By Ace Garden Services, www.acegardenservices.co.uk
First place was given to the Toorak Hotel in the large garden category for hotels.
The competition is judged during July, and the judges can turn up on any day during this month.
The garden grounds are maintained by, Ace Garden Services, and it is their job to design and plant up the gardens borders for the holiday makers, and of course the Torbay in Bloom competition.
This year additional borders were put in, and new raised beds were created in the inner garden.
The main emphasis was on the twenty metre long flower border running parallel to the Chestnut avenue road, this narrow road is the main access to the Hotel and also to the English Riviera Centre, which is Torbay’s, International Conference and Leisure Centre.
The flower bed is five foot higher than the adjoining road and has a wide retaining wall, this meant that the new outer border which was approx 1.5 metres wide would be on show to all passing cars and pedestrians, but trailing plants were not an option due to the width of the wall and the strong winds that blow along the road.
Short bedding plants would not be seen and would not blend into the already established border. The middle of the bed was full of large Agapanthus clumps and Golden Rod and Day lilies which were fine when viewed from the garden but not from the roadside. The green foliage created a twenty metre long green hedge, with the occasional flower leaning over.
So all plants in this stretch were dug up divided and transplanted during the winter months, it meant that six very large agapanthus clumps had to be dug up, some three feet across. These were chopped into 3 or 4 sections and planted along the middle stretch to ensure that there will be Agapanthus flowers along the whole length eventually, when they recover from the shock of being moved.
The soil was compacted and probably had not had any compost for over ten years. The stretch was dug over and 30 bags of compost were chopped into the top six inches.
It was decided not to plant this bed up for the spring display as the other beds close by next to the main entrance are full of spring bulbs.
These beds are also planted up after the bulbs have finished with summer bedding plants and perennials and they have a few small evergreen shrubs for the winter display. The decision was taken not to dig out all the bulbs each year and replant in one go, but to add the plants whenever there was an available gap.
This obviously creates problems and makes life difficult at times but it does ensure that the bed is flowering every week for all the holiday makers. It also prevents regimental planting schemes from occurring, and as there are perennials and shrubs in the bed the planting schemes have a cottage garden feel to them. I am not sure that this is exactly what the Torbay in Bloom judges want to see, but the reason behind it is to create flower beds that will be flowering for all twelve months. But I guess they liked it this year.
So the new bed had been weeded dug over and prepared and a few ideas had been thrown into the melting pot.
During the dig quite a few Cannas had been removed and placed at one end in a dug out trench and covered. These were to be the full stops along the bed, three clumps planted, each one about a metre long. It is normally ok to leave Cannas planted during the winter months in Devon, but the winter of 2010 was not a normal winter.
Compost was quickly thrown on top of the soil above the plants and then the snow added another layer.
During late spring they were carefully dug out and examined, some were obviously dead and the rest were a bit battered, but they were planted anyway and fingers were kept crossed.
The three groups of Cannas if they survived would create four smaller beds, and a certain amount of symmetry would also be used when planting.
The very cold spring meant that bedding plants were late, but eventually the weather warmed up enough to allow some planting in early June and a selection of Marguerites and blue Lobelia to make a start. Plus Dahlia tubers and an enormous amount of self grown Verbena bonariensis were planted the whole length of the bed and in the middle area. It was these that were to bind the new stretch and the old existing bed together.
The Cannas started to grow, so we now knew that we were on track, the next plan of action was to plant some perennials, Guaras were always going to be used to give the bed some movement on windy days and to add white to the bed. They are so easy to keep flowering and they look good.
Other bedding plants were added as the bed took shape and by the beginning of July it was still not ready, due to the cold weather. The judging normally takes place towards the end of the month so we were not too worried. They new that everyone was struggling this year so surely they would not come early, fingers crossed again.
The bed was pretty much finished, all it had to do was grow, so we moved on to the new raised planters in the inner garden. These had only just been finished and were not really going to be planted with bedding plants, but due to the summer drought it was decided not to plant too many expensive architectural plants, and so the race to find the last of the bedding plants that were suitable and not leggy, began.
Every last plant in Devon was grabbed and the plants were arranged as best we could, a few ornamental grasses were used and one raised bed was completely filled with Verbena bonariensis with an under planting of red flowering Achilleas , Blue Salvias were planted on mass and Ganzias dominated the first beds. Black leaved Dahlias Happy Juliet, were doted around and on the other side of the lawn New Zealand busy lizzies were planted. Other plants included Geraniums, Gerbaras and white flowed marigolds.
Luckily the white lilies were in full bloom during most of July
A few tubs on the terrace were planted up, and the area outside the main entrance had new planters built either side of the entrance which were planted with trailing Surfinias to cascade down onto the steps and then about twelve hanging baskets were placed around the Hotel.
After this all that was required was to make sure everything was watered and deadheaded and fed.
And then came the weekend storm during the middle of July, it had not rained for weeks so when the storm arrived it left everything looking totally bedraggled, so more plant buying, more repairs to the tubs and then having to find new hanging baskets.
During the middle of July all the Marguerites stopped flowering, perhaps because we had not dead headed them quickly enough as we always had to assume that the judges would be around in the next few days, so more black leaved Dahlias ‘Happy Juliet’ were bought with Rudbekia and Gerbaras, and then quickly planted beside them with.
Eventually by the end of the month all the Agapanthus were flowering and the Verbena bonariensis had finally taken off throughout the bed, a few of the Golden rods were starting to flower and all the other bedding plants were in full flower in this bed and all the other beds around the hotel.
When the judges visit they usually leave a card afterwards to say they have been.
No card was left, and after a telephone call it was learnt that they could come in the first week in August.
More frantic dead heading and watering, and still no card in left in August.
Another phone call, - “ They do not always leave a card “
A few weeks later we had forgotten all about the competition and we were sitting having our lunch at another job, when Nigel Beck the Toorak manager telephoned with the good news.
“ I knew you were going to win this year” he said .
“Oh of course, it was nothing, - please do not enter next year “
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