Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!

Leave a comment

Malvern making its mark

The Malvern Flower Show seems like old news now.  Since early May, we’ve had the RHS shows at Chelsea and Chatsworth and Hampton Court and Tatton are just around the corner.  However, I didn’t want to forget our day or what we’ve bought so here’s a round up of how Malvern has left its mark outside the back door.

Spoils of Malvern!

The beauty of the Malvern Show is that it is held in spring when the soil is just warming up nicely and planting conditions are perfect.  At Hampton Court you can also buy plants but it’s in the middle of July and quite often the soil is sufficiently baked that you require a pick axe to create a suitable planting hole!  Selling plants is, of course, somewhat beneath the dignity of Chelsea apart, that is, for the grand sell-off on the final afternoon when you always get those wonderful pictures of people staggering onto buses with plants the size of triffids!

You may recall that earlier in the spring John took the secateurs big-time to the Escallonia bush.  In the course of a Sunday morning, this eight foot by six foot evergreen giant had been reduced to approximately a foot square, thereby revealing a large swathe of hitherto unplanted soil.  Hurrah, new plants, we said!

Malvern provided the perfect opportunity to fill this gap and herbaceous perennials, it turned out, were a bit of a bargain!  Malvern is also an excellent opportunity to buy from smaller nurseries and suppliers.  Quite a few of our ‘souvenirs’ came from A&J Plants, who had an incredibly popular stall – clearly well known to regulars!

And so it was that we ended up packing eleven new plants into the back of our car.  Compared to some people, this was positively restrained but then we did have to transport them around the Midlands safely whilst we visited friends over the weekend!

So what did we buy?  We succumbed to what I am naming my ‘plant of the year’ as it seems to have popped up in every garden we have visited, in the show gardens at Malvern and was later spotted at Chelsea.  It’s a black leaved domesticated version of cow parsley known as Anthriscus Sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’.  It looks very elegant with its light frothy, slightly pink flowers and pairs very nicely with the black Elder that we have nearby.

Anthriscus Sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’

Also light and floaty is the creamy flowered Orlaya.  Sadly this is only an annual but I’m told it’s easy to grow from seed so, if we like it enough, I might give that a go another year.


Keeping to the light and airy theme, we added a new grass. ‘Oryzopsis’ is not a name I was familiar with but I did recognise their common name, ‘rice-grass’.

With a lot of purple in the border, we’ve been trying to add more pinks and whites.  Centaurea ‘Amethyst in Snow’ seemed a good addition as it is both white and purple.

We also purchased a little trio of bright plants to join the hot border.  Two miniature Geums and a Euphorbia Martinii which has acid green bracts with red eyes.  I love Geums but haven’t had much luck with them.  These are in a different place and of a different variety so I’m hoping to have more luck this time around, although Roly (my flower-eating monster feline) has already devoured several flowers.  We added one further grass to this border – the wonderfully named ‘Bunny tails’!  Short in comparison to most grasses, this one forms little mounds of soft, fluffy seed heads.

Orange Geum

Finally, I confess that there was already one plant in the boot of the car by the time we arrived at the Malvern Show.  The previous day we had called into an RHS partner garden, the Picton Garden, just over the other side of the Malvern ridge.  This garden has an associated nursery which specialises in autumn flowering asters – Old Court Nursery.  The garden was very attractive with zingy tulips and vibrant new foliage on both red and green leaved acers.  If you are in the Malvern area, do go and pay it a visit and, obviously if you are in to asters, this would be heaven for you!

Gate to the Picton Garden

However, when it came to choosing an aster as a souvenir of our visit, it was almost impossible as, being autumn flowering, we were faced with a mass of small green plants still emerging from their pots!  Labels indicated size and colour but it was still difficult to know what to choose and so we sought the expertise of the nursery owner who quizzed us over location and what else we already had in the border.  Her recommendation was the very aptly named ‘Cotswold Gem’ which should be a pinky/purple and medium in size.  It seems to have settle in well and so we await with interest to find out later this summer what it really looks like!

Leave a comment

Chelsea – does it really inspire outside the backdoor?

I will admit that it’s a tenuous link between Outside the Backdoor and the Chelsea Flower Show but, a week after the gates closed on the world’s most prestigious horticultural event for another year, the gardening blogs, magazines and emails are all focused on what inspiration you can get for your own small patch.

Chelsea is often criticised for being elitist and unrealistic but to counteract this impression the Royal Horticultural Society has published a book called “Take Chelsea home”.  So can you really bring anything back into your own space?

9033546784_92bf5a5f4b_nI’ve only been to Chelsea once (so far!) and that was three years’ ago.  Interestingly from planning our visit with a focus on plants, I recall that our first bit of real inspiration came from a hard landscaping idea, and not a very exciting one at that – a drain cover!  Around the edge of our patio we have several metres of boring metal Acco drain but at Chelsea we discovered we could replace this with more stylish and attractive patterned steel drain covers!  We particularly liked the wave pattern and, whilst this seemed a rather silly indulgence, we could see that these drain covers could also have the practical advantage of being less prone to filling up with fallen leaves.  Of course we then costed up this idea and, perhaps not surprisingly, three years later we still have our rather boring Acco drains!

9033532846_107706de6e_nI didn’t really need to be inspired by some of the planting as many gardens featured plants that I already knew I liked, namely anything that’s purple!  I really liked Nigel Dunnett’s Blue Water Roof garden which featured a striking bank of deep purple verbascum.  This year it was another roof garden that caught my eye whilst flicking through the RHS website – the Sir Simon Milton Foundation ‘fresh’ garden which was a closely planted contemporary space with lots of classic Chelsea alliums.

I remember finding the Great Floral Pavilion rather overwhelming.  As first timers at Chelsea I think we got a bit lost and certainly missed some things out judging by the TV programming.  Whilst you can’t buy plants at Chelsea, many of the Floral Pavilion exhibitors had provided the next best thing – online catalogues, which could have made it far too easy to order a great deal that just simply couldn’t be fitted in once it arrived on your doorstep!

So last week I looked on enviously as a friend started posting her photographs from the show.  Feeling all inspired, I have now booked tickets to attend the Hampton Court Flower Show in July.  I’ve been to Hampton Court twice before but not for a long time and it’s changed considerably in recent years with many more show gardens to view.  I dug out my Chelsea notes and discovered that we had wandered around for over seven hours!  A timely reminder that flower shows require excellent footwear, not to mention regular stops for refreshment!  And of course at Hampton Court you can purchase plants … need I say any more?