Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 9 October 2015

Raspberry Breeding at East Malling Research

Infographic showing the history and development of raspberry breeding at East Malling Research
NB the company's condition for freebie usage of their infographic application requires the display of their logo 
As you can see I've had some more fun playing around with infographics.
Lesson learned - images saved as png files are sharper than jpegs.

My thanks to everyone at East Malling Research, Lubera's Markus Kobelt and Fran Suermondt for making this day happen.

A visit to East Malling has been on my wishlist since I was a student. In my mind's eye I could see my 17 year-old self waving at me from my trip to the National Vegetable Research Station (now part of Warwick University) at Wellesbourne. Happy days.

Update: This is blog post number 2,000. It's  fitting it's one which highlights a great day where I crossed something off my wishlist, has lots of information, and where I've been fiddling around to bring something different to the blog.

Many thanks for reading and all your comments over the years. I wouldn't have got this far without you. Now, how shall we celebrate?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Our Wild and Woolly Lawn

Photo of our back lawn which looks rather wild and woolly
Skimble playing 'spot the pigeon' on our back lawn recently  
If you were an ecologist and placed a number of quadrats in a random fashion on our lawn, you'd consistently find much more than plain old grass. You see, I've been rather relaxed about having a perfect lawn the past few years, and I think we have something far more interesting as a result.

Until the ash tree's demise last year, we had a back lawn which went from deep shade to a positively Mediterranean climate in just a few yards. Now it's merely light shade where all was dark previously, and all kinds of plants are trying to get in amongst the moss. It's an area which really wants to revert back to being a field again, plus it regularly weathers a veritable snowstorm of dandelions and other passing seeds.

Realistically it's never going to win Britain's Best Lawn.

I've decided life's too short and the hard work needed to try and win BBL is best left to one of our neighbours, who seems to enjoy the hours he spends outdoors primping and perfecting his sward.

I tentatively raised the subject with NAH the other day as he's the regular wielder of The Beast. I wisely couched it in terms which would appeal: less time spent mowing. He's agreed as long as the lawn doesn't have foxgloves growing in it again.

I haven't admitted to the Eryngium I've found in there yet, nor the patches of  Alchemilla, Leucothoe, Stachys, Hesperis matronalis and Centaurea montana I can see - all are escapees from the central terrace and shady beds. There aren't any foxgloves, so all's well with the world.

The increase in wildlife in our garden's noticeable this year and I think much of that's down to our now wild and woolly lawn. As well as the aforementioned garden plants, there are some quite large patches of clover and Ajuga in flower which many bees and other insects love. I often see up to a dozen blackbirds and thrushes digging their beaks into the lawn, so they must like it too.

How's your lawn looking this year?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Things in Unusual Places #17: Peahen

Photo of a pea hen in the temporary ladies loos at Whitehall Garden Centre
Caption competition time. Your starter for ten - "Does my bum look big in this?" 

I was giggling at my local garden centre recently when I found the pictured peahen seemingly admiring herself in the mirror.

In Corsham, peafowl are a regular sight striding down the High Street, where they've walked over from nearby Corsham Court. Sometimes they venture further afield, up to a couple of miles away.

On one memorable occasion when we first moved to Corsham, a peacock took up residence and installed himself for several weeks over a velux window where we were staying. It made for rather a dim but pretty time in the kitchen as the window was the sole source of natural light.

Inspired by the residents of Corsham Court (and its environs), Whitehall Garden Centre - which is only a few miles away - decided to have its own resident population of the birds. I'd heard their eerie sounding calls on a previous visit, but never expected to find one in the ladies loos.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Back to School: Vision On

My attempt at creative flower photography

I've shown you lots of pictures over the past few weeks, hence my choice of title for today's post - I'm reminded of Vision On's Gallery section if you can remember back that far.

The final lesson of the photography course was about developing technique and vision, and Clive Nichols specifically talked about:
  • Looking at plants from different or unusual angles, especially an insect's viewpoint
  • The colour wheel and finding complementary backgrounds in nature
  • Use of wide and narrow lens apertures to achieve soft or pin-point subject focus respectively
  • Using movement creatively - either naturally (i.e. windy conditions) or man-made (via the camera)
  • Looking out for other creative opportunities, such as shadows, and finding good plant combinations to photograph

There was also a tiny section on simple post photoshoot processing; students looking for in-depth guidance on this topic, or the use of additional lighting should look elsewhere. This course focuses on plant forms and how to achieve naturalistic results ('scuse pun - purely intentional). There's very little discussion of general garden shots, but the techniques covered can be applied to those too.

I prefer my camera to do the work most of the time and I tend to shoot 'straight', so it was great to go and have a play with my camera's controls and do a little post shoot processing for a change. As usual I had to submit 3 photos for my final assignment, though I couldn't resist sneaking in a cheeky fourth this time.

How did I get on?

It was great to have the opportunity to stop and have a think about my photography, where it's heading, and have the excuse to go out and have a play. Before I started, Ronnie raised concerns about the long equipment list for this course. I've shown it can be done without all the bells and whistles as I managed with just my DSLR camera, an 18-55mm lens, plus a bit of improvisation.

The key thing is to have the courage to step away from your camera's Programme (P) button, be creative, and get to know your camera's controls. The Aperture (A) button in particular is your friend when it comes to flower and plant photography. 

How's your motivation for self-study? It needs to be high for you to get the most out of the course. Most of the time is taken up with thinking about photography, taking photographs, then the selection and self-critique of them. I had around 2 hours tuition (videos + reading Clive's critiques), but I took around 24 hours to complete everything, spread over the 4 weeks. 

Also be prepared for no-one taking the course at the same time. Much is made of the online classroom on My Garden School's website, but the course still goes ahead if there's only one student (the maximum is 20). If you need someone to constantly chivvy you along, or you like to chat with your fellow-students, then you may need to look at attending one of the photography workshops available at various gardens instead.

Note that if you can't complete the assignments within the time period, you cannot carry any of them over to a future running of the course.

As I've finished the course, it's time for my end of term report:

Full marks

  • Tuition and feedback from one of the world's top garden photographers and Clive is a good tutor
  • A detailed analysis and critique of Clive's own photographs - I'd say looking at photos is just as important for developing your photography as going out and taking them
  • It's an online course so students can choose the best time to study which suits them, and this can be varied from week to week
  • No travel costs involved - unless a student chooses to travel outside their neighbourhood to complete their assignments
  • The videos are available to replay for a year after the course is completed and there's a full set of course notes available to download for later consultation 

Could do better

  • Technical glitches with the website throughout the course - it should have been tested more thoroughly prior to its relaunch ahead of us starting our studies
  • There is still room for improvement with the website - some of the design is clunky and the 25 minute lessons can take a while to download even if you're on superfast broadband like me. I've already given more detailed feedback to My Garden School
  • My Garden School needs to think about how to improve the experience for lone students, or how interaction can be encouraged when students are reluctant to chat online
  • If I was a paying student, I'd like a couple of extra weeks tuition at current prices 

My thanks to My Garden School for the opportunity to review one of their wide range of courses on offer. I'm continuing with my photography posts for a little while longer as Clive has kindly agreed to be a VP VIP, so look out for my interview with him soon.

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Previous posts:

Other student reports:
  • Alison on Toby Musgrave's garden history course
  • Andrew's first thoughts on Harriet Rycroft's container course; plus Ronnie's first experience of the same course
  • Happy Mouffetard's first and second reports on Noel Kingsbury's planting design with perennials
  • New commenter Angela's review of Alex Mitchell's edible gardening made easy
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