Gardens Illustrated January 2007

January 3, 2007



writing this diary it seems almost the only constant is surprise at the extraordinary weather. Weather is a gardener’s daily preoccupation. It seems the natural way to start Trad off in his new billet at Gardens Illustrated. An appreciation, at least, of a supremely gilded autumn after a long spell when nature seemed in a trance; nothing budged for weeks on end. We may have only had short days to see the fiery climax of the year, but did you ever see hedgerows so incandescent? When it came, three weeks late by my calendar, there were not enough words for the yellow, red, orange, scarlet, gold, lemon, tawny, cream, parchment, vermilion, mustard, honey, crimson, canary, rust, ginger, apricot, flame, carrot, copper, claret and burgundy…

It is not the easiest for gardening, our part of England. Certainly not for the glamour-gardening of the past century that involves exotic trees and thickets of rhododendrons. Essex is too dry. It is open and unwooded, far too much of it, and flat enough for the lack of trees to be important. If the soil were lighter the lack of rain would seriously limit what you can grow, but our clay and gravel mixture holds moisture reasonably well. Our local prophet is Beth Chatto, and her gospel, mulch. Sunshine is our asset and fruit-growing a long established trade. Tiptree and Elsenham jams are made here. There were never many great gardens in Essex, or for that matter great houses; Audley End is our grandest. Ellen Willmott with her 100 gardeners at Warley was an exception, but Samuel Curtis, founder of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, had one of the first collections of Australian plants here, the Rev Joseph Pemberton bred his hybrid musks, and we won’t let you forget that Humphry Repton lived at Romford. The RHS, though had the courage to accept the most unpromising site at Hyde Hall for its eastern Wisley. If you can make a model garden on that dry hilltop, where our famous east winds have full play, anything is possible.

Acceptability Brown

January 2, 2007

How would Capability Brown have got on with English Heritage, I wonder. Or with Planning Guidelines or Building Regs. He would have had a fit, and we would be looking at a different landscape. No greensward sweeping down to winding water; no hanging clumps of oak or beech. Overgrown topiary would  be  towering  everywhere, and avenues fanning out all over the country. Still, the weeding industry would provide thousands of jobs….

How did we let ourselves be dictated to like this? It is one thing to acknowledge a public interest in what we do with our houses and gardens, but quite another to accept dictatorship by bureaucrat. We all have our stories. Mine is how we invited all the relevant planners for coffee and a tour of the house. In its 500 years everyone has had a go, adding wings or subtracting them, building new staircases and corridors and chimneys. The listed buildings officer dropped himself in it. “What I love about these old houses,” he said, “is that each generation leaves its mark. “Funny you say that. this,” said I, producing plans, “is the conservatory we are going to add.”

Don’t try to chop a tree down without a permit, though. Not even a self-sown sycamore. Not even an elder. Plant whatever you like; no one questions the innocent little tree you bring home in a pot. Just remember when it reaches 50 feet high to ask permission to cut it down.

Fashion extra

January 1, 2007

Will Salvia uliginosa be the next Verbena bonariensis? I hope so. V.b. is the lanky but resolutely upright plant with purple tiny  flowers that has filled fashionable gardens in the past three or four years. Seedlings take until late summer to flower, but gardeners, even gardeners with thousands of visitors and doubtless strict planting plans, can’t resist letting it spread. Wisley, the Savill Garden, the rose garden at Mottisfont – it’s everywhere.

And this salvia? Another lanky self–sower, with an even later season but with flowers of a unique sky blue. They are tiny too, in litle panicles at the end of many branches, but wave high above the border, here among pink Japanese anemones, white cosmos, pale  pink roses (and of course V.b.), in just the sort of nursery colour combination that made Christopher Lloyd so indignant.

Uliginosa means from boggy ground. Compared with some heat-seeking salvias, may be, but droughty summers here have only encouraged it. It comes up everywhere, especially in the brick path. Just like Veebee, but brighter, later, prettier and so far more special.

Hugh’s Gardening Books


Trees was first published in 1973 as The International Book of Trees, two years after The World Atlas of Wine….

Hugh’s Wine Books

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book

I wrote my first Pocket Wine Book in 1977, was quite surprised to be asked to revise it in 1978,…

Friends of Trad

The International Dendrology Society (IDS)