chlesea flahr show rushes

This year there was no chelsea. I wasn't going to go (I can manage about one year in three) but I missed it nevertheless. The TV coverage never really hits the spot for me in a normal year. This year, show gardens have been donated straight to end recipient or broken up for bits, flowers have wilted in the nurseries, and while the nation may be fretfully and frantically gardening in their allotted spaces, it doesn't feel like the vast, blousy, decadent celebration of all things vegetation that I am craving.

Yeah, so I decided to fix that. In my back garden.

You have to work with what you have to hand, of course, which for me is a lot of playmobil, plastic dinosaurs, suffering plants and weeds. Though I did end up casting the show-tents from the knick-knacks, which seemed to work out quite well for them.

Hmp, I'm spotting errors already. But that's in the nature of rushes. Look out for more from the Chlesea Flahr show crew soon. It's a big show-ground after all (if you look at it from toy scale) and there is a lot more to get around.

solidarity with the pot-plant rescuers

It's not the most important thing, of course, in the scheme of things. But if you only take time for the most important things, you end up missing most of what's important, writing self help books, or worse, both. But in Paris, the pot plants abandoned during the hasty shut-down, are being rescued, recovered and rehabilitated.  It's a small thing, but a beautiful thing.

So is this. It's a Dragon Tree I found abandoned, water-rotted and radiator-withered in a bin on the way out of work many years ago. I nursed it back to health and it followed me, sometimes at a discreet distance, at other times like a huge green spiky shadow, through the office moves and periodic pot-plant bans every large office space suffers.

But I had to leave it behind when I left the office to go and work from  home, following the guidance, sticking to the rules. I realised I couldn't carry it and the other things I needed to work from home, did the calculation, realised an extra trip to retrieve a pot plant was not a necessary journey, and left it in the office. Mentally, I said goodbye.

Prematurely, I said goodbye:

I gave it a very, very good water before leaving the office in a hurry, but even so, it was abandoned for almost two months. It's not put on any growth and it has lost a leaf or two, but mostly this plant just pressed pause, as desert plants can.

Other plants in the office were not as fortunate. The Peace Plants, especially, every single one was wilted and gone. But my fierce dragon prevails.

allotment catch-up

In times of lockdown, the allotment is a lifeline. Genuine exercise, gentle sociability. My plot is still one of the messiest on the site (bar the ones that are passing out of or awaiting cultivation). Some of this is my green manure, some of it is me planting flowers. Below: mustard greens and allium.

I've decided that we will do flowers on the allotment. I always somewhat intended to, but from next year it will be in plan.


My main food crops this year are classic poor soil items; potatoes, beans, peas and onions (various). The beans went in successionally, some in autumn, some in spring. The late beans are still in flower while the early ones are filling out (hopefully nicely). This spectacular spider was  hanging out in the beans, ambushing pollinators. One of my allotment neighbours has bee hives, the site is very bee-populous of all varieties. Another reason to grow more flowers.

broad bean spider

Social distancing rules on my allotment allows for two people per allotment, but in practice we're lightly populated. But it's also lovely to see people; one of my co-allotmenters gave me leeks this week! Here they are getting accustomed to my space. Hopefully I'll get them in soil before they dry and die.


The frost, though brief, caused serious damage. Almost every strawberry flower has black-eye and those without probably won't make good fruit. "Don't plant strawberries in exposed spaces" the RHS website says, helpfully. Well, the geodesic dome should help shelter them next year. The potatoes could care less about the frost. It burned off their top growth, so they're making more. I gave them some more grass mulch, in case it happens again? Frost in June, it has been known. What a weird year though - so dry and then a sharp cold snap.

strawberry black eye

potato bounce back  potato bounce back

I have a lot of oats on the allotment. I don't remember planting them, they just turned up. Can I eat them? Make my own porridge? Do I need to wait for them to ripen? I remember eating green wheat as a child. The elephant garlic is coming up nicely which is pleasing -- along with lots of other aliums, which would like more water please.

wild oat harvest elephant garlic

Finally to my Jerusalem Artichokes. These should run and run once I have got them established. The tubers are mostly sprouting happily (two seem to have failed but may turn up later) and have broken soil and are ready to start running up to their yellow flowers. We like the flavour, which is just as well as they're supposed to be prolific.

Jerusalem artichoke

Prolific, tough, perennial. Music to my ears.

secret gardens for every public/work/learning space

There is a special magic about walking through a building and suddenly glimpsing a startle of green through an internal window and realising that in the middle of internal life the external has leaked in, bright and fuzzy, a smoosh of ribald life and growth in the cool humaniform busyness. You have found a quad, a lightwell, an accessible roofspace, a courtyard, an atrium and its openness and light have driven a small clearing-back of humanity and a small interposition of the natural world.

They are seldom very natural of course. Most are gardened, the occasional wild one an accident of non-access or of neglect. Many have specific purposes, tasks and objectives; shading, cooling, airflow and more numinous concepts like wellbeing and mental health boosts. I say numinous, but you can measure the benefits of greenery, greenspace, open air, nature exposure. It's proven and yet somehow still feels indulgent. Perhaps the indulgence is a part of the benefit.


None work harder than hospital gardens. The Derriford Secret Garden, opening its arms to exhausted workers, with wide paths to wheel ICU patients between the raised beds. The Royal Derby Garden, with its cheerful murals and safe, accessible doorways. Kings is creating a rooftop garden, Salisbury has its Healing Garden, all chasing benefits to staff, family, visitors and patients.

But I would go beyond just requiring this for healing spaces. I would say this: all places humans are require secret gardens. All home spaces, work spaces, living spaces need green spaces. From seventieth storey flats to underground bunkers, from open plan offices to busy warehouses, it is not enough to have access to green areas or views of greenery (though both are good things in themselves), there must be space for enclosed green, the safe warm sheltered space of a secret garden.

Birmingham Secret Garden

It can be indoors, in a space congenial for pot plants, or lit for hydroponic growing, why not? The student pot plant, at its most basic, is a bare marker for this item, the methadone of gardens, a tiny green drop that sustains you between spaces where there is space for proper green. But I would propose a minimum set of items:

  • Safe space to sit, and simply be surrounded by greenery
  • Space to grow your own food or flowers, to touch and get your hands dirty
  • Space where you can smell the soil, leaves and flowers
  • Space to view, where the full field of vision is surrounded by green
  • Space where life is growing in a self-directed way (e.g. insects, small fish)
That first stipulation, that the space should be safe, is a pertinent one in the assessment of the benefit of publicly accessible green space. A garden is private and safe. Parks are public space, and subject to the negotiations and contingencies of the commons. Everyone needs some of both kinds of green -- the safe, internal secret garden, as well as the open green spaces to run and play.

marston campus quad

Buildings without gardens within them are missing something that makes them and their inhabitants thrive more completely, and the clue is in the metaphops that come in from the garden and sprout in workplace well-being discussions; grounding, growth and shoots of bright green irrepressible hope.

poplar fluff burns, willow fluff floats

Mesmeric, reminiscent of a render change:

It can be dangerous ( The fire in the Monzón poplar burns 30 hectares ), it certainly happens, and it probably seldom looks this tidy.

In the UK we have willow fluff instead, and maybe some terrifyingly dry spring, it could do the same. After all, it is ignitable. Here is how it would normally look, which is COMPLETELY SAFE.

Assuming it's been raining as much as it should in April and May. This year, kids, don't burn willow fluff.