Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Weekend Wandering: An hour in Munich

Neues Rathaus aka the New Town Hall in Marienplatz, Munich
Neues Rathaus aka the New Town Hall in Marienplatz, Munich  

Is one hour enough to explore Munich? The answer is yes... and no.

Of course I would have liked more time to explore further, but an hour's certainly worth grabbing with both hands (and feet) when the opportunity arises.

View of the Bayerisches Nationaltheater on Max-Joseph-Platz
Our drop-off point, right by the huge architecture of the Bayerisches Nationaltheater on Max-Joseph-Platz  

Several factors helped make our time there worthwhile:
  • We were dropped off in the heart of the city, which is nicely compact to explore on foot
  • I was with someone who'd been there before, so no stopping to consult the map was needed
  • I had a vague idea of a couple of things I wanted to see nearby
  • I had 3 companions who were a huge help as we spotted more things of interest between us. Our conversation and delight at being there added to my experience of the city
We took a walk of around half a kilometre in a south westerly direction. Let's see what we found...

A walk around Munich city centre
A walk around the city centre

I like the feel of this city. It was bombed extensively during WWII, but unlike Birmingham where I grew up, the city's planners decided to keep to the previous layout for the rebuild. This decision also extended to the architecture of buildings like the Bayerisches Nationaltheater which was totally destroyed. Its later extension is also in keeping with the original design.

This approach gives a pleasing cohesion to the city centre. I also like the traditional style paintings and other ornamentation seen on many of the buildings, plus the plentiful bike storage areas. Like London, the centre of Munich is a low emissions zone, so the streets weren't choked with cars on the day we were there. There are underground train and tram systems to explore too.

Views of the New and Old Town Halls and the Marienplatz
Views of the New Town Hall and the Marienplatz. Top right is the Old Town Hall

The Gothic revival New Town Hall is a dramatic exception to the general architecture seen in the city, which I think still works. The main tower has a glockenspiel carillon (shown in the main picture above) which plays at 11am and 12pm (plus 5pm in summer). Luckily we arrived just in time to hear it chiming away.

In view of the cold, I was surprised to find the square's fountain was working, though there was also plenty of ice in evidence too.

Some of the goods on offer at Manufactum
Main picture: the deli section at Manufactum, which I've chosen to feature as German bread was sooooo good

There are plenty of shopping opportunities, and although I didn't plan to do that I did enjoy a brief look around Manufactum, an upmarket modern lifestyle store. I like this kind of shop as it gives a good idea of what's available and a country's general style. In the gardening section, the emphasis was on looking after our wildlife in winter, and I couldn't resist a photo of some hi-fi items for NAH.

Judging by some of my colleagues' shopping bags, Munich is good for Zara; bargain jumpers and warm winter hats; and quality kitchen knives. In contrast, I bought a kitsch magnet for my collection from a touristy stall which shows a snowy Marienplatz within a pretzel.

The Viktualienmarkt

One of my must-sees was the Viktualienmarkt. The site is a farmers market with around 100 stalls which dates back to the 1800s. They sold cheeses; fruit and vegetables; meat and game; sausages and cooked meats (including the famous Bavarian weisswurst aka white sausage); honey; plus decorative items made from dried flowers, seeds and woody materials.

Where appropriate stalls also sold wines and spirits to match their main produce. Many of them were protected by see-through plastic sheeting to protect their goods and customers/stallkeepers from the cold (around -14oC whilst we were there).  Note there's also a beer garden in the centre of the market, which sells locally brewed beer.

The indoor market

In nearby Blumenstrasse (aka Flower Street), the covered Schrannenhalle was warm and chic. This hall is a recent addition to the area, though the building was constructed from the century old materials (or more) reclaimed from the grain market that was on the site originally.

It had a marked Italian flavour and some innovative ways of displaying goods, one of which I may 'steal' for Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day. I also liked the way planters and black ironwork were used to screen the shopping area from the relaxed cafe.

Blutenrein flower shop

Imagine my delight when we chanced upon Blutenrein, an ultra-chic flower shop in the Viktualienmarkt. Both indoors and out were crammed with seasonal arrangements of flowers, plants and all kinds of gardeny trinkets, most of which I wanted to bring home with me. Having hand luggage only meant I had to restrict my choice to just one plant label (lavendel).

I particularly liked the tulip kokedama shown in the lower middle picture as I've not seen them used that way before. The shop's website is well worth a look, especially as you get to see the owner who served us, as well as all kinds of chic ideas and a better view of the shop's outside. I've since found out we were lucky to find the shop open as he'd only reopened the day before following his winter break.

View towards the Spatenhaus an der Oper restaurant
And finally back to Max-Joseph-Platz for lunch - our restaurant is the second building on the left

It's confession time - my hour in Munich didn't include the jolly meal we had at Spatenhaus an der Oper afterwards. This beautiful restaurant specialises in Bavarian dishes, which ensured we had a good taste of the region as well as its capital city.

Disclosure: Viking were my kind hosts for this trip, who not only showed their passion for the design, testing and production of their garden products, they were also keen to show off the best that Kufstein, Austria and Munich have to offer.

It was the most interesting, comfortable and enjoyable of times and I'm still pinching myself I was there. My thanks to everyone who helped organise the trip and to my delightful companions who joined me.

Getting there

Munich is just over an hour and a half away from London Heathrow by air with easy transfers available into the city by train (it takes around 45 minutes). It's perfect for another Weekend Wander - with NAH this time - methinks. I've included as many links as I can above so we can explore further and plan a visit at our leisure.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Hope in a garden

Fun garden entrance at Heligan

Yesterday was so-called 'Blue Monday', the day of the year when we're supposed to be at our most miserable. I can't think of a better way to counteract the winter blues than to visit a garden, especially when it's in Cornwall.

Come with me for a quick pick me up trot around Heligan, which I had the good fortune to visit last week...

Camellia in full bloom in January

The warmer Cornish climate is always going to cheer the heart in January, especially when the Camellias are enormous and in full flower like this one. There were plenty of daffodils in evidence too, plus lots of tender plants such as Dicksonia not wearing fleecy winter coats like they need in my garden.

This is a garden that gives hope that spring will come, even in the darkest days of winter.

Heligan Kitchen garden collage
Click to enlarge for a better view of the garden details

Winter is a great time to admire fruit tree pruning perfection, top-up greenhouse and cold frame envy, and appreciate the odd splashes of colour to be found in the enormous kitchen garden. I also added tool shed envy to my list of sighs, though only my photo of the hundreds of terracotta pots in there is worthy of inclusion on our walk.

Heligan takes advantage of the sea's bounty as they're allowed to harvest local seaweed for their mulched beds. It's also here in the kitchen garden where we find many of the poignant reminders of Heligan's story of the gardeners who left for WWI and never returned.

Wheelbarrows lined up ready for action at Heligan

I idly wondered what happens if a gardener appears with the wrong wheelbarrow for the area they're looking after ;)

A quick walk to The Jungle
The walk to The Jungle... and back. A small selection of the views and plants we found
A brisk walk to The Jungle allowed us to take in plenty of the rest of the garden, though sadly we didn't have time to explore the wider estate of around 200 acres.

We did have time to admire the restios, agaves and other unusual plants; focus in on interesting textures, bark in particular; have a discussion on land art (such as Andy Goldsworthy - the pictured form is Growth and Decay by Cornish sculptor James Eddy); and to sniff the glorious Mahonia, thoughtfully placed at the side of one of the paths, just at a time when a pause for a breather was needed.

Naomi Slade on the rope bridge at Heligan
Thanks to Naomi Slade for her invitation to join her for her talks at the Cornwall Garden Society
I also managed a new photographic technique - taking pictures whilst the two of us bounced up and down on the rope bridge!

Thanks goes to Heligan for their hospitality and allowing us to go garden bothering at relatively short notice, and to the Cornwall Garden Society for making us both so welcome.

Old tools artwork
I loved the use of old tools in the artwork decorating Heligan's cafe. Their salads are fab too!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Beginnings

Suggested resolutions for 2017

Here's a chuckle for regular readers who know I don't make new year's resolutions... it's the answer to a meme I was tempted by on Facebook the other day. It's a pretty good set of actions to live by in 2017... if I only knew who Ruth is!

However, despite my lack of resolutions I have made some new commitments for 2017. The clue is in the top line above; my mother's move to a local nursing home means I'll be spending more time with my family this year. I'm learning to appreciate the little things too - the impact of mum's stroke affected her speech, so every new word she speaks, or when she manages to string several together are very much appreciated. They're small victories to celebrate with a cheer.

As a result we smile a lot rather than talk. Each one is much appreciated by me as mum couldn't smile at all for a while and they show she's more comfortable in her new home. Her face lights up when the staff come into the room, so I'm reassured I've made a good choice for her. Today we had laughter too and a grabbing of both hands, a sign that some strength is returning to her at last. I'm told the road to recovery from a stroke can take up to two years, so we're living each of those precious moments too.

One of mum's new words is 'flower', in response to the thoughtful Christmas gift of a bowl of hyacinths from the nursing home staff. She loves their scent and her strong response to them means I've resolved to grow some cut flowers for her this year. I've earmarked two of my raised beds on the allotment, and I'm in the process of making a list of what to grow. Look out for more blog posts once seed sowing starts.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Postcard from 2016

Some of my favourite highlights of 2016. Here's to a wonderful 2017 for you and yours :)

Monday, 19 December 2016

Seasons Greetings

Christmas lights on Oxford Street
Bustling Oxford Street when I treated myself to a day out in London recently. 

Merry Christmas everyone! Here's to a brighter, kinder 2017.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

A Quick Update...

Festive yarn bombing on Chippenham High Street
I couldn't resist this week's festive yarn bombing on Chippenham's High Street  
Just popped in for a quick update and to show you some cheerful pictures. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post; your good wishes have helped me through the past few weeks.

Mum moves down to Wiltshire tomorrow, so cross your fingers it all goes smoothly. There are still a lot of hoops to go through, but we're getting there... slowly.

It'll be a while before I'm back to regular blogging again, but I'll pop in from time to time for a quick update or two.

In the meantime, here's the full story from our local paper on who's behind Chippenham's yarn bombing. Someone even wrote in with a thank you letter :)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A pause for thought

A butter-yellow leafed tree with matching garage door
I love how the tree matches the garage door at this time of the year. The house is just round the corner from us.

Sometimes life conspires to take you down a different path to the one expected. It was just such a diversion which led to the start of Veg Plotting nine years ago today, when I realised being a distance carer was more important than my job.

I started this blog on the day I wrote my resignation letter and what a sensible move that's been. It's meant I have at least one happy place in my life and it's allowed me to tell the stories which my head demands be told each time I go to the allotment. It turns out this new path has its own unexpected twists and turns, with plenty of new friends and surprises I've welcomed along the way.

To keep Veg Plotting happy means I choose not to talk much about the most personal aspects of my life. Until today that is.

The path turned again recently as I had to make a tough decision about my mum's continuing care. She suffered a stroke in August, and it's clear she'll not recover well enough to return to her home in Birmingham. She needs nursing care from now on, and so I've started on a long list of tasks to find and fund the safe and caring place she needs.

It means I need to let go of Veg Plotting for a while. I've struggled to blog over the past few months and it's clear I can't continue to research and write my posts to the standard I demand of myself.  I also need to spend more time actually in the garden rather than writing about it to help my whirling thoughts sort themselves out. Rest assured I'll continue to read your blogs when I can, and I hope to stop by and leave you a comment or two to say hello.

Veg Plotting will be back as soon as possible - it's going to be interesting to see how long I can keep quiet! In the meantime, I wish you all well until then.

Update: A timely tweet tells me today is also National Stress Awareness Day. I'll be keeping these top tips in mind over the coming weeks in addition to spending more time in the garden. I just wish there was something in there about coping with sleepness nights...

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Book Review: Three for Reference

Autumn is a good time to start plans for next season in the garden, and the following three books are great aids to help gardeners to do so. Over the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading:

  • The mother of all plant reference works
  • A great boxed set to inspire the budding fruit and veg grower, no matter how small their plot
  • A book on design that's been a regular companion in my garden, whilst I ponder where it's headed next.

All three are review copies, I received courtesy of the publishers.

The RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants - book and slipcase images
This is no lap book, but a hefty tome weighing in at around four kilos. It merits a read whilst sitting at a table with a cuppa and notebook to hand.

This is the 4th Edition of Christopher Brickell's outstanding work. Around 5,000 plants have been added, to provide a comprehensive reference of over 15,000 garden plants.

I would have preferred the two-volume approach of the previous edition, but welcome the increased focus on plant descriptions of this one.

Other reviews have criticised the exclusion of some of their favourite sections from previous editions, most notably the one on pests and diseases. I have a well-thumbed copy of RHS Pests and Diseases, which is a more comprehensive reference, and I'd recommend that as a replacement guide.

Readers should note the entries are found under their Latin genus name, but are cross referenced against their common ones, so everyone should still be able to find what they're looking for.

The genus entry begins with an introduction and general cultivation notes, followed by specific descriptions of the species, plus variants and cultivars where appropriate. The usual descriptive information on flowers, stems and leaves; height and spread, and hardiness is all there as expected. I would have liked to have seen Award of Garden Merit information too, as this is often a deciding factor gardeners use when faced with a plethora of choice.

There are plenty of clear photographs on every page, though note not every plant has a photograph. Drawings of e.g. plant taxonomy are also included, where needed. The result makes this reference attractive to look at and read.

With the advent of the internet some might question whether there is still a place for this kind of work. I'd argue there is as I've found it particularly useful for choosing the replacement plants I'd like for my back garden. I've found it easier to look through and bookmark the possibilities, then look through them again to make my shortlist, Rather than trying to keep track of dozens of online equivalents.

The RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants has a RRP of £75, which is good value for such a comprehensive work and some bargains may be found if you look around. It's worth consideration as a gift for the gardener in your life regardless of their level of ability.

RHS Fruit and Veg Box

RHS Fruit & Veg Box slipcase image
There are plenty of books on growing your own (GYO), but this one is a little different. It's actually three volumes, neatly packaged in a flip-top box, designed to lead beginner GYO gardeners from container growing (Grow Fruit and Veg in Pots), through starting their own veg patch (Step-by-step Veg Patch), then finally feasting on their harvest (Cook Your Crop).

Each book is bright and attractive, and the growing guides are packed with information to get budding fruit and veg growers off to a good start, no matter how small their dedicated GYO space may be.

The recipe book is divided into seasons, so fits in neatly with the GYO books. There are 100 recipes to help growers make the most of their crops, with a wide variety of starters, mains, puds and preserves. They also range from everyday cooking through to recipes fit to grace any dinner party or special family occasion. Most are quick and easy too and make good use of their fresh ingredients.

The RHS Fruit and Veg Box RRP is £20, and has an air of "buy 2 get 1 free" about it, as it's a combination of two RHS grow guides published already, plus a brand new cook book. It's a great combination. I'm going to pass on my review copy to a friend who is in the process of buying her first house and can't wait to get growing. I think this neat box is an ideal way to keep her enthusiasm going.

New Small Garden

New Small Garden book cover image
Noel Kingsbury's book is aimed at gardeners with smaller gardens than mine, but much of his advice and guidance is just as relevant to my situation.

It's also a timely volume as I'm planning a couple of replacement borders in my back garden. The strength of this book is it's rooted in reality as most of the gardens featured are real ones, rather than the stock photos of show gardens used in similar volumes. As a result it shows solutions to real problems overcome by garden owners, which are transferable to those gardens found on new or newish urban estates like mine.

Another strength is the emphasis on planting design which fits my needs exactly. However, that hasn't stopped me sitting in my garden mulling over the introductory first principles explained in the opening chapters, even though I already know my garden's soil and aspect, and the hardscaping is in place already.

A major takeaway for me from those chapters has been to look at my garden afresh from the patio and decide what needs to be done from there i.e. the place from where the garden is viewed most often. I now realise I've over complicated matters in the past by trying to design my garden to fit all viewing angles, and thus I've set myself up to fail.

I shall continue to use this book over the winter - along with the RHS encyclopedia reviewed above - to plan my new borders.

The New Small Garden has a RRP of £20, which I think is good value for the quality of practical information and great photography by Maayke de Ridder. You may also like to read Noel's blog about his writing process for this book, it's an interesting read.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Music for the Masses

St John Passion chorales score - first page
Our part of the score, with my annotations above the score line on how it should be performed on the day. 

My head is still stuffed with the most wonderful music today, so it's time to take a break from my usual bloggage.

On Sunday I sang the chorales in Bach's St John Passion at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon, as part of a project put together by English Touring Opera (ETO). Our performance was reviewed in The Guardian yesterday, which has kept the music in my head and the good feelings going well into today.

I must admit I was a bit daunted at first. I can't read music, it's a challenging piece, and it's not the kind of thing I usually perform or listen to. However, the WMC Choir component was a scratch choir, so there would be plenty of people like me there. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

Can a scratch choir perform to the standards expected by ETO with just four rehearsals? It seems we can, as long as you do your homework. There were practice tracks to sing along to courtesy of Cyberbass and the whole thing is available on YouTube. The latter looks like a classical music version of karaoke, with the various components of the score moving along to the music, and a translation line running underneath.

Scrolling text and music version of St John Passion on YouTube - this is the opening chorus, Herr, unsere Herr.
Scrolling version of St John Passion on YouTube - this is the opening chorus, Herr, unsere Herr.
The left shows the sung parts, the middle is the strings and organ, and the right the other instruments. 

The first three rehearsals with Mike were fun and full of laughter, especially when he demonstrated correct breathing with the aid of a squeezy tomato sauce and lemonade bottles. They were a stretch for me, particularly when some of the pauses in the score were crossed out, but doable. Our role in the chorales was to be the ordinary people commenting on proceedings, and so the ETO had our pieces translated into English by the likes of John McCarthy, Rowan Williams, John Sentamu and Marina Warner.

The fourth rehearsal on Sunday was with the ETO and my first experience of performing with classically trained musicians. Jonathan Peter Kenny, the conductor, gave us no quarter despite having an imperfect piece but with a huge chunk of soul in mind. This would take the performance back to Bach's original intention, when it was sung in church as a community witness of faith with the congregation singing the chorales. It truly is a piece for the masses rather than the hoi polloi, but that didn't mean a sloppy performance was expected of us.

"You sang beautifully, but it might have been in Zulu, which I can't understand", was a typical remark from him. I giggled at this point as I have sung in Zulu. "Remember, text, text, text. I want the audience to hear what you're saying and be involved with the performance, yes? Look at them and draw them into the piece."

He was also a very dramatic and energetic conductor, roaming amongst us during the rehearsal and we took bets on whether he might fall off the stage later that evening. Sadly, he was a little more restrained in the performance.

The opera singers were a revelation. As a soprano I was drawn to Susanna Fairbairn's technique. I noticed she relaxed and bent her knees slightly for the trickier parts of the score, and when she stood next to me, I could hear her emphasis on the consonants like 'b' and 'p'. It sounded like she was spitting them out. As for mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, I never knew so much sound could be expelled from so tiny a frame.

Part of the running order, with our instructions for when to sit and stand without making a noise
As for the performance, for me it was extraordinary, even though we weren't dressed up for the occasion. The opening chorus was so loud, I thought it was going to raise the roof. The orchestra - the Old Street Band - played period instruments and had quite a different sound, which to my ears added grandeur to the piece.

I was particularly struck by the lute with an enormous neck, which is called a theorbo. I also spoke to one of the flute players during the interval. Hers was a wooden, less complicated instrument compared to today's, like a cross between a flute and a recorder. She told me it's her favourite instrument to play and the silver rings are purely for decoration. It seems even musical instruments can have a bit of bling.

At the end everyone was in tears - choirs, audience, orchestra, and our conductor. As I left the building to come home, I overheard a couple of the audience say "That was amazing!" That's a good enough review for me.

A lot is written about the inaccessibility of opera. The cost of tickets is high, you need to dress for the occasion, and it's usually sung in a foreign language. I'm glad those criticisms - and my preconceptions - were blown apart by this amazing project. Around 30 local choirs will be involved in the tour around the country, including a gospel choir. I'd love to hear that.
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