This morning I woke up inspired.
Inspired by a thousand treasures I found during my long weekend in York and Harrogate. Inspired by the return of the warmer air and the sunshine on my skin yesterday for the first time in what feels like weeks.
Inspired to crack on with developing my 2018 allotment plot plan, to make the Allotment Courgette and Runner Bean Chutney I’ve been wanting to make since my eBay bargain Preserving Book* arrived, and, most difficult to clinch of all, to finally start writing the gardening blog I’ve aspired to for months, but never gotten around to.
And here I am. Writing. At last. Powered by inspiration. And satisfied that I am at least multitasking as my Courgette and Runner Bean Chutney simmers on the hob and the cloudy map for next years planting scheme forms in my mind, grappled from the highlights which have set my mind alight. I’m blocking out the parallel pulls of weeding, tidying and putting away washing, in favour of grasping these glimpses of inspiration before they fade and other “priorities” take over, which they will, they always do.
And what has inspired me? Three nights “up north” in Yorkshire. A family weekend, celebrating my father’s birthday.
We are quite an outdoorsy bunch and so much of the weekend was spent exploring the historic city of York and decidedly upmarket town of Harrogate. We followed the normal tourist trails, but being forever drawn to horticultural treasures and with the foresight to arm myself with my “big camera”, I was often left some distance behind my family troup, building up this aforementioned inspiration at every loitering step, like a bee zigzagging her happy way across a wild flower meadow.
And so, I have jotted down for you, the readers of my first ever garden-related blog post, my top ten gardening joys of York and Harrogate. The highlights selected are skewed towards my preference for kitchen gardening: I’m a sucker for luscious vegetables interseeded amongst nasturtiums, cosmos or sunflowers. But, there’s a few non-edible nibbles mixed in which are too beautiful to stay locked in my dusty digital photo library.
I’ve limited my list to ten, for speed of reading, as I know you are all under the same time pressure as I, but that you love to spend the odd ten minutes reading a short blog post.
Here begins the first of mine.
Ten horticultural highlights of my weekend in York and Harrogate
(Listed in no particular order)
1. Hollyhock against white townhouse wall
(Precentors Court, near York Minster)
My first highlight is one single plant, highlighted by the blank white canvas it leans against. A single, pink hollyhock. Shining brightly. Framing the large townhouse window to its left, which contains a small white dog. It could all be the subject of a painting, possibly it already is.
2. The Hanging Baskets of York and Harrogate
I was so impressed by the floral efforts of the public houses and public spaces of York and Harrogate. This pub “The Punch Bowl” with masses of petunias and begonias in hanging baskets is just one example of the exuberant colour spilling from the old buildings across the city.
3. A Small Kitchen Garden inside York Walls
Part of the beautiful boutique hotel Grays Court hotel, this small garden lies against the northern City Walls of York. As a south-facing, half-a-walled-garden, it benefits from plentiful sunlight and warmth. It’s an informal kitchen garden, laid on the steep slope up to the Walls. The bright green tower of climbing beans first caught my attention, quickly drawing my eye to the neat lines of root vegetables in the lower raised beds. There was also a bright white gravel path contrasting with round banks of lavender, rosemary, teasel and alliums. Three, ceaselessly attractive, terracotta bells for forcing rhubarb hinted at an earlier proud season of “Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb”, a speciality of the county, which the owner no doubt enjoys in the early spring.
4. Edible York raised bed (York city walls)
Having heard of “Edible Bristol” via Twitter, I was so pleased to stumble upon a small raised bed of fruit, vegetables and herbs grown by “Edible York”. Again, just inside the City Walls, this time right next to The Red Tower to the east of the city. Offering neighbours the opportunity to pick fresh parsley, chives, courgette, tomatoes, fennel, pak choi, beans and oregano, the chalkboard encourages people of the city to help themselves and enjoy! I certainly enjoyed both the surprise on seeing it and explaining the concept of the bed to my family.
5. Hydrangeas imprisoned behind a pretty wrought iron fence (Harrowgate, A61)
Moving on to my all-too-brief visit to Harrogate, I was so impressed with the vast amounts of open green spaces as we walked into the town for an evening meal. There were flowers everywhere in the public spaces and it’s clear that the people of the town take pride in keeping the town bright and colourful.
However, inspiration for me is usually in the form of something small, that I can replicate (or, shamelessly steal for) myself. One such idea was this beautiful blue-grey wrought iron fence, holding back masses of bright pink hydrangea heads. I love hydrangeas and during the time I lived in the Netherlands I saw many a front garden containing large green and white hydrangeas and I have dreamed of a front garden like this ever since. But, the garden of this townhouse, (which had both a plaque and a name which I’m now kicking myself I didn’t note down) took what is actually quite a sterile idea in white and green towards a garden with a lot more personality. An expression of forbidden love perhaps? These big pink hearts, being held back, carefully, within a soft blue-railed prison. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but regardless, a stunning display running the entire length of the front garden with dozens of perfectly formed hydrangea heads.
6. Flower-filled Boots (RHS Harlow Carr)
I may be developing a weird fetish for old boots, I posted some recently on Twitter which had been turned into cosy-looking bird houses on the walls of the kitchen garden at Hughenden Manor. I’m sure it’s only limited to upcycling well-worn and well-loved gardening equipment, we all have it, and these boots have had new life planted in them, literally. Upon entering RHS Harlow Carr and descending the steps into the garden, each visitor is greeted by these boots, planted using flowers and decorations seemingly reflecting the past-occupants personality. The boot containing a pink fuchsia and decorated with bumble bees was my favourite.
7. Fig-leaved Gourd tunnel (RHS Harlow Carr)
Now, those of you that know me on Twitter, know of my husband and my liking for an allotment plot construction or two. We have previously replicated the Bean Arch found by @beetsgeneration at RHS Harlow Carr and I am the proud inventor of the “Rainbow Pea Support” (Copyright: Grow Lotty Grow, 2017). So, yes, we are always on the lookout for a new idea, to push the boundaries of plot construction at our allotment site. I think we found our first new idea for the 2018 plot yesterday, once again at RHS Harlow Carr. It was a tunnel built to support the growth of the “Fig-leaved gourd” and it was magnificent!
Fig-leaved gourds have the most amazing fig-leaved shaped leaves, making for a beautiful tunnel. The fruits were huge too, meaning that that tunnel needed to be pretty sturdy – a fair challenge for my husband’s construction skills. My plot neighbour does grow his Asian-sourced gourds on a frame, but this tunnel takes a step forward in plot design, I think. This will be added to my 2018 Plot Plan, if I can get approval and sign off from the Chief Construction Officer.
8. Purple Kale “Redbor” (RHS Harlow Carr)
I’m sure I’ve seen this on Twitter before, but never up close and personal. This purple “Kale Redbor” is a curly kale, which would brighten up any allotment plot or kitchen garden through the winter. I’ve added it to my 2018 plot plan and it seems to be available at all the usual seed companies.
9. Cosmos varieties at RHS Harlow Carr
The Lakeside Gardens at RHS Harlow Carr were alive with colour during my visit yesterday, and among the floral highlights (of which there were many), were for me the ruffled-silk like varieties of cosmos. Included in the range of beautiful pinks were a lighter, ice cream pink variety: Cosmos Double Click Rose, and her darker sister Cosmos Double Click Cranberry. Both blooms would perform beautifully in a summer display, alongside the dahlias I have grown this year in my cut-flower bed.
10. Wild flower meadows at RHS Harlow Carr
At the end of our visit to RHS Harlow Carr (and when we arrived too, but less fittingly), we were waved off by swaying crowds of colour in the wild-flower borders lining the car park. The meadowland theme features throughout the gardens, with large tracts of land dedicated to meadow flowers and grasses. The local bees clearly love it as much as the visitors who have travelled for miles to enjoy the famous gardens.
I would like to note my thanks to Esme of www.thebeetsgeneration.wordpress.com and @BeetsGeneration on Twitter for posting the photos she has this year of RHS Harlow Carr. Her photos have not only been of inspiration to me this year on my allotment plot, but also encouraged me to visit the gardens this weekend as an extra bolt-on day to our family weekend (and re-activate my membership of the RHS). It proves to me, a marketing freelancer, that there is a lot of power in social media influencers, although it maybe hard to harness in such a natural way.
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