Brent Elliott is the author and as he's historian to the RHS, this is the best possible choice. I've heard him speak on a couple of occasions and really appreciate how his dry sense of humour brings his subject to life, particularly when detailing with relish the stormy arguments and mass resignations of the committee during the RHS's early years. Happily his humour (and details of arguments!) shine through in this account.
I found it best to tackle this volume twice. Once for all the plentiful pictures and good captioning, then reading the detailed text at my second sitting. Both are excellent, but trying to read both together was a bit much for me.
Chelsea has changed immensely over the years, except for one thing: the picture of 1932's Sundries Avenue on page 42 looks almost exactly the same today (apart from the clothes worn by the exhibitors). We have the alpine societies to thank for today's show gardens. It was they who pioneered taking their 'table top' displays outside the show tent and showcasing their plants in large rock gardens built especially for the RHS' pre-Chelsea Spring shows. That tradition continued into the new Chelsea venue and part of the show garden area today is still called the Rock Garden Embankment even though they've long gone. I wonder what the alpine societies make of their legacy today?
The show has seen other huge changes - the shift from a society event and the start of the 'season', through to a more celebrity-led occasion today. Then there's the rise of the show garden above that of the plantsman (helped enormously by TV coverage, though the two are in better balance when visiting the show). In the early years, an enthusiastic, but knowledgeable amateur could hold his own (it was almost invariably a he) with all the professionals. Today it's all big business and corporate sponsorship, with very little room for the amateur (though you can find them if you look hard enough, particularly if they're a national collection holder or from a school).
All this and more is documented meticulously in words and pictures and is very readable. I also loved the inclusion of the 'My Chelsea' features scattered throughout the book. Here many of Chelsea's great 'personalities' - many of them from behind the scenes - say why the show is so special to them. I particularly enjoyed Jerry Harpur recalling how few photographers were in attendance when he first started. Now there's over 60 of them, all competing in a diminishing market for their pictures. It's just as well for them that Chelsea is one of the few times when gardening becomes mainstream media.
You've probably guessed I've enjoyed this book immensely, but might be wondering where it fits in my Chelsea sneak preview series, seeing it reflects very much on the past. That's because some of the photographs from the RHS's archive have been made into poster-sized exhibits for display throughout the showground. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them on Monday and hope my favourite one (see pages 32-33) is there.
If you like the look of this book, you can possibly get your hands on a copy as Karen is kindly giving hers away. She may not appreciate I've told you this as she's rather hoping she can keep it for herself ;)
Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review purposes.
Previous Sneak Previews for Chelsea 2013:
Friday, 17 May 2013
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
|Herefordshire Russet & Red Windsor - I'm rather liking the apple, Pulmonaria and Dicentra combo at the bottom left|
Most years, my garden's apple blossom falls between April and May's Blooms Days. This year its timing is perfect and I was relieved to find the bees buzzing amongst the blooms despite the cooler weather we're having lately.
March's extreme cold means it's a bumper year for apple blossom*. Now I'm crossing my fingers for a bumper pollination and harvest. Don't mention to the weather gods I've said that, will you?
* = most apple varieties require lots of hours - between 400 and 1,000 - of cooler temperatures (just above freezing) to break winter dormancy and for good blossom formation = minimum chill requirement. There are some varieties which require substantially less than that (100-200 hours e.g. Anna). It will be these varieties we may need to look to plant in the future if longer term climate change means our winters get warmer.
Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
Monday, 13 May 2013
I first tasted this delicious cordial at Sarah Raven's Grow Cook Eat day in aid of Horatio's Garden in March. Sarah has kindly given me permission to reproduce the recipe here on Veg Plotting. I'll be adding my own notes from the day and from making my own, though you can also view the original recipe on Sarah's website.
As you can see the result is a pearlescent cordial with just a hint of pink from the original rhubarb. The taste is subtle, yet you can easily discern the recipe's main ingredients. I've used about half the sugar given in the recipe and for me that hasn't spoiled the flavour when diluted. I'm also going to experiment with using the sweet cicely from my herb planter to reduce the sugar content still further.
It's also a timely recipe if you're getting a bit fed up of rhubarb by now, yet your patch is still producing copious quantities. I've made a batch of rhubarb and ginger jam as usual and this is another suitable glutbuster idea :)
- 2kg rhubarb stems (trimmed weight), roughly chopped (as you probably don't have the means to weigh your plunder up at the plot, this equates to a huge armful)
- 2 large oranges
- 8-10 whole star anise
- 1.2 kg granulated sugar (though method later says 600-800g)
- Citric acid or juice of 3 lemons (both optional)
- Put all the rhubarb into a large pan (a very large pan actually!) and add 1.5 litres cold water (you don't want to cover it completely with water as this dilutes the flavour of the cordial). Using a potato peeler take four or so strips of skin from each orange, add this to the pan with the juice of both oranges (zapped in the microwave first on full for 30 seconds to maximise the amount of juice obtained) and add the star anise.
- Bring the rhubarb up to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently until the rhubarb is soft (it may look like mush at this stage). Take off the heat and allow to cool for an hour (or overnight in my case).
- Pour the rhubarb and juice into a large jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through overnight (if you don't have a jelly bag, a large piece of muslin tied to the legs of an upside down stool makes a great improvised one).
- Now pour the collected juice into a pan (and compost the unwanted rhubarb solids) and on a low heat add the sugar (about 600-800g, but do taste as you go, so you get the sweetness you want, remember it will get diluted with water). Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- You can add 2 teaspoons of citric acid at this stage if you want to store this for several months, but this is not necessary if the cordial is going to be used straight away. The citric acid does give the cordial a good tart kick, or you can add the juice of 3 lemons for a sharper flavour (I've used neither and I'm still very pleased with the flavour. I'm not intending this cordial to stay around very long, so no citric acid for me)
- Allow the cordial to cool.
- Pour into sterilised bottles (I warm them in the oven at 100oC for a few minutes beforehand) and store in the fridge. Makes approximately 1.5 litres.
- Dilute to taste and add ice cubes and/or a mint leaf if so desired
- This cordial can be made from March to May depending on the rhubarb varieties you have available: Timperley Early in March, Stockbridge Arrow in April and Victoria for May. I grow Victoria, hence this recipe appearing on the blog this month :)
- Some finely chopped fresh ginger could be used instead of the star anise. NAH reckons cinnamon would also work well.
- Seasonal variations include elderflower in May/June, then red or white currants, followed by scented leaf pelargoniums, plum (or back to rhubarb again) in August and finally quince in the autumn. You might also like to try making my Easy Apple Juice in the autumn.
- Rhubarb is used as a marker by archaeologists to indicate habited areas
- Rhubarb can last 100 years - divide every 3 years in July/August and don't harvest for 3 years to allow the divided rhubarb to establish itself again
- It's a hungry crop, so feed well in late winter - in Yorkshire (where the rhubarb triangle is) they use shoddy (waste from the woollen industry) as a feed
- Keep picking rhubarb from spring to late summer, then allow the plant some recovery time for next year's crop
- NB citric acid can be hard to get hold of - try health food or brewing shops
For lots more seasonal recipes - not just for rhubarb - have a look at my Easy Recipe Finder. Oh, and the recipes are pretty easy too :)
Friday, 10 May 2013
I had a great day at Malvern Show yesterday - it's officially a vintage year. Instead of giving you the full tour (which will be on TV tonight at 8pm), I'll be focusing on a snippet or three from time to time.
This is the last ever display of pleiones from Ian Butterfield. I hadn't come across this genus before I started visiting shows and whilst I don't really have the right conditions to grow them (they're a ground orchid which likes to grow on tree trunks and in rock crevices), I do appreciate getting up close and personal to them at the spring shows.
Ian Butterfield is the national collection holder and avid hybridiser. He reassured me his show retirement doesn't mean he'll be stopping his work. "I still haven't managed to breed a green one", he told me, "and I'll still be supplying plants. It's just the effort of staging an exhibition that's getting a bit much now". NB Ian is in his 80s and I hope I'm as sprightly as he is when I get to his age :)
This photo illustrates Ian's total confidence and experience as an exhibitor. This is his entire stock of P 'Sabatini', just 5 plants (there's one hidden behind the label). I'd be scared to death of losing them, but I'm sure Ian gives them the utmost of care.
I hope pleiones continue to be exhibited by other growers. I've found the shows are a great way of discovering and learning about new plants. I might have eventually come across them by other means, but it wouldn't have been half as much fun. And what could be better than talking 1:1 with the expert on them?
What plant discoveries have you made at garden shows?
PS here's a couple of extra snippets from me elsewhere on the blogosphere: a suitable Friday Bench plus the Best in Show from the Floral Marquee. And Patient Gardener made her show debut :)
PPS What does the curator of RHS Wisley do on his day off? Why, attend Malvern of course! I caught up with Colin Crosbie in the Floral Marquee, where he enthused about the display of Primula sieboldii we had in front of us. It was he who told me it was Ian Butterfield's last show.