Friday, 30 January 2015

Carnation: the flower for January

After making my peace with chrysanthemums in November, I thought now would be the time to make my peace with carnations. Petrol station flowers in the same shade of pink that last for three weeks but turn a ghostly white by the end, beloved flower of many mothers (including my own), it is a flower I have been given several times but never been excited about. Time to change that.

I bought three wraps of carnations in different colours: yellow, orange and green. I thought they looked like Opal Fruits (or Starburst for those of you born after the 1990s), and the citrus colours would make a change from the carnations I'm used to seeing in pink, red or white. I didn't want these to be filler flowers, or a bunch that seemed wanting of something. I wanted these juicy fruit flowers to stand out on their own.

As well as using them for posies for January birthdays, I thought I would use some in the Garden Museum as they're so long-lasting and it was the last chance to use them in January.

Why January? Carnations are the birth flower for January. In the Victorian language of flowers, they symbolise pride and beauty. But specific colours mean different things. Pink carnations are a sign of female love. Which kind of explains why they are a beloved flower of mothers and grandmothers. I'll challenge myself to use pink next time, and I'll be good and buy British ones, which will hopefully have that lovely clove scent of the dianthus family (regular, wholesale carnations are sadly bred for longevity, losing their scent).

Red carnations say "Alas for my poor heart!", so they are a huge sign of love! White means sweet and lovely, striped carnations symbolise refusal, while yellow is, as ever, a negative-sounding meaning. In this case, disdain. I think most people agree that yellow flowers are a sign of joy and friendship, so I'm totally ignoring the Victorians in this case, and the only disdain I have here is disdain for this particular symbolism!

Mandy Kirkby describes in The Language of Flowers how Oscar Wilde wore a green carnation to the opening night of Lady Windermere's Fan in 1892. He told those who asked that the green carnation meant "Nothing whatever, but that is just what nobody will guess."

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Cut Flower Plots at Hall Place

Have you been watching The Big Allotment Challenge? I watched the first series and felt a bit disappointed with the format - it seemed to be doing too many things at once. But this series, I am used to it, and I'm enjoying it for what it is much more. Maybe it's less about the process of growing (and there are programmes like Gardeners' World that show you how to grow, in more depth), and more about watching plants develop over a summer, and seeing what can be done with them. I've no interest in making jam or chutney (I live on Tiptree stuff, which has the bonus of providing me with pretty jars for flowers), and I don't care if my tomatoes are the same size and colour. I don't think allotmenteers need to have distinctions in floristry; as long as they can grow the flowers, they can just sell them to people like me! But it is interesting for me to see the difference in the results in vegetables and flowers, especially when some of the growers have chosen the same variety. And it's wonderful to see the different varieties.

Last summer I took my sister to Hall Place in Bexley, Kent a few times, and we walked around the cut flower plots. They are a florist's dream! There were different kinds of rudbeckia, dill reaching the sky, sunflowers, statice, cosmos, dahlias, rainbow-coloured chrysanthemums, asters, gypsophila, solidago, sweet peas, everlasting peas, cornflowers, and nigella (followed by pretty seed pods).

I am growing "Miss Saigon" hyacinths, so you can see why I was taken with this ruffled Antirrhinum "Madam Butterfly".

Yellow is the sunniest colour!

And I admire anyone, like the gardeners last night, who can grow rudbeckia. I've tried and failed twice, so I've given up for now.

If you like to grow vegetables and herbs, there is also a vegetable plot. I've not heard of anyone growing soya beans locally - will this trend take off? It'd be nice to have milkshakes made of Kent soya beans and strawberries!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Bluebell Monday, Paddington, and Winnie the Pooh

Today was a long overdue good day. We had plenty of blue Mondays (and Tuesdays and Wednesdays...) over Christmas and New Year, with my autistic sister being very poorly and aggressive. She came back to London yesterday, and she is much chirpier. I took her to see the Paddington film, and it's the first time in years that she's sat through almost an entire film. Usually she wants to leave after half an hour. (The film is wonderful, by the way - really fun and funny, with a sweet message about diversity.)

We watched The Great British Garden Revival in the evening, and she was transfixed by the footage of bluebell woods. Blue used to be her favourite colour, and although she never asks to go anywhere, she does seem to enjoy being around nature. I often point at things for her to look at, but she doesn't always want to look. I also show her nicely scented flowers to smell, but she doesn't really sniff them. But I am hoping that a bluebell wood will surround her with beautiful blue flowers and a sweet scent, that she will notice and enjoy. So I'm planning to take her to one in the springtime.

I'm also hoping to take her to Ashdown Forest (Winnie the Pooh country) one day, although that will probably be more fun for me than her! I loved A. A. Milne's  stories as a child and even more as a teenager. As well as seeing the polar bears in Canada for my 30th birthday, I also saw the statue of Winnie the bear in Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg: the bear who was smuggled to Britain and who inspired Winnie the Pooh.

As other bluebell lovers chatted on Twitter after today's Garden Revival episode, the lovely Sara Willman of My Flower Patch sent me some bluebell photos she'd taken a few years ago at West Woods in Wiltshire, and I asked her if I could share four of them here. She agrees that it will hopefully be a wonderful sensory experience for my sister to visit a bluebell wood. We can all enjoy Sara's photos until the bluebells make their appearance in a few months!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Polar bears and being green

I saw the news that a study of polar bears has found that they are moving north, as the sea ice where they live is in decline. It saddens me that they are having to move because their home is slowly disappearing.

Polar bears are one of my favourite animals. I still find it incredible that they have black skin and transparent hair, but look so white. For my 30th birthday, I went on a trip to see them in Churchill, Canada. We flew to Churchill airport, which seemed to be the size of a village train station. It was very sweet. Our tour guides took us out on these huge buggies where we could step outside to a platform to see the bears. We didn't go close, which was good - I know that as much as we wanted to see them, the bears probably didn't want to see us. At any rate, we didn't stay out on the platform for long at a time; I don't know what the temperature was, but it was really cold!

In a strange coincidence, our tour guide turned out to be from Bromley. He probably shopped in Boots when I used to work there.

Looking at the news now, I feel lucky that I got to see the bears, but guilty too. I hardly ever travel by plane, I don't drive, and I haven't flown for more than four years. But I could have gone to Churchill by train - admittedly, a really expensive, two-night journey - and I didn't. It was only the second time I've taken a two week holiday - and both times were to visit family and friends in Canada. As I was going to Churchill alone, I guess I didn't want to miss out on spending another three days with my friends in Alberta.

Twenty years ago, I was very idealistic and evangelical about environmental issues. Now, I'm less so. I'd say it's probably one part frustration/losing hope, and two parts trying to be more tolerant. I don't think the way to win arguments or campaigns is to shame people or scare them. I still care about the environment, I still care about people, and I guess I still do my bit. Like Kermit sang, it's not easy being green.

"I am green and it'll do fine. It's beautiful.
And I think it's what I want to be."

Monday, 12 January 2015

RHS Wisley Flower Show 2014

I'm doing some new year tidying up, and I can see that I have several half-written blog posts that haven't been finished or published. Here is the first! I went to the RHS Wisley Flower Show in September, which feels like ages ago now. I took far too many photos, as usual.

This magnificent floral cake was made by Simon Lycett. If, for some awful reason, you had to choose between cake and flowers for a wedding, it would be a great way to combine a show-shopping wedding cake with beautiful wedding flowers - you could just order a simple kitchen cake for people to eat!

I bought some seeds from Hardy's, and was pleasantly surprised to be served by Rosy Hardy herself! One of the packets was sweet rocket seeds (aka Hesperis matronalis), and I sowed them straight away - too late, according to the growing instructions, but hey. They appear to be doing well, and will hopefully provide sweet-smelling flowers in the summer. The Hardy's display was a lovely mixture of cottage garden flowers, including some I've been growing myself - cleome, ammi, and sedum, and one particular variety that I want to grow one day: Cosmos "Antiquity".

This striking display of apples and "Sapphire" gentian caught my eye on the Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries stand.

More flowers for foodies: Echinacea "Tomato Soup". (As ever, I've been rubbish at keeping tabs on which photos belong to which stand. If you recognise a particular display, let me know!).

And for film-lovers: Echinacea "Fatal Attraction" (I saw the play with the amazing Natascha McElhone and Kristen Davis last year, and unlike most of the critics, preferred it to the film).

Beautiful, floaty sanguisorba.

Gorgeous gladioli in ice cream colours at Bridgend's bulb kings, Pheasant Acre Plants. Morrissey would have loved it!

The Priorswood Clematis display was ever so pretty.

Panicum "Heavy Metal" has a great name, but also looks wonderfully dark and fairy dust-like.

There was a NAFAS floral art competition, and entrants showed some wonderful skill and an eye for floral details.

There was a display of competition dahlias, which was bright and colourful. Below is the story behind the first trials of dahlias as garden flowers. I'm pleased to see it all started in Swansea...102 years ago!

Here are some of the dahlias, and some facts about them.

The rest of Wisley was beautiful. Full of gorgeous grasses and colourful flowers.

Finally, there were stunning, scented roses. The following are "Young Lycidas" and "Young Princess". Because of the mild winter we've had so far, I am still seeing roses in flower in other people's gardens. Lovely to look at, but it does feel rather wrong!