This last fortnight has been a real mix of activities. I went down to Hortus loci to ‘visit’ my first two trees which had arrived from Europe – my two gorgeous Acer campestres. It is rather like bringing old friends home – the last time I saw them was in January in a field in Holland where they had lived for many years amongst their extended family of other mature Acer campestres and Amelanchier lamarckii. Now here they were sitting in the car park at Hortus loci having just sustained a pretty long journey, pretty much unscathed, thank goodness.
I was again accompanied on this trip by the ABF Soldiers’ Charity film crew, and by Afghanistan veteran Chris Parrott who will be one of the people building our garden. Chris could not believe the size of the rootball of the trees (1.6m across!). How are we to get them onto the garden??!!
We then set off to Kelways in Somerset to see how the rest of the plants are going. As we took a bend in the road on the way to the nursery and saw that amazingly the Somerset Levels are still under water, more than two months since the waters first rose. Gary who works in Dave Root’s team at Kelways told us that while his family’s farm has survived this terrible winter, many others will not. So sad.
Our main concern at Kelways was to check with Dave Root and his team if any of the plants were going to be too ‘far gone’ by the time they were in their place on our garden at Chelsea in mid May. The incredibly warm weather of the past couple of weeks, on top of a very mild and wet winter means that our perennials, grasses and annuals are all about two weeks ahead of their normal growth. When you consider that at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show everything was around three weeks behind, it hit me that we are dealing with plants that are around five weeks further forward than in 2013. This underlines yet again the immense skill involved in growing plants for Chelsea Flower Show – they have to look really good in a tiny window of May 18 – 24th and they must look perfect on 19th May when they are assessed.
It was clear during our day at Kelways that they have done a magnificent job – the plants are all doing well apart from a couple of species which will probably not work for us this year due to the conditions.
A Visit to Headley Court
My other interesting visit this week was to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Unit at Headley Court where many thousands of members of the armed services have over the years received help with physical disabilities as a result of injury as well as post-traumatic stress.
ABF Soldiers’ Charity has recently funded a new facility for the rehabilitation of patients at Headley Court and a new horticultural therapist, Carol Sales now works full time within the occupation therapy team. Patients are able to grow plants and learn about gardening with Carol Sales, using the raised beds and greenhouses established within the original walled garden of Headley Court. This wonderful facility is part of the High Ground initiative and complements the other work being carried out at Headley Court to help people with their recovery.
Chris Parrott was a patient some years ago following his first injury to his leg before this facility was available and he was really impressed with what he found and did not waste time in getting stuck in. I was particularly struck by how fitting our visit was and how the work being carried out highlights the way in which caring for plants and the landscape reflects some of the themes of healing and regeneration I am trying to communicate through my garden at Chelsea Flower Show.
Inchbald School of Design
I usually go to the Inchbald School of Design at this time of year to talk to the students about setting up a garden design business. This year, I had a really good turn out at my session, with, I suspect, many coming to hear about how the garden is getting on at Chelsea Flower Show. It is this kind of event which pushes firmly home, if nothing else does, just how big this whole project is and also reminds me just how close it all is now.
I’ve watched the Seasons passing slow, so slow,
In the fields between La Bassée and Bethune;
Primroses and the first warm day of Spring,
Red poppy floods of June,
August, and yellowing Autumn, so
To Winter nights knee-deep in mud or snow,
And you’ve been everything.
Dear, you’ve been everything that I most lack
In these soul-deadening trenches—pictures, books,
Music, the quiet of an English wood,
The narrow, bouldered mountain-track,
The broad, full-bosomed ocean, green and black,
And Peace, and all that’s good.