framework and an illustration in stone and water of the Golden Section. The idea is to show the science of proportion and all that jazz. I think it is an unnecessary conceit that ruins the clarity of the earth works. It is like a magician who, after  performing a perfect illusion then proceeds to whip out a whiteboard and explain how very clever it all is. It removes the mystery of the landscape and should not be there. By all means show your workings, if you must, draw a map if you have to but do it somewhere else, not in the middle of one of the finest vistas in the country.


Apparently it is there in order to stimulate debate, if that is the case it has served its purpose. I contend that it should be elsewhere: that is my contribution to the debate. Go and see it to decide for yourselves, you will not be disappointed.

The picture is of some Iris reticulata behaving as if they were Meryl Streep at Lyme Regis in the French Lieutenant’s Woman

I am listening to Hey,That’s No way To say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen.

(i) But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain: The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!

(ii) One of my many Spammy friends has sent me an email offering to “shop online for a pen enlargement patch”. This was an offer I could not refuse and my humble Bic is now a whopping great Jumbo Indelible Marker.

One of the the procedural minefields about this Blog thing is the moral dilemma of whether it is acceptable to omit a day if nothing very exciting happens. Based on the remarkably uneventful days that I have already included I am inclined towards the principle of anything being better than nothing however, if anybody ever reads this stuff, then I feel that it would be kinder to take the occasional break. I will ponder further on the ramifications.

Finished a scheme for a rather nifty little London garden today – not something I do very often. I left London over a decade ago now and try to work there as little as possible – too many constraints and too much exhaust. Occasionally, however, it is fun. I also spent a (relatively) pleasant hour having my lower back massaged. So that’s that.

This picture is of a Corsican pine at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute ( http://www.mountstuart.com ). It was coated with silver by the artist Anya Gallaccio as part of the Mount Stuart visual arts programme.