Students of the 1970s will be familiar with Shirley Conran's oft-quoted remark. Last year I worked out my garden equivalent:
Life is most definitely too short to stuff a flower tower.
It also made me realise why, to some degree, gardening becomes easier with time. It's not just down to one's growing experience of how plants behave (though, obviously that helps) but one's gathering understanding of how one's self behaves.
I'd been given both the Polanter and the Flower Tower to try and (blush!) had put them off for a disgraceful length of time. The Polanter is a very sturdy design based on the drainpipe, with the idea that you can buy several, slot them together and make a taller tower. It can be attached to a wall or left free-standing and each section is under two feet high.
The Flower Tower, at just under three feet, is taller and wider and mine is free-standing only, although you can buy a wall-fixed version. On first getting it out of the packaging it seems rather flimsy, but clever construction means that it's light but robust and has handy finger-holes at the top to allow for carrying. Flower Tower's Facebook page has oodles of pictures showing what it should look like fully planted.
Last year, in uncharacteristic enthusiasm, I determined to stuff both to the gunwales, display them prominently, and bask in myriad remarks at the throbbing colour enlivening unloved corners.
There are, no doubt, many, many gardeners (such as you?) who thrive on such containers. Done properly, they disappear behind a cloud of blooms which repeat flower all summer, drawing bees and admiration. However, even more than pots, I would suggest, they devour time. After all, the ratio of soil to the number of plants is really rather meagre. They demand forward-thinking - water-retaining granules and granular feed should, no doubt, have been shovelled in industrial quantities down their gaping maws, along with the compost.
As it was, they required water. Much, much water.
To be fair, both Polanter and Flower Tower have made provision for this. Both instruct users to fill the bottom with a layer of gravel to act as a reservoir (and ballast, I guess). Polanter also provides a Hozelock connection to a seephose that runs down the centre of the pipe. Flower Tower has put an open chimney with holes down the centre of theirs, which you fill from above.
My problem was that you have to do it a lot. And you have to do it with attention. The Polanter seephose did squirt out water, but mostly at the hose connection. This probably wasn't their fault. Having just read Anne Wareham's Outwitting Squirrels, I am now aware that these connectors should receive considerable pampering. However, as it didn't work very well, and I hadn't at that point heard that changing the washers on the connectors might be the answer, I eventually gave up trying to keep it watered, hauled the plants out and put them in the Flower Tower.
Oh, dear. The strawberries were glad to escape
Watering-wise, the Flower Tower's system was more successful for me, but that still dried out too quickly for comfort. Husband, with scientific background, queried whether the plants at the bottom of the Flower Tower wouldn't be better provided with water than those at the top because water pressure would be less at the top in the chimney. I have no idea, but certainly when I did water I felt it necessary to water around as well as down the chimney.
The strawberries fared better than the lobelia in their tolerance of my treatment, but look considerably happier now that I've wrestled them from their holes and replanted them in the ground.
All this is not to say that others wouldn't find these the perfect addition to a garden full of colourful bedding. If you're set up for hanging baskets (you might have guessed I'm not), fill them with appropriate media, and enjoy ensuring that everything is thoroughly soaked daily, then you'll probably get a lot of pleasure from them. I still love the idea of a "drainpipe" cascading flowers down the side of a house. But if I do pots, they have to contain loads of soil to act as a buffer against my neglect.
For me, this is the last of the experiments with this sort of container. If there's anything that you know you're totally unsuited to in the garden, I'd be interested to hear what it is (go on, make me feel better).
In the meantime, I comfort myself with the most pertinent approach to better gardening is, Gardener, Know Thyself.
There's something about the underdog that, they say, always appeals to the English. Perhaps this is why I've always had a soft spot for violets. They seem so small, so frail, so much as if a breath of air would crush them.
It took me a little while to discover that they're actually tough as old boots. Dug up a violet? Just stuff its wiry stems and roots back into the ground. Anywhere will do. Anyhow. You don't even need to water them in for the most part.
They can also get a little untidy. Once the flowers are over, the plants grow, lifting their leaves and seedpods high. But I do love them. Rarely do I put them in the compost. They add a little to my spring corner, underlying polyanthus, cowslips and anemones.
If they're really in the wrong place, I move them to a different part of the garden. And I'm pleased to say that my plan is finally coming together. In a woodsy area I have a statue and for quite a while I tried to work out what would look good carpeting the very shallow soil behind it, and what would be tough enough to bear stamping on when we pick the plums above.
After various attempts, some involving alpines and small-leaved sedums, I realised the answer was literally all over the garden. I'm now helping violets to colonise the area. They seem to chime perfectly with the Victorian character of the young maid.
Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted at May Dreams Gardens by Carol who, I am delighted to see in her blogpost last Saturday, is also a violet enthusiast. Why not pop over and see what else is in bloom this Spring?
Some gardening books are bland expositions, others vibrate with the voice of their author. Outwitting Squirrels is definitely one of the latter. To those who know Anne only by her reputation as the Bad-Tempered Gardener, this might sound alarming, but have no fear. This is great fun.
Encompassing (as its subtitle explains)
101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Effects of Garden Pests and Honest Advice Concerning your Chances of Success
its cover depicts a villainous squirrel in Victorian-melodrama top hat and moustache. The tone is set.This is no dry rundown of potions and protective materials.
Anne begins by turning her attention to numerous varmints, not just the eponymous squirrel, but rabbits, moles, slugs and snails and others, then moves on to a wide range of insects and infestations, such as honey fungus, box blight, algae and weeds.
Pest or infestations are dealt with by chapter and each problem is approached with a pragmatism that might find you re-evaluating your attitude. Plants that are Trouble are not weeds (those have two chapters to themselves), they are those irritating entities that languish in plain sight, taunting you with your inability. "If you find yourself writing in desperate entreaty to a plant expert," writes Anne, "about what to do with a sick rose, try contemplating for a moment how much happier your life might be without that rose."
The information in some cases was revelatory. I had no idea that the French use explosives to blow up moles. Anne tells you what hasn't worked for her (sadly she's never stocked up on dynamite but some of her experiences with failure will definitely raise a giggle), but, as she says, it may work for you, so the What Not to Do section at the end of each chapter will give you as many ideas for available strategems as the What to Do sections.
It's full of wry humour. For dealing with irritating plants that flop over path-edges Anne recommends cropping. They come back "contrite". And if this approach worries you, think that plants are frequently cropped by cows. "Imagine that you are a cow," advises Anne. A bonus to the reading enjoyment is the generous sprinkling of whimsical and amusing cartoons.
Bracken has a chapter to itself, which is unsurprising as Anne has to contend with its advances into Veddw, her garden in Monmouthshire, but even a chapter on a pest or infestation that I'm never going to face kept me reading. I am now aware that bracken carries sheep ticks (and therefore dangers of Lyme disease) and know that it's been used as the rural answer to grit to prevent slippage on muddy roads.
You're sure to find yourself nodding in agreement with descriptions of standard recommendations. Mealy bugs? You know the suggestion for hosing them off? Don't, says Anne. "If you try that with a pot plant outside, the plant will fall over and you will also be squirting potting compost all over the garden." I can vouch for that.
I'm also sure that, unless you have enormous wealth of knowledge, you'll find numerous suggestions, born of Anne's 25 years' experience, that you'll want to try. Regulars know that codling moth is rather fond of my apples. Anne's suggestion of hanging cardboard in the branches in winter and in spring burning the larvae that have snuggled into it is something I'm storing up for next year.
The final section is, for anyone used to the usual pests and diseases books, unexpected. Dealing with Outwitting Humans, including yourself, Anne's put in chapters ranging from Edges and Spraying, to Plastics, Rain, People and Water. If you're wondering what these can possibly have to to with waging war on pests, you'll just have to read the book. They'll have you thinking.
Outwitting Squirrels is a book that has definitely come tostay. My one bugbear is that, like most books nowadays, it's been deprived of an index, but that's a minor point. It's just the thing to cheer you up if you find yourself defeated by some dastardly garden afflication, but it's not just light-hearted. It's a thoroughly practical and pragmatic book that will give you ideas and help you re-evaluate your approach, leavened with a dry humour that makes it a pleasure to read. We need more humour in gardening!
Outwitting Squirrels will be published 23rd April by Michael O'Mara Books. Priced at £7.99, Hive has it on offer at £6.75 (click through on the link above).
I'm a bit tardy rejoining the Tree Following meme with Lucy at Loose and Leafy but there really wasn't anything to report last month. Suddenly, in the last few weeks the buds have sprung into action and - yes! - we have flowers.
The tallest branch is now above my head, having spent all winter on a par with it. What should I do? Cut it back to one branch to try to create a new tree, or give it its head as a shrub.
For now, I'm settled on a shrub. It would be a shame to miss all those flowers.
If you were following last year, you'll know that I tried to root a cutting. It was looking pretty good, and until recently the tiny leaf buds were green.
But now they're brown. This is not, I fear, a good sign...
(If you're wondering what happened to this lilac last year, here's where it all started.)
A new garden hove into view on my horizon today (well, new to me) when I found out about Pensthorpe Natural Park near Fakenham, Norfolk.
Now, our experience of Norfolk has not been entirely happy, but Pensthorpe was voted Norfolk's Best Large Visitor Attraction for 2014 (wonder where the small visitors go?), was the home of Springwatch from 2008-10 and has 660 acres in which to roam. Including three gardens.
Piet Oudolf doesn't have the effect on my pulses that he seems to have on other people's, but the purple drifts and banked perennials do look rather splendid in the pictures. Soon to start flowering this year is its Wildflower Meadow, which had a part to play in BBC2's Great British Garden Revival, and The Wildlife Habitat Garden offers ideas for, yes, attracting wildlife. The most intriguing sounds to be The Wave Garden, beside a lake, with hedging and structural planting for year-round foliage, sculpture and snowdrops.
However, the big news is the new addition in this, the 210th anniversary of Nelson's death. Nelson, born ten miles away in the North Norfolk village of Burnham Thorpe, lived again there with his wife between 1786 and 1793 while waiting to be assigned a ship. And in celebration, the (get this) Destination Management Organisation, Visit North Norfolk, approached the GLA and Boris Johnson about translocating Nelson's Column from Trafalgar Square to a location between Pensthorpe's Oudolf garden and the Wensum Wetland area in time for the anniversary in October. Apparently a petition was raised of over 100K signatures from people across the globe, asking for Nelson to return to his home.
The artist's impression really does look rather splendid. He'll be there without his lions, so they'll be left guarding, well, nothing for the summer while the column is taken down in pieces for transportation. Work should start after the Easter holidays. There's no mention of it's return, but I'd hazard a guess at it being back in time for Easter 2016. They could put the Norwegian Christmas tree in its place to disguise the lack in December.
David Henry, Senior Construction Manager of MJS Projects, in charge of logistics, said: “It is entirely feasible to transport and re-erect such a structure with careful planning and the right people on board. According to history, Hitler had planned to relocate the structure to Berlin, had he won the war. And if it was possible to London Bridge to Arizona, moving Nelson’s Column should be a far simpler task.”
Once ensconced, Nelson will gaze across his beloved county and out to sea. With the park's six natural lakes it puts him close to water too. Nelson was, it's said, a keen birdwatcher and, from his new perch, he'll be seeing a lot more than pigeons.
And, for the information of Nelson enthusiasts, of which I must admit I'm one, you can also visit the Remembering Nelson Exhibition at luxury hotel, The Hoste, in Burnham Market. Formerly the Pitt Arms, Nelson frequented it in his youth. He's known to have stayed in Room 5 and to have received his dispatch papers there.