Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 1 March 2015

GBMD: Snowdrop

Snowdrops at Welford Park and extract from a poem by John Armstrong called Snowdrop
Snowdrops at Welford Park, late February 2015. 

I discovered the above poem recently when I visited Hodsock Priory - John Armstrong wrote it especially for Chelsea Physic Garden. The poem's last 2 lines seemed fitting for today's Muse Day, seeing we've just entered the the first month of spring.

Today's the day when many of the snowdrop gardens close their doors for the season and we'll have to make do with our photographs and memories until next year. But then there are crocuses and daffodils peeping out the soil in greeting, and so our gardening year moves on to other delights.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Unusual Front Gardens #21: Cotoneaster

Photo of 3 cotoneaster shrubs clothing a building on Corsham High Street

When your door opens directly onto Corsham High Street and you have very little space for planting, how on earth do you have a front garden?

Close-up of the cotoneaster showing leaves and berries
I'm not quite sure which species -
C. franchetii perhaps?
The solution in this instance is to go vertical and clothe your house with an evergreen plant. When I was writing my post on Pyracantha last year, I remembered this place and sallied forth to photograph it as an example of how the shrub could be used. It was only when I went to take a close-up photo of the plant that I found it was Cotoneaster, not Pyracantha. Durrrr.

However, whatever plant it is, I think it still adds interest to the building. It'll provide some extra insulation for the cottage it clothes and the spring flowers will be a magnet for bees.

It's amazing to see what can be done with just 3 plants, though I'm itching to clip it into some kind of shape. I see the beginnings of some rabbits leaping along the top there, don't you?

A parade of pushchairs go past a house clad in Cotoneaster in Corsham, Wiltshire

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Allure of Orchids... and Photography

Some of the orchids making up this year's Alluring Orchids exhibition at Kew Gardens

Many moons ago I organised some volunteer weekends at Kew's herbarium (which you can read about here). The first year coincided with their inaugural orchid festival and it was a real treat to be given a guided tour after we'd finished our fern work.

Fast forward 20 or so years and it was great to see the festival's gone from strength to strength. Most of the exhibits (and the most spectacular ones) are in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, but keen-eyed orchid spotters will find them scattered throughout Kew's other buildings. For instance, I spotted some at the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition (IGPOTY) in the Nash Conservatory.

Admiring the IGPOTY winning photograph in the Nash Conservatory at Kew
Admiring the winning photograph: The Ballerinas by Magdalena Wasiczek

Alluring Orchids runs until 8th March and the IGPOTY exhibition until 6th April.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Spuds I Like

This year's spuds chitting away on the windowsill

I've decided to grow less spuds this year, but that's not stopped me from adding potatoes to my list of projects for 2015. I've decided to have a bit of a trial to see if there is anything which can shift my love for the scrummy, buttery Harlequin.

The key to this trial was a trip to my local Potato Day courtesy of my local allotment society and Pennard Plants a couple of weeks ago. There were around 30 different varieties there, with some I'd never heard of and therefore of particular interest.

One of the best things about potato days is visitors can buy as few or as many of each variety they want for a mere 22p per spud. I was tempted initially to buy one of each, but I soon replaced that notion with a cunning plan:

  • Select a few of the Early and Second Early varieties to try. Late blight can be a major problem up at the plot, so by avoiding the later harvested Maincrop varieties I hope to sidestep this issue in 2015. This approach also helped me to whittle down my choices to a more reasonable number in relation to the space I have up at the plot
  • Select a couple of varieties available in the shops as well as my beloved Harlequin as trial controls
  • Include both floury and waxy types to see which I prefer
  • Include a range of spuds suited to different styles of cooking, to see how they perform
So with that in mind I ended up with:
  • Abbot - First Early, waxy, suitable for chips or baking or boiling
  • Anya - Second Early, waxy, suitable for boiled, salad or steamed potatoes. Anya is often available in the shops 
  • Gold Nugget - First Early, waxy, suitable for boiled, mashed or salads
  • Rudolph - Early Maincrop (oops finger's crossed on the blight front), floury, suitable for chips, boiling or roast
  • Sherine - First Early, floury and a good all-rounder (hopefully) for boiling, mashing, baking, chips and roast
  • Vivaldi - Second Early and called the 'weight watchers' potato' as it has a up to a third less carbohydrates and calories compared to other spuds. It's also reputed to have a buttery taste and I've also seen it available in the shops. It's another all-rounder reputedly suitable for boiled, roasted, baked, salad or mashed spuds.
Note that the 'best suited for' is according to Pennards' catalogue notes. These varieties are available from other suppliers, whose notes may vary. Let's see what happens in the taste test!

I bought 2 each of the largest spuds I could find in the tubs and set them out to chit as soon as I got home. Last week's trip to the Garden Press Event saw me pick up a gift of 5 'Jazzy' to trial courtesy of Thompson & Morgan. This is another Second Early and is a waxy salad variety. It's reputed to form lots of small tubers in a small space, so is meant to be particularly suitable for container growing. Let's see shall we?

My beloved Harlequin are ordered and hopefully on their way to join this little lot. Then comes the hard work of setting up the trial next month.

Which spuds are you planning to grow this year? Are they new or tried and trusted favourites?

Spuds chitting on my windowsill - with their names added for identification
Here they are again, so you can put names to faces

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