Friday, 4 February 2011

A bad start followed by renewed inspiration

Expletive deleted
Don't you just love Monday mornings? This week I staggered out of the car into the iciness of the pottery car park, gathering up my baggage (extra fleeces, lunch box, bag of notebooks and seed catalogues, camera bag) and what did I drop on the rock-hard ground? My camera, of course. As I had stopped on the way to work to take interesting misty frost pictures of the valley it had its big lens attached and the fall wrenched the connecting ring off the body of the camera. So no fresh pictures this week, I'm afraid, but I do have a good archive.
Succulents safe from frost in the greenhouse last week
Could you just...
I was very glum about my camera, and the continuation of the freezing weather really didn't help my mood but at the pottery there is always someone who can make you laugh. I am lucky that if I need company I can pop indoors. There have been plenty of excuses for this recently: Annabelle, Emma and Sue have been working hard on the new catalogue and they occasionally ask me for a bit of verbiage about ways to use the pots. Jim has been working on the catalogue and on plans for a show garden in Japan - so when he came into the office we had a lively discussion about his colour ideas for the planting of it and somehow I ended up agreeing to give him a list of possible plants. He is maddeningly good at getting you to agree to things without seeming to ask. To his credit, however, he does put up with a lot of 'healthy disrespect' from his staff - and gives as good as he gets of course.

Thinking ahead 

Happy succulents outside last summer

I think I have just about planned the summer displays. First I go into a sort of trance and think about how it looked last year, then I visualize colours and shapes which will hopefully give different effects in the various areas this year. It may look to the untutored eye like I am just sitting around drinking coffee but in reality the little cogs are going whir-whir. I will be re-using a lot of plants, such as my rather magnificent collection of succulents and other tender perennials which I keep from year to year (Ice Age permitting). The challenge therefore is to make the same place look different from year to year by changing the pot combinations, using old plants in different ways and places but keeping them happy by putting sun lovers facing south and west and keeping the shade lovers close to the northern side of the pottery.

 A sucker for a pretty picture

Ricinus 'NZ Purple' towers in the foreground

The seed catalogues are my secret weapon. Gaudy pictures of novelties catch my eye, and I have to include some of them, especially if I think they may annoy Jim (he has a thing about Busy Lizzies...).  But I'll try anything from humble nasturtiums and marigolds to exciting exotics like Solanum quitoense and Leonotis nepetifolia; some of the experimental choices become regulars and I'll order them year after year.

L. 'Riviera Sky Blue' with Felicia and pelargoniums

Lobelia 'Riviera Sky Blue' is a case in point because it has such a lovely clear colour - I just have to think of something else to combine it with. Another regular, Hordeum jubatum, adds some elegant flowing lines in late summer, best backlit by morning or evening sun; Ricinus 'New Zealand Purple' is spectacular in any large pot and a great foil for orange, red, blue, pink... There are so many great plants that are easy to grow from seed.

Hordeum jubatum in the foreground
Three go mad in Hampshire
On Wednesday Richard, Maggie and I visited Hillier's Nursery near Winchester. We have started selling Hillier plants at the pottery and were invited to an open day to see exciting new collections of plants for spring. The site is enormous (about 50 acres I think), huge amounts of glass, tunnels and open areas for a wide range of plants. It was fascinating to see  plant production on such a scale, although Richard was disappointed not to see the Edward Scissorhands pruning machine in action. MD Andy McIndoe and director Kevin Hobbs showed us the new plants with pride and enthusiasm - it was good to see that the people in charge still obviously know and love the plants they are dealing with at the same time as having an eye for their commercial value. I'll have to place an order soon, so that there will be plenty of stock for when our customers start to come out of hibernation and visit the pottery in greater numbers - more tricky decisions!

Hillier Hellebore Hybridising
Kevin kindly took us to see other parts of the Hillier site and my favourite stop was at an out-of-the-way polytunnel which houses Alan Postill and his hellebores. Alan has been propagating plants since he was a teenager and still obviously loves what he does: flitting from row to row, tilting the chin of an anemone-flowered break here, caressing a fine yellow there, he showed us promising new strains with flowers carefully hand-pollinated, labelled and covered with little muslin bags. Odd corners held motley collections of plants from far-flung parts of the world brought back by Roy Lancaster and John Hillier for propagation by Alan, as Kevin said, "Give him a pencil and he'll get it to root". There's an article about Alan and his work in this month's edition of Gardens Illustrated (I really wished I had my camera with me but this article has some lovely photos). That is one of the things I love best about horticulture: every now and then you get to meet the unassuming proper enthusiasts who form the backbone of the trade and are generous in sharing their enthusiasm.

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