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Grow LondonGrow London is now in its second year. Last year was a fabulous show, beautifully curated with top-notch nurseries, classy garden furniture and the most desirable tools and it looks to be the same again this Friday to Sunday. What’s more, there are great talks happening every day and I’m looking forward to hearing Cleve West, Helen Yemm, Patti Barron and Fergus Garrett talk on Saturday. What a line-up! Violas Wildgoose Nursery will be there again with their deliciously scented Violas, Crug Farm will be offering up some exciting and unusual plants (which should mostly be hardy in London) and Hardy’s return with their glorious herbaceous perennials (see top pic). Dogs at Grow London The show is taking place on Hampstead Heath and if you fancy killing two birds with one stone, you can go for a walk and then bring your loyal canine into the show with you. Can’t say fairer than that!

The show costs £16 on the door, but pre-booked tickets are only £10.80 (a tenner plus booking fee). Not to be missed!

AquelegiasThese gorgeous Aquilegias (aka columbines, Granny’s bonnets) seemed to have exuberantly increased since last year (all on their own), and post spring bulbs, have joyfully created the next wave of interest in my back garden. These are the common Aquilegia vulgaris, readily morphing into all shades of pink, purples and whites, and although you can find many fancy and rather tempting hybrids to buy, these cottage garden favourites retain their appeal partly due to their simplicity and also to the fact that they can pop up in cracks in paving and in spots all over the garden. Mustard leaf +self seedersGiant red Mustard leaf is another welcome self-seeder and its deep purple leaf and bright yellow flowers have added a zing to an otherwise tasteful but rather pastel colour palette right now in this border. The groovy  Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) just to the right of the mustard leaf has also plonked itself right at the front of the bed, but it’s an airy plant with a wonderful texture and a wild upside down alien-like tripod structure which always adds a richness to the planting. I think I dug one up from my parents garden over 15 years ago and it appears all over the garden in different positions every year. In summer I can actually hear the seed casings popping as another seed is ejected and flung into the garden. I love it! Seet cicely and aquelegiasUmbel-like Sweet Cicely flowers have joined the throng of pinks and purples, alongside globes of Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, Geranium psilostemon sport and I’m pleased to see Phloxes, Roses, Geranium psilostemon (above) and Sisyrinchium coming along too so that they’ll be continued colour in the border once the Aquilegias have gone over. Astrantia and Arum italicumIn a shadier spot, Astrantia (‘Shaggy’ I think) looks great with the self-seeded (and a tad thuggish if you let it) Arum italicum as a backdrop, and I can see a couple of teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) popping up too to give height and drama to these areas for summer. Notable hole Just one noticeable gap in the bed where I divided a Verbena ‘Bampton’ , left it kicking around in an old compost bag for weeks before replanting a bit later in the year and not surprisingly, (but disappointingly) it’s not returned this spring. Bit of a shame as it was a lovely mid-height variety with pink flowers, but it looks like the raspberries will colonise this spot as the season moves on, again, without much interference on my behalf. Not quite what I’d planned, but great when nature will fill in the gaps for you.

P.s. If you’re having problems with your Aquilegias this year, you’re not alone. Read this Telegraph article from earlier in the year about a killer Aquilegia mildew and how best to deal with it.

front garden tulips April 2015

It’s all looking a little funereal in the front garden. I was aiming for a bright and perky extravaganza that I’ve sometimes achieved in the past (just think Dorris Day singing ‘A Surrey with a fringe on top’).

Gloomy tulips 2

But my fave ‘Curly Sue’ (fringed) tulips seem a tad sombre without any enlivening partners to lift them and ‘Labrador’ (purple/red?) has only added to the gloomy look,

Tulipa Labrador

despite its extra frills (above). I also wonder if the bulb supplier may have sent me some ‘Huis Ten Bosch’ tulips which is a pink and cream combination instead of ‘Joint Division’, which leans more to orange and cream (with a fringe on top). Whichever of the two these are, they’ve also come up all stumpy (again!). Will I never learn! A dry spring and I wasn’t out there watering away! Strange that only some of the fringed varieties have come up stumpy though and on further chatting with friend Siew Lee, we reckon the more complex the flower is, the more stressed it is and more susceptible to difficult weather conditions etc. (By the way, there’s also the remains of some chicories in the mix and the odd sparky glimmer of a yellow and red ‘Helmar’ tulip from previous plantings.)

I recently recorded a podcast about tomatoes with Jane Perrone and Alys Fowler for the Guardian (a jolly good listen should you be interested in all things tomato by the way) and Jane admitted her disappointment when, on occasion, her home-grown tomatoes haven’t tasted that great at the end of summer, despite all her efforts. All that’s how I feel about my tulips. Hours of pouring over catalogues and planning the perfect display, planting the bulbs in autumn and the anticipation of seeing the fresh growth bursting through in early spring and the result is all rather drab!

Tulip joy at Helmi House

On a brighter note, tulips planted at a project I work on in S. London have been a joy! Here we have the gorgeously rich orange ‘Cairo’, the contained rapture of ‘Purple Flag’, the demure ‘Pink Twist’ and the odd dash of ‘Curly Sue’. A much happier combination I feel.

So it’s back to the drawing board for next year for my front garden. I have a friend living with me at the moment who’s an avid Arsenal fan, and she’s requested a red and white display for 2016. So come September, I’ll be plotting away again, and as Doris would say, ‘Que Sera Sera’. (And maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will win the league!)

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