Hartley Magazine

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Greenhouse In The Snow

In The Greenhouse with Lila Das Gupta

Obviously this was not the week to let rip in the greenhouse: my sweet peas and peppers have been moved into the dining room to await the melting of snow. I’ve consoled myself with scrubbing out pots with a pot brush (hygiene is vital in a greenhouse) and gossiping with horticultural friends. Needless to say, the gossip was far more enjoyable and seems to have dominated the week.

Photo Credit: Anthony Upton/PA Wire

Monday kicked off with a day at the Garden Museum next to Lambeth Palace, a conference on greening urban spaces, chaired by Gardener’s World Presenter Joe Swift. Like a lot of Londoners, the heavy snow prevented me from going anywhere other than my local park to build a massive snow man.

Tuesday, those who made it were back at the Garden Museum for the wonderful VISTA Lectures chaired by engaging duo Tim Richardson and Noel Kingsbury (the John Bird and John Fortune of the gardening world). The guest of honour was Penelope Hobhouse, likened by a fellow journalist to a favourite and comforting headmistress. She reminded everyone that untidy gardens just look untidy: keep the paths clear and the edges well trimmed and everything instantly looks better, it will buy you time if you haven’t been as diligent at weeding as you’d hoped to be. She also made the point that you need to thoroughly understand what the rules are before you can go ahead and break them.
Penelope also touched on the sense of ‘virtue’ that one feels when gardening, though she says she is not in the slightest bit religious. Her interest in Iranian gardens has not waned, and Penelope said she thought we all had much to learn from Islamic gardens and the concept of ‘Earthly Paradise’.

After the lecture there is always a yummy dinner at the museum, chaired by the dynamic young director Christopher Woodward (contact the Museum if you would like to attend a lecture or any other event). Later on in the year (Sunday 26th April) the Garden Museum holds a Festival of Small Nurseries, Tuesday 28th April sees the opening of the Auricula Theatre.
At dinner I learnt that Noel Kingsbury is writing a book about designers’ own gardens, including that of ‘Best in Show’ Tom Stuart-Smith, who was also present. Mrs Stuart-Smith had obviously not been told about it, but since she is a psychiatrist and even-tempered, she took the news in the spirit of inquisitive good nature.
For lectures elsewhere, I’ve joined up to the Garden History Society which has a very interesting series of winter lectures.

Speaking of lectures, I bumped into horticultural journalist Jane Owen who told me that she gives a very popular talk on Erotic Gardens. She begins by putting up Sheridan’s poem ‘The Geranium’ on screen and asks people to read it to themselves. She then tells them if they find it too much they are welcome to quietly slip away since the whole thing gets racier from there. (There is a chapter on erotic gardens in her book on Eccentric Gardens.) Happily she reports this measure has the effect of gluing people to their seats.

On Wednesday it was the launch of the National Gardens Scheme Yellow Book 2009 which brought everyone together again. A cheque for half a million pounds was given each to Macmillan Cancer Relief and for Marie Curie Nurses. There’s a huge range of gardens open for charity in the UK under the NGS, but I do have a soft spot for enthusiasts’ back gardens. The NGS has kept up with the times and increased the number of kitchen gardens and allotments open to the public. This includes Old Palace Allotments in Richmond, where I believe Tate Gallery curator (Art of the Garden) Martin Postlehas his own allotment. The NGS also runs tours of other gardens to coincide with major RHS shows like Chelsea and Hampton Court. They are run by expert guide and former ‘English Garden’ magazine editor Janine Wookey ([email protected] Tel:+ 44 (0)208 693 1015.)

They cost 82 pounds which includes transport and lunch and cover gardens in Hampstead Garden Suburb, Kent, South Oxfordshire, South East London and Essex.
(For Bed and Breakfast in Kew Gardens, this list is very handy. Kew Gardens is half an hour away on the District line to Chelsea)

Thursday is the Royal Horticultural Society’s preview for 2009 followed by ‘Garden Events‘ in the afternoon, a display of gardening trade goods that benefits Greenfingers Appeal which builds gardens at children’s hospices.

By Friday I shall be longing to get back to the greenhouse, and hang the cost of heating!

I am listening to Moon Safari by Air, just the thing after a busy week.