9 November 2010

autumnal bloodletting and the demise of the fig

Since being murdered (by me) a few years ago the dead stems of the Virginia Creeper have hung over the churchyard wall in an increasing state of dishevelment.  I have all too easily managed to look the other way knowing blackbirds had nested twice in the mess of twigs and wrens aplenty were busy in there too.  Not to say that I'd been totally ignoring this area, I had been tying in the climbing stems of Rosa 'Mermaid' as if the dead creeper stems were some secure trellis but now, in a noisy flutter, the chickens have come home to roost so to speak and a strong gust brought the whole lot down like a giant, dirty, twiggy - and well armed - duvet.  More fool me.  
Mermaid is a great climbing rose, vigorously growing to 30ft and opening a long season of soft yellow single flowers throughout the summer.  This was planted three years ago and has grown rather well despite the competition of a greedy fig and droughty poor soil, though the affects of these have combined to cease the floral show prematurely each year.  It climbs using viciously hooked prickles and is as happy to hook onto a branch to scramble up a tree as it is to sink them to the hilt in my plump pink cheek - it means business but the stems are incredibly brittle and any rough treatment breaks of great lengths of stem.  Patience and a high pain threshold are needed to deal with this brittle-boned beast.   Extricating the mass of dead stems from it's clutches while keeping the bulk of the plant intact took a few concentration filled days, stop-start ladder acrobatics and up to date tetanus jabs.   
Wires have now been attached to the wall and with the rose stems tied into these it should now be able to get on with it's business well out of reach. 

Below the rose the fig had been losing an ongoing battle with me.  When I first came here the fig grew as a dense, all-concealing tree and was soon reduced to a stand of coppiced stems.  These had been tormented and tied-in over the past couple of years to form a low enfolding hedge around the green bench.  It fruited poorly as a tree and after pruning and training did no better, it had severely compromised the growth of surrounding and more desirable plants and with the green bench gone had lost it's latter-day purpose.    
Finally, after realising the burnt and blistered patches on my arms this summer were a reaction to its poisonous latex sap (this rather sealed it's fate) it was a pleasure to let Garard loose to wreak havoc on its roots.  Get it out!
Removed, roots and all, it is clear how it has shaded out the native berry hedge running past it and what a large space even the reduced fig had taken up - those big figgy leaves take a lot of light.  With the competition removed the shrubs should grow away strongly come spring.  In the meantime the hedge shrubs to the right of the fig have grown long vigorous stems ideal for filling in the gaps.
The long stems all along the hedge have been pulled down into place and tied in.  This both fills in the gaps until the weaker plants grow away but also help the hedge to thicken up to provide dense thorny cover for nesting birds and breeding insects.
In front of the hedge the lawn will be extended to run along the curve of the hedge - the wide bed as it is gets far too many footballs dropping into it and football retriever's must trample right in to get them.  A narrow wildflower strip should make this less of a problem.   

[Please note: if you are an angry, shouty, outraged fig person angered by it's removal and planning to come a-shouting my way be aware there is still a good fruiting fig growing at the back of the garden - note too if you get very shouty I may just run and chop that one down too]

autumn daisy exotica

Autumn is a well known daisy season with displays of the herbaceous prairie daisies; aster, helenium, helianthus, stealing the limelight in many gardens.  The majority originate from moist meadows with deep rich soil and in the main do poorly here - the garden is just too dry.  For autumnal daisy-ness here I have been enjoying for weeks the re-flowering of two exotic shrubs from South Africa, the Kingfisher Daisy, Felicia amelloides, and the African Bush Daisy, Euryops chrysanthemoides, both coming into flower after the first rains of autumn.    

The Kingfisher daisy is a small sub-shrub about a foot high and it makes a loose sprawling mound covered with bright blue, yellow-eyed daisies over a long period.  It is sold for summer bedding and hanging baskets and will flower throughout summer if it stays regularly moist and is dead-headed frequently.  Here it grows in a tub with a blue fescue grass and some tree sedum, Sedum praeltum, with stone filled rubbish soil and never receives enough water to keep on flowering. I don't mind when it  shuts up shop at the start of summer as I know it will freshens up when the weather cools in autumn just when the intense blue flowers will be most admired.  It is not fully hardy but has been growing outside here for five years, no doubt the dry, free-draining tub helped it with the freezing temperatures of last winter when others growing in heavier soil elsewhere in the garden turned up their toes.  Easily rooted from cuttings they are good doers in sunny containers.   

(my camera doesn't 'like' blue in low autumn light - they are much brighter and a purer blue than they look here).

Migrainingly intense in bright summer sun the large yellow daisies of the African Bush Daisy seem to my eye to be better suited to the grey days of autumn - not that I have any say in the matter as they flower non-stop except when too cold or too dry.  Another plant sold as disposable summer bedding they will make permanent shrubs in sheltered, well drained sites.  It is incredibly drought tolerant when established as you would expect with its South African roots (few plants can sit unpotted and forgotten  under a bench all summer to grow away untroubled when finally planted - this can) it is also surprisingly cold-hardy, only showing its displeasure in winter by flushing an unhappy bronze (which is rather attractive anyway).  


The largest bush at the Phoenix has made a big dense mound six foot across and nearly as tall in five years.  In full flush it will be covered in hundreds of 6cm flowers.  To keep it tidy I deadhead as best as I can (it is tiresome), without this attention it will still flower on and on but it does get annoyingly messy.  Deadheading  involves snipping each separate flower head off at the base of the stalk.  If the heads are just pulled off the stalks remaining dry to knuckle-stabbing sharpness and you will have pin-cushion hands next time you go in, if you shear it the new buds growing beneath get snipped off too, so it must be one by one but it is worth the trouble.

These bushes have been repeated through the garden for their reliable, if brassy, flowering and lumpy mounded forms and they visually tie the garden together, particularly at this time of year when they glow in the low autumn light.  

These two daisies may be far flung from their exotic beginnings but they are good doers in this city garden.  Grow them.  

time to plant

and it should take time.

Gardening atop rubble at the Phoenix means new plants can struggle to establish in the summer-dry conditions so we try and tip the balance in the plant's favour with proper planting at the right time and in the right way.  Now the soil is moist with autumn rain it is the perfect time to plant as the roots can get well established long before the soil dries out again next summer.  Few plants will make it here if just plonked in and summer-dry gardens are unforgiving of corners cut at this point. To give the best chance of survival I am particular in how we prepare the planting holes and time taken doing this now is time well spent. 

Here Peter is clearing a space between a clump of Geranium x oxonianum and the comfrey, Symphytum caucasicum, to dig a hole for a Daisy Bush, Euryops chrysanthemoides.  These are both greedy bullies and it would be no good tucking anything in tightly between these thugs so an area 3ft across cleared of their roots is needed (established, the Daisy Bush will stand above them both and be able to hold it's own).  
Even without such nasty bedmates to contend with a planting hole needs to be at least twice the size of the new rootball to give room for the new roots to grow.  This is especially important on compacted soils.  It can take some doing.  

Here, having cleared a good space of ivy root, Pauline gets to loosening compacted rubble with a steel bar, to plant...

this too-long-in-the-pot and rather leggy, Buddleja officinalis - early flowering, drought tolerant and borderline hardy (more on this no doubt if it gets through the winter).  

From a hole twice the size of the pot came this collection - to add to the ever-growing pile of rubble by the office.  

[Remember, most plants don't mind growing in stony soils and the roots simply grow around any rocks or stones, which makes sense, 'the wild' not being stone free.  We simply remove those that physically prevent the planting hole being dug - if we took out more the garden would sink dramatically!]

The soil is dug out into a barrow or bucket - much easier than dumping a heap on the ground amongst other plants.  It is always surprising how much soil comes out of even a small hole - Pauline's plastic barrow is bulging! 

The excavated soil is always mixed with a couple of shovel-loads of compost, compost holds moisture in the soil, provides nutrients and brings the soil to life around the new plant and it good as guarantees success.    The plant goes in the hole at the same level it was growing in the pot - deeper and the now-buried stems can rot.  The compost-improved soil is filled in round the rootball bit by bit, firming well as we go.  

I always go on and on about firming the soil AROUND the rootball and not the rootball itself - all too often a vigorous firming on top of the rootball produces a tearing sound as the roots are ripped off the plant.  This obviously defeats the object.   We aren't looking to push the plant down into the centre of the earth, it should be at the right depth already (if it isn't take it out and dig a bit deeper!), just firming the in-fill with steady pressure using your knuckles will be enough to remove big spaces and to hold it firm while it roots (taller things, that the wind will rock, will need staking).  

I get asked how hard to firm.  I say "firmly".  This means it shouldn't hurt you or the plant.  I dislocated my thumb a couple of years ago firming - now that was definitely too hard!  

Then we water.  Properly. A whole can for each plant, sometimes two.  This takes time to soak in below the rootball so we don't rush.  Deep watering encourages the new roots to grow deeply as they follow the moisture down.  They will need to root deeply as they will only get another can or two next year as they establish but otherwise will receive no additional watering.  Ever.

After watering the plants get a good layer of mulch.  This prevents moisture being sucked out of the soil by the wind and competing 'weed' seeds from sprouting like cress.

Finally we pose (to order) for the camera and repeat the magic words - "Grow you bugger!".  

[Peter is a Phoenix Garden stalwart and has moved tons of rubble up and down the garden uncomplainingly during the renovations of the last few years with little chance to green his rubble-worn fingers.  Looks like he relished the opportunity to repeat the magic words!)  

8 November 2010

SHA newsletter

Soho Housing Association were one of the sponsors for the agricutural show.  Here's the report of the show in their latest newsletter - good to see they're up for supporting the show again next year.

13 September 2010

St Giles & Seven Dials In Bloom Competition 2010 - the Awards!

The award ceremony for the St Giles & Seven Dials In Bloom Competition 2010 was held on Sat 4th September at the Phoenix Garden Agricultural Show & St Giles Fayre.
Phoenix Garden Chairman, Alex, announced the winners and presented certificates and winners' rosettes.

Category: Best  Roof Garden
1st - Graham and Anya, Neal's Yard.
2nd - Gina Saunders and Sian Frances, New Compton Street.

Category: Best Communal Garden
1st - Dudley Court Tenants Association, Endell St.
2nd - The Alms House, Macklin St (accepted by Rev.Bill Jacobs) 

Category: Best Hanging Basket
1st - Garrard Knowles, Stacey St.

Category: Best Edible Plant
1st - pears.  Graziella Mecarone, Pendrell House

1st - potatoes.  Luke and Sharon Peppard, Stacey St.

Category:  Best Wildlife Garden
1st - Marea McCormack and residents, Newton Street.

Category: Best Container
1st - street tubs.  Gina Saunders, New Compton St. (accepted by Sian Frances)
2nd - Nicolette Roberts, St Georges Church.

Category:  Best Balcony
1st - Steve Fothergill, Pendrell House.
2nd - Sian Frances, New Compton Street.
2nd - Yasmin and Kieran Egan, Pendrell House.

Category:  Best House Plant
1st - orchids. Virginia, Pendrell House.

and, one totally made up category, for all her hard work organising the agricultural show;

Category: Best Show Organiser.
1st - Jane Palm-Gold

(Well done you lot!  More entries next year please!)

Our thanks to Soho Housing Association for supporting the competition this year.

The 2nd Phoenix Garden Agricultural Show & St Giles Fayre

8am: The set-up for the show went surprisingly well and the early-bird volunteers had turned out in force.  We really do have tent erection down pat these days, which is just as well as extra time was needed for the mass bunting installation.  Tottering about up a ladder while synchronising poles, gaffer tape, 300m of bunting and frayed nerves, with the clock ticking, could so easily have turned nasty - well done team, blessed are the peacemakers!  Even the last minute changes to the site plan didn't get us off track and all the tables and tents were soon up and out and ready for the exhibitors to arrive.

All the attractions for the show managed to arrive in good time and it was a treat to see the months of planning come together in time for the midday opening.  The animals announced their arrival with excited grunts and cock-a-doodle-doo-ing from the trailer, the church bells pealed as the last knot was tightened on the hand-made bunting and the show could open.
The show entrance, and behind,
the hand-made bunting installation from the Phoenix Garden Bunting Project - 


The bunting makers showing their bunting at the show were; Jaqueline Hollande, Oscar Quiroz, Pauline Ferris, Christopher Raeburn, Jane and Dominic and the London West End Women's Institute.  I think it looked great!

Up the steps and into the churchyard and there was the showground,
and the market with a small selection of stalls selling 'country show' themed produce;
Neal's Yard Dairy with a selection of fine cheeses,
Vicki's Vegan Bakery with beast-free pastries,
BonCoton, with pretty patchwork pieces,
Edwards and Todd, and country style homewear,
The London Beekeepers' Association with a full range of bee products and a show hive.
and the fundraising stall for The Leprosy Mission. 
(St Giles is the patron saint of lepers and outcasts, and St Giles-in-the-Fields church is on the site of the  original leper hospital built in 1101 for the city of London, so it seemed appropriate to invite the Leprosy Mission to the Fayre.  The Leprosy Mission works around the world with those afflicted with this terrible disease).

We planned for the garden to be a quite area with refreshments and food on sale.  Through the gate, in the shade of the tulip tree, were the London West End Women's Institute and their cake stall.
The fine selection of biscuits, cakes and preserves soon had them queueing.
A whole lamb was to be roasted on the BBQ and James, our chef, enthralled visitors with a butchery master class
and soon beautifully prepared portions were sizzling on the grill.
Served up with barley salad and salsa verde it was delicious.  The non-meat option of roast, dressed aubergine was fantastic.
Peter and Elizabeth are stalwarts on teas, 
which is just as well - it soon got busy.

In the churchyard the animal attractions amazed and delighted visitors and the rolling schedule of performances; the London Pride Morris Dancers, Punch & Judy and the St Giles Bellringers, kept everyone entertained. 

The Fancy Pigeon tent was a great success with a display of 24 varieties of fancy pigeon brought by John Ross, a national pigeon judge, and fellow pigeon fancier Colin.  John and Colin were only too happy to explain the intricacies of their art to visitors and the birds were definitely a cut above those we're used to - many people were amazed that they were all the same species!
The tent had rows of display cages each holding an immaculate bird.
A Capuchin,
a Damascene,
a Modena,
a Magpie,
a Short Faced Viennese (sounds like a pastry, and my favourite!).
Many people were keen to get hands on with these beautiful birds
and I think they found some new fans.

The farm animals were a great attraction too.  One pen had a flock of Call Ducks, 
a vocal, rosy-wattled Cuckoo Marran rooster
and hen - tame enough for touching,
a rabbit and some much petted Guinea Pigs.
In another two very handsome Suffolk Sheep grazed their pen,
and both seem to relish company (I suspect there was some illicit feeding going on!) 
A Shetland Pony was popular with everyone.
(Well, not quite everyone. I am not a horse fan but can possibly be convinced they are not all bad - at this scale, I'm certain, they're much less bloodthirsty)
But best of all, and my star of the show, was a rather lovely Kune-Kune Pig called Peppa.
Most of the day she was horizontal, accepting pats and belly rubs with faint squeaks of pleasure.  A rattle of her food tin would see her up in a second but otherwise a day feigning sleep and being rubbed silly seemed to be just fine by her.
Oink! Oink! Love her!

The Falconers had brought a range of birds of prey to show, these spectacular birds proved crowd pleasers.
A rather sleepy looking Barn Owl,
a fiery eyed Eagle Owl,
and a tiny Barred Owl.
Some lucky visitors even got a chance to hold the Buzzard. 
(I didn't, I was far too busy!).

In the middle of the busy showground we had a space for traditional performers.  
Accompanied by traditional instruments the London Pride Morris Dancers danced a range of dances.
Some with flags, and some with sticks
They even managed to get the audience to join in on a number of dances.  
What fun!
Exhausted, the Morris Men took a break in the garden and really looked very fitting.  It may have to be leg bells at work for me in 2011!

The Punch & Judy show began with a warm up boxing match which certainly set the mood and got them giggling.  
Master puppeteer, Geoff Felix, gave an entertaining short talk on the history of Punch before launching into the show.  
It is easy to forget just how much fun Punch & Judy is. 
Old and young were soon laughing out loud.
 That really is the way to do it!

The St Giles bellringers, led by Dennis Ellisdon, rang peals of bells between the shows.  
The Bellringers had a stall outside with information about the bells at St Giles (some of them are hundreds of years old).
 Visitors could go up into the belfry to find out more,  Dennis' enthusiasm for bells is infectious,
 so having a go was very popular. 

At the end of a very busy afternoon the award ceremony for the St Giles and Seven Dials in Bloom Competition was held in the garden by our master-of-ceremonies, Alex.  With the winners clutching their certificates and rosettes the show ended with a last resounding peal of the bells of St. Giles ringing out "ding-dong-well-done!"  

It was a very good event and definitely fulfilled our aim to put a proper country show in the West End for our community.  The day had a lovely relaxed 'village' feel to it and it was great to see so many people enjoying the event, we had over 800 visitors, and the responses from visitors were really positive. 

A very big thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make the day such a success - it really was a team effort.  

Special thanks go to Jane PG, Cllr.Sue Vincent, Rev. Bill Jacobs, Dragon Hall, Nicolette @ St Georges.  

 Just think, next year it will be even better!