May 28, 2011

Creativity and competitions

Wow, it has been a busy week of creativity and competitions! First things first, thank you sooo much to everyone who really kindly voted for my earrings in the Faberuna competition - the other artisans were super talented so it was thanks to you all that the Wild Acre earrings won!! Whoop! It means I go through to the grand final in December which is great. Your comments were so lovely too, all very encouraging in these earliest of days.

A *slightly* more illustrious competition has been happening in London this week you may just have noticed?! The Chelsea Flower Show has been in full swing, and not being able to go (again, grrr!), I have been pretty much glued to the BBC coverage including the very good online video interviews and write ups. I could happily wurble on for hours about the show gardens, floral pavillion offerings, artisan gardens and other horticultural delights, but I am going to focus in on just a few things that really stood out for me, and which are achievable or relevent in any garden.

Repeat Planting. I know this is elementary stuff for gardeners, but I was struck again this week, by how all the garden designers brilliantly incorporated drifts, swathes or repeated group plantings in their gardens, often in ways that draw the eye around the garden or offer little stops or pauses between different areas. It just works so much better than dots of this and that, lost little individuals that struggle to provide the eye with a cohesive whole. Even small spaces can benefit from this approach, just with appropriate scale plants. All to his/her own, but it is working for me and the newer borders where I have taken this approach are definitely more pleasing to my eye.

Grasses. My parents' generation often find them perplexing and out of place, especially in country gardens, I think because they did not grow up seeing them in gardens. I don't think my in-laws would dream of putting grasses in their borders, and I don't think it would occur to my parents either. But, about ten years ago, when I started getting interested in gardening, grasses were the new trendy kids on the block, superstars in the designs of much admired garden designers like Piet Oudolf. 'Prairie planting' took hold of the gardening world's imagination in the nineties and noughties and it was the grasses aswell as the block planting that looked so new and fresh. But then, like with every fashion, people started muttering that their time was over, the look was passe and it was time to move on. Except...they never went away. I think we had all fallen too hard for their whispering presence in our gardens, the way they mingle and combine so well with other plants, convey movement, and are so robust and low maintainance. And drought tolerant as well which seems increasingly important.

The show gardens at Chelsea this year contained a plethora of different grasses, deliciously tactile swathes that danced in the breezes and conveyed graceful naturalness with such nonchalance and charm.

The soft, graceful planting by Luciano Giubbilei for the Laurent-Perrier garden, is given extra movement and a gauzy dreamlike quality by the addition of soft ornamental grasses. See how the combination of strong shapes in the iris and nectaroscordum siculum are given a soft harmonising element by the use of the grasses between them. Onamental grasses seems to unify in the same way that some green or silver foliage does, and this works in bouquets and floral arrangements aswell. But for me it is the natural, open quality they give to gardens and bouquets that I love the most. Soft, diaphanous plants like bronze fennel and ammi majus have this effect as well.

credit: Crocus Blog
credit: Crocus Blog
It was this garden that had the style planting that inspires me the most, and many of the plants are ones i already grow. These combinations are enough to make the soul sing - respect to the Crocus Blog photographer that captured them so well.

credit: Crocus Blog

credit: Crocus Blog
There was also some wonderful sculpture in this garden, have a look at the Crocus Blog for more information (and the main website for a truly breathtaking selection of plants).

Planting for bees and butterflies.  The thing that got me most excited at Chelsea this year was the way that some designers and growers were creating exhibits with bees and butterflies and other wildlife in mind. In the UK, as in many other countries, there has been a terrifying decline in bee and butterfly numbers. The figures and predictions make horrible reading.

About thirty years ago I remember standing carefully in the front of my granny's summer flower border, south facing against a sunny brick wall. There was a grass tennis court on the other side and my memory is of hearing the whoosh of rackets and thuds of tennis balls behind the wall as I marvelled at the hundreds of butterflies, of so many varieties, fluttering all over the flowers. If I stood quiet and still enough and reached out my arms, butterflies would start landing on my hands, and it felt like some magical communion with nature. It is one of my favourite childhood memories spanning several summers in a row. It makes me feel sad that my children will never have this experience in their childhood, that quantity and variety of butterflies just do not visit our gardens anymore, despite planting species adored by them. For bees the present situation is almost catastrophic. Of course, it is not just for nostalgic ideas about beautiful, butterfly-filled gardens we all need to get involved, it is for the future of our food supplies, as without pollinators our future 'five-a-day' will at best be hugely more costly, at worst be impossible to buy/grow at all. Makes one realise what a co-dependent cascade of species we are, sharing this planet of ours together.

So I was particularly excited to hear Sarah Raven being interviewed at Chelsea about her research into how we can all play a part in stemming the decline of bees and butterflies by the choices we make about what we grow in our gardens. Her key point was that we can all do our bit by buying plants which attract bees and butterflies, and remembering that it is the open-faced varieties, with easy to reach pollen that provide pollinators with what they need. The tight rows petals on showy, often double flowerheads provide no easy access for insects to reach the nectar and pollen and are often sterile anyway, and are therefore a useless resource for them. I had never appreciated this, and just made sure the garden contained flowers that books or experience told me they loved, so it is useful to me to know this fact. This first single flower dahlia is more pollinator friendly than the tight ruffled second one, and it is easy to see why.

Pam Ayers, who I had never realised is a keen gardener, was talking about her garden at home on one night's coverage and highlighted the importance of leaving wild areas and log piles for beneficial insects to over winter and breed- no problem there in our garden! With logpiles, compost hoppers, a semi wild woodland area and totally wild riverbank, we provide a themepark for bugs without having to try very hard. But any available spaces, by the way in which they are planted or utilised can all be made more useful to bees and butterflies. Small front driveways or street-facing front gardens, balconies, rooftops, roundabout displays, motorway verges... all need a drastic re-think in the direction of hosting pollinators.

Sarah Raven also announced that the Royal Horticultural Society is bringing out a list of pollinator friendly plants called 'Perfect for Pollinators Plant List'  which will have a phone app- something I will be getting as a really useful resource for my planting plans and shopping trips.

In the meantime, the plants in my garden that seem to be covered in bees all summer long, and attract butterflies as well are:

sedum, catmint (nepeta), lavender, thyme, scabious, foxgloves, salvia, alliums, cosmos

I realise I need to make this list longer. I will be watching Sarah's TVseries in the Autumn called, 'Bees, Butterflies and Blooms', to get more ideas.

So, yes, it has been a rich and stimulating week over here! Phew! Have a wonderful weekend, or halfterm if you have kids. xx


  1. I've certainly paid more attention to bees the past year since they started declining than ever before. Would love to have that list when you have the whole thing. I see a lot of bees in my xeri-garden and my bee balm (duh!) but would like to help solve this problem.

    Congrats on the win!! xo

  2. This has been quite a rich and stimulating post.

    I would so love to go to Chelsea. But since I'm here and not there, this was an eagerly read post.
    I feel like I have just been on a brain vacation.

    I will approach my garden with fresh eyes tomorrow.

    xo Jane

  3. What a fantastic post. So helpful to me. So informative and beautiful images. I have a large
    salvia plant that bees and hummingbirds love but no butterflies.

  4. Great post Belinda and the photos are great.. I have really enjoyed Chelsea this year and as you say especially the planting combinations.

    Having troubles with blogger at the moment and so miss your jewellery vote, congratulations on getting through, hopefully blogger will sort things out so I'm able to vote for next round x
    Deb @ the fishermans cottage

  5. Congratulations on the win! So pleased, so well deserved.

    What a post! Thanks. Lovely to have the elements of what I saw and liked, broken down into the why's and wherefore's. Missed the pollinators interview, thank goodness there is research going on, and then the findings passed on, thumbs up for Sarah.

  6. Hello Belinda:
    Congratulations on the win and every good wish for the next stage of the competition.

    We so enjoyed this post as it is some years now since we were last at Chelsea. Then, we were always fortunate to be given tickets for the Sunday before the Monday opening. This meant that one could wander around and see everything without the crowds [which seem to get more and more each year].

  7. Well done you for winning! I had hoped you would.

    So worrying about the bees and butterflies - when I move house and get my new and much longed-for garden, I shall be doing all I can to provide the right environment for them. I'll watch out for sarah Raven in the autumn...

  8. I've just discovered your blog via Welsh Hills Again and thoroughly enjoyed this post. Gorgeous photographs too - I found Chelsea really inspiring this year and you've neatly summed it all up. Congratulations on the win!

  9. It was amazing to see so many bees loving the gardens at Chelsea, in the centre of the city!
    One thing we seem to have managed in our own garden is attracting the bees and butterflies (living in a forest i guess there isn't much else around) I love switching off from everything else around and just focusing on the hum.
    Next thing for the garden are more grasses....

    Well done on winning x

  10. Congratulations on winning... great news!
    As always, I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and views. My friend is a beekeeper and I like to think her worker bees have travelled to forage in my garden which is full of all the plants you mention. xx

  11. Thanks Webb, and I will send you the link for the list when it comes out.

    Can you imagine the fun of a bunch of us going to Chelsea for the day - what a blog meet-up event that would be!

    S and Z - thank you, glad some info was useful to you.

    Deb - thank you. There were some lovely combinations weren't there....

    Jennifer, thank you and yep, thumbs up for Sarah Raven!

    Jane and Lance, thank you for the vote and good wishes, and the way you have seen Chelsea will have made a huge difference, the crowds can be appalling apparantly - hard to see some of the gardens at all.

    Rachel, I will be cheering and whooping when you get your garden!

    Preseli Mags, a warm welcome to Wild Acre, I will hop over to your blog and say hello this weekend.

    F in the F, loved your and your hubby's Chelsea reports. Good luck with the grasses.

    Abby, thank you so much. I'd love to see pics of your garden. xx

  12. Congratulations on being selected to go through to the next stage of the competition, Belinda! This is wonderful news for your new business and will no doubt give you lots of exposure :)

    As always, your posts are not only inspiring but inspired...loved this one in particular, as I've never been to Chelsea and am unlikely ever to have the opportunity to do so. I have learnt a lot from your observations and the pictures are gorgeous. Thank you :)

  13. I am learning so much about flowers this year. maybe next year I'll have a go at growing one.

  14. And you've won something far more interesting! So pleased you won, I tried to vote a couple of times on Friday but I was out all day at a Take That concert (!) and the internet kept packing up on my phone. So frustrating. I'll be voting in the next round fo sho.

    Thanks for Paris tips, will make a note. I'm just about to start writing down a few notes of must-see places and the addresses of some restaurants.

    Nicki xx

  15. Belinda, your posts are always helpful and insightful. Every year, I see ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze in the fall and think I should add some to my garden. Maybe this year, they will make it onto the to-do list.

  16. Congratulations on getting through to the next stage Belinda. I missed your earrings post but will vote next time!

    I didn't see much of Chelsea this year so thank you for this great post. The plight of the bee is tremendously worrying. I have similar memories of bee and butterfly clad gardens ...


  17. Congratulations on your earrings - that is truly exciting!

    Although I did go to Chelsea, I don't watch TV, so some of your points I did not notice while I was there. I think grasses have become so integrated in design now, that I don't even see them as 'misplaced' or 'modern' anymore :)

    Your description of the butterflies is just magical. When I was a kid, we were surrounded by lightening bugs at night in the garden. Now they have disappeared - I hope my kids get to see them one day. Do you have lightening bugs here?

    Thank you for joining Post Of The Month Club! XOL