Hello, how are you? I know, it’s been a while since we talked, but it’s been all systems go at Agents of Field HQ recently. So, apologies for our absence! Let me bring you up-to-date with our gardening adventures.
This year, I’m hitting the road, bringing my talk about Living The Good Life to venues across the UK. My first talk was at Toby’s Garden Festival near Exeter, back at the end of April. This is a show that has a very special place in my heart. Not only because Toby, his wife Lisa, and their team are so welcoming, but also because Dad was a big Toby fan, and it was the last show I took him to before he passed away.
To my delight, the house was full, the crowds were responsive, and it all seemed to go down well. No one jeered or threw rotten fruit at me! So on 17th June, I’m heading to my next event, which is Gardeners’ World Live. If you’re going, please do come over and say hello. All support is greatly appreciated!
Last month, Soph and I were invited to the Chelsea Flower Show which was a real treat. We’ve been to this prestigious flower show a couple of times before, but it was the first time we’ve been on a day when it’s open to the public, and what an eye-opener that was; the place was rammed!
After the chaos of the past two years (the show was cancelled altogether in 2020 and reworked as a September event last year, due to the pandemic), I can understand how the garden shows really want to make their mark in 2022, recapturing their financial losses and looking towards a positive future. Many of the gardens were spectacular, embracing a more naturalistic style of planting which Soph and I really liked, and the hard work of the UK’s specialist nurseries was on breath-taking display in The Grand Pavillion.
There were some real pockets of joy at this show which inspired me. The Balcony and Container Garden exhibit was a great addition, and proof the RHS are capable of making positive changes (we can’t all afford homes with expansive gardens; balconies are the reality for many people). But I did come away with some concerns. It was so crowded, and I do question whether having to stand several people deep to catch a brief glimpse of a garden is an enjoyable experience. And paying a small mortgage for a glass of bubbly is daylight robbery! I know it’s very easy to criticise, but I think it’s important to ensure the paying public get their money’s worth, and Chelsea is a very expensive ticket.
If you want the perfect day out at a garden show, try a show like Toby Buckland’s, or the Woburn Abbey Garden Show. They’re smaller, offer plenty of space, a wide range of affordable stands, they champion local businesses and include a diverse timetable of talks and activities.
But as Sue Biggs, the Director General of the RHS steps down, a new era begins under the watch of Clare Matterson. It’ll be interesting to see if feedback is taken on board, and whether the RHS can recognise that times are tough for many people; not everyone can afford to live like a celebrity.
Closer to home, the kitchen garden is starting to pick up the pace. I’ve been moving the last of my young plants out of the greenhouse, hardening them off and planting them out into the kitchen garden. Although there’s a loose game plan to where things go, I always change things around at the last minute, cramming in as much as possible. This year, I’ve added several structures to allow for more vertical growing. I really want to show that there is so much you can grow in a limited growing space. If you can’t grow out, grow up!
As so many gardeners will tell you, no two growing seasons are the same, and already this is proving the case with our kitchen garden. For the first time ever, we have greenfly in our greenhouse and sawfly munching through the foliage of our gooseberries. To be honest, I’m not too concerned about these pesky blighters, I’m happy to remove them by hand or spray them off with water. My biggest worry though is the dreaded blight. After last year’s near disaster, it’s really unsettled me. In all the years I’ve been gardening, this was my first encounter. We reacted quickly by removing all affected tomato leaves, which saved most of the plants and allowed us to still enjoy a bumper harvest, but it’s something that still haunts me. So, this year, I’ve grown several blight resistant tomato varieties. I’m also growing fewer tomato plants, which should allow for more circulation in the greenhouse. Fingers crossed for a blight-free season.
Another change this year is that I’m only growing one chilli plant. For years I’ve been working my way through the different varieties, but with a freezer filled with bags of chillies from seasons past, and last year’s dried chillies still hanging in the kitchen, it seemed a bit unnecessary to grow another big crop. To make up for it, I’m growing a lot more aubergines and peppers!
Whatever you get up to in your growing spaces this month, enjoy those moments of stillness and relish the new beginnings. This is an exciting time of year!