Karen Platt's Blog

  • The Community Gardening Handbook by Ben Raskin

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    The Community Gardening Handbook by Ben Raskin, softback published by Leaping Hare Press. ISBN 9781782404491, price 9.99 available from www.quartoknows.com

    A growing revolution is just what our cities need to bring back a sense of community with a purpose. Neglected plots are being transformed into flourishing growing space that provides fresh food and connections in urban spaces. This book shares Ben's expertise regarding self-sufficiency. It looks at the background of community gardening and acts as a practical guide for running a successful site. Find useful insights into skills sharing, setting up a community garden, looking after it, seed sowing and more. In chapter one the book highlights community gardens around the world. Chapter two looks at planning your own community garden. Chapter three is all about planning and planting your site with useful basic information and seasonal task lists. Chapter Four is a basic plant directory of use to beginner gardeners. What better way to bring communities together than through growing?

  • East Riddlesden Hall

    East Riddlesden Hall is a NT property, situated in Keighley, West Yorkshire. I had long wanted to visit, the 'ruined' wing was alluring. The hall and gardens are easily accessible from the centre of Keighley on foot or by bus, which stops very close to the entrance.

    The best view of the hall is from just inside the entrance, across the lake. It is a Grade 1 building, with fine views over the countryside. The stone from Ilkley Moor has been blackened with age, and there are stories of ghosts. The house has lost much of its agricultural lands, but still sits as a jewel in the crown. Built in the 1600s, the volunteer staff will entertain you with many a tale. Once split into separate dwellings, with many families living in the house, the phrase 'if only walls could talk' springs to mind. The panelled interior and plaster work ceilings are interesting. The house contains some period furniture and is sensitively decorated. I thoroughly enjoyed the interior. There is a craft room where you can sew, and also an excellent collection of embroidery I showed on my textile blog

    Yet the NT website promised an awakening of the gardens and I was a little disappointed on the whole. Yes, there were signs of spring in the hellebores, iris, crocus and daffodils yet there is so much more that could be achieved in this garden for relatively little outlay. The garden is formed of three areas, around the lake and entrance, a formal garden at the back of the hall and another area beyond that. To the side there is also a bird watch. There is also a dye garden and herb garden, but they both looked in poor shape. I now see from the website that there is also a meadow walk with a grass maze (I can just see it in my pic with the espalier, probably far too muddy at this time of year), no-one mentioned this, I saw no sign for it and no path to it- it runs along the River Aire.

    Clematis seed heads were still clinging on the entrance to the formal garden area. Hellebores were found dotted all over in many colours. Borrowed views of the landscape beyond make the garden seem bigger. It is definitely worth a visit to the Hall, but for garden lovers a summer's day might find more plants in the garden.

    I visited in the first week in March 2017.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Kedleston Hall

    I visited Kedleston Hall in March on a sunny day, cold but bright. I was greeted outside Derby station with a bright display of Polyanthus, Pansies and Fatsia. A short bus ride takes you almost to the gates of the Hall, where you walk through the parkland with its stunning countryside, river and bridge to the house.

    Yet parkland is about all you will see because there is not much of a gardener's garden here. There were a few promising buds and some ancient trees, but not enough to interest the gardener. Bracket fungus on logs by the shop and more parkland behind the house and a tiny garden area by the Church.

    Although it is a green and pleasant land, the house sits in a beautiful setting, the NT entrance fee is rather steep at 13.00 gbp, especially at this time of year because the parkland walks were far too muddy, in fact after a few minutes I had to give up. I must admit that my mud-loving days ended decades ago and that there never is a good time to discover that your walking boots leak and this was such a day as I waded over to the drifts of snowdrops.

    The lady who had just scanned my membership card ran out of the gate and asked if I had paid, then the lady in the house thought I might be a little too muddy. I felt a bit put out - they were the ones telling people to walk round the fields of mud and I had scrubbed my walking boots on the boot scraper. The house is very interesting, but the NT ended up in my bad books. Not only were the staff here a bit off-putting and not very tactful, I got round the place in about an hour.

    Words, images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • The Irish Garden by Jane Powers

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    The Irish Garden by Jane Powers, hardback published by Frances Lincoln. ISBN 9780711232228, price 40 gbp available from www.franceslincoln.com

    A huge tome with evocative photographs and a text worth reading. You might need weight lifting training before handling the book, but the pages are definitely worth turning. Contents include Grand Big Gardens, Romantic Interludes, Taming The Wilderness, Painting With Plants, A Lovely Day For A Walk, A Few Follies and Fancies, Fields Of Dreams, Paradise Reinvented, Good Enough To Eat, garden contact details and further reading. It's enough to make you want to pack your bags and do a garden tour or three of Ireland, from north to south. Every kind of garden, big and small, 60 in total. The climate is discussed in the introduction with a few 'surprise' plants, that one might not expect in Ireland. Influences are also discussed here. Each chapter has an overview and then an in detail look at each garden. The first chapter deals with the big estates of the Anglo-Irish gentry, "showy, proud and formidable" - "the grandest of the grand". You'll perhaps know some of the names in this section such as Powerscourt and Mount Stewart. Over 50 pages are dedicated to this chapter. One could argue that the whole of Ireland is romantic, but in the second chapter the most romantic gardens have been selected. The description of Altamount starts with a revealing fact about dodgy drains! There are only 2 gardens described. Chapter three is all about the emergence of gardens from the wilderness, the rugged and wild, tamed and cultivated into a garden haven. Whilst Chapter Four concerns itself with those gardens owned by passionate plants people and it will come as no surprise to find Helen Dillon's garden in this chapter. Next we are taken on a ramble - gardens that offer a good stroll with views. Take a turn around a lake or stroll the Noble Fir Walk. Follies and Fancies feature next and I do have a fondness for them, so do many garden creators thankfully. The word 'dream' is often associated with gardening and in the following chapter, Jane takes a look at privately owned gardens, conceived as personal space but open to the public, where gardeners have created their dream. These spaces often have the most appeal because they are closer in size to the one we possess and planted in a way we can visualise our own garden. We then come to the Chapter on old gardens that have been reawoken and saved from oblivion. Finally to productive gardens growing food and flowers or keeping bees or poultry.

    This is an incredible garden journey in a book. You can delve in and out, enjoy each garden, gaze with longing at the superb photography by Jonathan Hession and enjoy the images conjured up with Jane's descriptions. This is Frances Lincoln's best book in terms of text and images, far superlative to the others in this series.

    Words copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • The Book of Orchids by Mark Chase et al

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    The Book of Orchids by Mark Chase et al, hardback published by Ivy Press. ISBN 9781782404033, price 30 gbp available from www.quartoknows.com

    Ask most gardeners and non-gardeners alike for their favourite flowers and orchids will usually be in the top ten. They get their fair share of oohs and aahs. This book is for the serious lover of orchids. It includes orchid evolution, pollination, symbiotic relationships, threats to wild orchids and orchidelirium (first time I have come across that but it aptly describes orchidmania). The orchids are then divided into Apostasioideae, Vanilloideae, Cypripedioideae, Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae taking up the bulk of the book with 162 pages dedicated to exploring these fascinating plants, plus appendices, which include a glossary, classification, resources, index of common and scientific names and acknowledgements. This book provides a stunning guide to no less than 600 incredible species out of the vast over 26,000 orchid species that exist, photographed in detail. Whilst the photographs are entertaining, there is enough scientific knowledge to interest the avid orchidophile, whilst remaining informative and readable by anyone who holds these remarkable plants in awe. Some of the smaller images could have done with the brightness turning up a notch. There are full-page plates at the beginning of each chapter. Orchid flowers are shown actual size, which is a bonus. The descriptions are fantastic, allowing the reader to become familiar with the plant in a uniform format giving all essential details. The information includes distribution, habitat, flowering time and size. I love the Dracula species, Dendrobium, Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum, Zygopetalum, Vanda and Brassia, they are all covered in this book with a few examples. The problem is that with such vast numbers of each available, so few have been covered and this just feels like the tip of the iceberg. I hope that in future, we can see more comprehensive books in this series, dealing with each type of orchid. For now, this is an excellent introduction to the world of orchids, no matter what your preferences for individual species. I am sure it will become a standard classic and deservedly so.

  • Ilam Park - Gardens to Visit

    Ilam Park features walks around incredible countryside as well as a small formal garden area. It does not add up to a must-see for the avid gardener, especially not for those looking for ideas, but for the lover of countryside and open green spaces, Ilam has it all.

    You can get here by bus from Ashbourne, but I was lucky enough to be driven by a friend. It is a stunning NT property with free entrance, set in the Manifold Valley in Dovedale. The tiny village of Ilam has beautiful houses and the surrounding countryside is the epitome of this 'green and pleasant land'. I'd swear those hills are made of green velvet.

    The house itself is now a hostel, so you can stay here. The Church of the Holy Cross also stands in the grounds and is worth a look. You'll spot the clumps of snowdrops and the massive giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum in the grounds. It's not the only fine specimen tree, there is also a good example of Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree. Walk over to the riverside and on the house side, you'll find a row of trees with limb-like branches.

    The small formal garden is Italianate. The lavender was showing off its silver cloak, and there was a tiny Acaena 'Blue Haze' near the covered archways. The latter and the grand steps indicate the former glory of the house. Further round there were clumps of golden Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite. My favourite feature was the stone 'urn' set into the wall with its leaf decoration, holding a heuchera, I would have planted it with Sedum Angelina to overflow its confines.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Sheffield Winter Garden

    When it is cold, it is tempting to seek out indoor gardens, at least for me, call me the fair weather gardener. Hence, I found myself two week ago strolling around The Winter Gardens in Sheffield once more. It's like a mini botanic garden with plants from around the world, but nothing that an avid gardener would not recognise. The structure still steals the show in many ways. I can almost think of it as an extension to my own place and if I had a glasshouse, this would be about the right size.

    Step into that other garden world, the world of plants from other continents, so coveted because we cannot usually grow them outdoors. There is a good selection of Australian plants and those from South America too, mainly represented by cacti and one or two South African succulents. Ferns, palms, wattles, orchids, exotic greenery with a splash of colour associated with subtropical paradises.

    The Kalanchoe looked too small to be at my feet, they deserve an eye-level viewing, with their perfect rose-like blossoms, around 1cm across. The Tradescantia was vying to be the plant that covered the most ground, and was accompanied by a sole Begonia, glowing like a little velvet beacon. Codiaeum (Croton) were dotted here and there, as well as Aechmea and Vriesia. A lone Gerbera was holding fort for the strongest colour. The Norfolk Pine, Araucaria cunninghamii was certainly the tallest. However, the bamboo stand and the fan of Strelitzia leaves were also heading for the roof. The orchids and Anthuriums were looking handsome too. Yet the Cycads and Dicksonia were looking on the dry side. The Platycerium stag's horn fern had grown on one side of a trunk, but on the other it was sporting just two 'horns', well-deserved of its name.

    Right in the middle of the city centre, it's a good place to come and sit for lunch and admire the greenery. Sip your coffee and dream of paradise islands in the Pacific whilst you gaze at that Norfolk island Pine. Bliss.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Just a stroll

    When I stroll, I notice all the plants along my journey, no mater how 'insignificant' they seem, they contribute to my day. Today, I had my camera with me and captured some joy. A humble berry, a little green shoot or the full-blown silhouette against the sky, they all contribute to life. Plants inform us about our seasons, early or late, they tell us about the changes that are taking place.

    Today I noted there are few berries left on one Cotoneaster, yet a Sorbus was still berry-laden and there were still quite a few berries on the small, red-berried tree where the waxwings go. I loved the way the Cotoneaster had been trained around a corner, a veritable sweep of twiggy branches in its dormant state, offering structure to the garden. We all need a rest a times.

    The twigs of the Cotoneaster might be bare, yet the conifers were grabbing attention with their gold and blue foliage, enhanced by the cold temperatures. So too the red tips of the Hebe. Mahonia leaves were sparkling like Merlot wine, having also taken on the red cloak of winter. Holly was shining like a coat of nail gloss. Two days later I noticed the yellow flowers appearing.The Hellebores are the Queen of the winter flower garden. Yet, let's not overlook the small Iris that are like jewels at this time of year.

    Further along on my stroll, beech leaves were still clinging to twiggy branches, shivering in the breeze. Magpies were cawing in the bare branches of tall trees. There are at least 6 that live here. I am always attracted to bark, and none looks as good as Betula, birch bark, especially in winter. Nearer my destination, Buddleja were bursting into tiny silvered leaves. The variegated Euonymus was also touched with a pinkish red glow.

    We have not thrown off winter's cloak quite yet, but the signs of renewal are emerging.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Sheffield - EU funded gardens

    I have written about the EU funded gardens before, but being unable to make it up the hill to the Botanic Gardens, I photographed these again in their winter cloaks. There is a newer area that is still unfinished, which appears to be using recycled materials and is quite interesting, but not yet planted up. In fact work seems to have stopped, and I hope this has not been abandoned owing to loss of EU funds.

    In the rest of the planting, the grasses are shining. Yucca filamentosa was looking strong too, the greenest plant in the garden. The tree trunks, still extremely slender, are showing interesting colour. The Artemisia should come with a warning sign and I fear it might take over the garden, some of the plants planted in April 2016, are already 60cm (2ft) or more across. Its feathery foliage is, however, to be admired. Buds are beginning to appear and although it is still cold, there are signs that spring is on its way.  The spring Primula are doing their thing. I still cannot believe that flower on the Phlomis, it has been there at least two weeks now. We can always depend upon the garden to give us something unexpected.

    The EU funded gardens are outside the Magistrates Court in Sheffield.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Walking Round London - gardens

    I had to go to London for work and it is always nice to fit in a garden or too. There was not time to get to the major gardens and January isn't exactly garden visiting time in much of England. However walking between A and Z, I took in a few incidental garden spaces. Not places you would go out of your way to see, but if you work in London, or are a weary tourist, it's nice to know the green spots.

    St. Paul's - when you've done gazing at the amazing mosaics and magnificence of the building, take a little walk around the garden. Even at this time of year, there are Liquidambar leaves clinging for dear life whilst an ornamental cherry bursts into bloom. The red and yellow dogwoods are still speaking of fire and brimstone. Berries too were a reminder that winter is here. I loved the fountain with its lion's heads. The wet London plane tree trunk was outside Westminster Abbey.

    I had caught sight of the Gherkin and in pursuit for a photo, I passed Cleary Gardens, a spot to rest aching feet and legs, with a view of the Shard in the distance. I am not fond of filling wheelbarrows and such with plants, but if you must, I thought this pair looked attractive filled as they were with pretty standard garden plants - heuchera, cyclamen and euonymus.

    Reaching the modern architecture towering above old churches and buildings was a bit like stepping into a Hollywood vision of the future. I love both types of architecture. I liked the trees against the glass and yellow columns. The landscape designer in me wanted to plant striking yellow dogwood, yellow bamboo and the most fabulous yellow leaved tree of them all - Acer 'Princeton Gold' or the to die for Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'. I liked viewing the trees through the modern architecture.

    I walked on in pursuit of a better view of the Shard, and passed the Sky Garden. Free tickets have to be booked online, I would have done that if I had known. I was content to see the garden wall at ground floor level. I don't know if it was planted by Patrick Blanc, but he is the man who started doing vertical gardens first.

    Perhaps the loveliest of all plants on this incidental plants walk was created in a concrete bench facing the Shard on the Thames path! Plants that never die. What a gorgeous place to sit and contemplate the Thames.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

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