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Tag: Matt Collins

Hortus: Gardening in Winter

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I was recently asked to contribute to the theme of ‘Winter Gardening’ for an issue of the quarterly gardening journal, Hortus. Lovely subject, of course, but particularly as it gave reason to reflect back on the Garden at Richmond, which now only exists in memory. I included the following extract, taken from the notebooks written while head gardener there, which were compiled for the publication ‘Ivy Cities’, some years ago:

‘I’m up on the shed roof again, sat beside the chimney I fitted two autumns ago. There’s warmth in the pipe from the last smouldering of this morning’s fire. I haven’t been up here to sit in quite a while, only climbing up on occasion to clean the flue of soot. The sun is low over the golf course to my right and the stark winter shine, at 11am, has only just reached across the roofline, casting a shadow of my figure right across to other side of the log pile. The logs are disintegrating a little more each day. Teeming underneath must be a great wealth of creatures, all working at the slow demise of the pile, chewing wood to mulch. Nettles and alkanet have rooted inside the composted crevices of the logs then spread on across the wild garden floor. A pair of squirrels chase through the sycamore above where long-tailed tits dart between branches and feed among the leafless twigs. A blue tit has already begun work on one of the nest boxes in an adjacent tree, excavating the remains of last year’s nest. In time each of the remaining boxes will be claimed, cleaned and renovated, ready for the spring clutch and the exhausting demands of incubation and parenthood.

Beyond the sycamores the pond is layered with a thin sheet of ice. Yellow iris and browned reedmace have begun to fold and collapse into the water, the latter’s seed long since carried up on the wind. Outside the wild garden, along the fence line, bare stems of ash, lilac and snowberry all merge in hue; a soft grey brown, dark at the tips, green in bud. Berries hang from the tops of last year’s shoots – bulging puVs of white, like little ping- pong balls. The beech tree at the back of the house stands in a pool of its own nut-brown leaves, a thick mulch returning to the soil. From here I can see the terrace beds, each cut to the ground, bare and simple. Rosettes of perennials remain however; the structural backbone of the long border still marked out by aconitum, echinops, knautia and veronicastrum. A nuthatch bobs its swooping flight over the top meadow and a blackbird flutters with less grace in the opposite direction. There are hips on the roses, hung like chandeliers from vertical stems that reach out from the tangled leaders tied flat to the house. I’ve worked hard at the climber beside the kitchen window, however it will soon require a second prune and some careful consideration. Mahonia is in flower along the walkway, less in number this winter following decimation under the fallen beech limb a couple of months ago. At the garden wall bordering the park, the walnut tree bark shines silver in the bright sunshine.’

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Hortus is a fantastic gardening journal, which I have written for on occasion over the last few years. More info here: HORTUS.

Ode to Echiums for the Guardian

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Two separate travel experiences during spring 2018 brought the Echium genus into focus for me. The first was a visit to Gran Canaria, and seeing so many varieties – some unique to the island – in flower along its ridges and ravines (pictured below). The second was a walk around the ‘desert’ landscape of Dungeness in the south east of England. Great drifts of viper’s bugloss (E. vulgare) were in flower all over the beach, and the colour was just spectacular (bottom image). Having grown tree echiums (E. pininana) at the Garden Museum for many years, and enjoyed their enormous bee-covered, monocarpic blooms, I suggested a piece for the Guardian covering the history and cultivation of the wider Echium genus (published 15.06.19 and can be read here).

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Echium decaisnei seen growing near Roque Nublo on Gran Canaria (April 2018)

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Echium vulgare (viper’s bugloss) growing wild in the grass scrub surrounding Dungeness (June 2018)

Chelsea Flower Show 2019, Spectator Life

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A pleasure to visit RHS Chelsea 2019 yesterday for The Spectator Magazine, making sense of all the woodlands, wildernesses and environmental worries this year, and noting some very beautiful planting features. Among the highlights were various – and somewhat feral – forms of Rodgersia, Echium, Persicaria and Verbascum, pioneering plants of wonderfully rogue character.

As I concluded in the piece, ‘Show gardens of years past treated visitors to a spectacle of ornate, often innovative back gardens; inspiration that, at a push (and with money to burn), might be applied back home. Currently presented among the grand plots are depictions of yet wilder scenes, natural landscapes skilfully mirrored with light, sympathetic embellishment. Commendable or wildly off-brief, the Flower Show has responded in its own way to the current environmental conundrum, lamenting a paradise-increasingly-lost through Arcadian motifs reminiscent of 18th Century romanticism.’ In other words, a comfort blanket of bucolic British countryside amidst an unsettling time.

Read the full article here.

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Evening gardening in Central London

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Early evening very much the best time of day – and the best kind of light – to enjoy the Museum’s front gardens. Particularly the woodland bed, designed by Dan Pearson Studio,  where in spring Narcissus runs alongside sulphuric epimedium and bright white Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’, borrowing the haze above the Thames for a backdrop.

Everything in its Right Place

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This morning was one of those Garden Museum mornings where, inside the small box of our courtyard garden, conditions felt warm, calm and bright; redolent of the coming season. Our central Melianthus major has so far pulled through the winter safely – covered until last week – and with any luck, flower buds will soon follow.

New Book: FOREST, Walking Among Trees

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Exciting to finally see this thing on book shelves following its launch last week at Ink@84 bookshop in Islington. Two wonderful years stalking valleys, mountains, prairies and rivers for interesting and often irregular stories about ten familiar trees. Stunning photography by Roo Lewis.

FOREST Walking Among Trees is published by Pavilion Books, available from all big – and little – book stores.

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Hortus Journal: Courtyard of Curiosities

Cover article for a favourite garden journal, Hortus, writing about the Garden Museum’s recent redevelopment and resulting garden, designed by Dan Pearson.

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