Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Saturday, 31 May 2008

VP - The Next Monty Don?

Media speculation over who will replace Monty Don as the head presenter of Gardeners' World has been pretty rife recently. However, I'm surprised to find I'm included in it this morning. In the interests of balance, the Joe Swift campaign is running a poll to see if theirs is the one true candidate. I'm included (yes, I'm amazed too but I'm quite chuffed actually), though it's also suggested I'll need to wear a balaclava. I believe that's to preserve my anonymity, not ugliness. I think the proposed headgear might present some problems with diction, so I've suggested a knight's helmet might be more appropriate - with the mouthpiece part of the visor up of course.

The problem is, GW has been much better of late - partly due to the extension to an hour's programme I know, but will the BBC actually want to fiddle with a format that's beginning to work? If they do, then I'm sure someone a little better known will be chosen as the figurehead and there's plenty to choose from in the poll. However, the thought of the 3 nominated candidates needing to wear balaclavas fronting the programme, does have rather a lot of appeal to my internal imp!

What do you think - carry on with the current programme format; reincarnate Geoff Hamilton; or something else?

Something for the Weekend

3 willow obelisks I made at an evening class at Lackham Agricultural College last year

Tomorrow is Open Farm Sunday, an annual event where farms across the country throw open their gates to anyone who'd like to visit. The link will take you to a search facility so you can see which farms in your area will give you a warm welcome. Lackham, my local agricultural college is one of them - this is where I intend to study for my RHS Certificate in the Autumn, so I'm hoping to persuade NAH for a trip out there tomorrow.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Hints & Tips from National Trust Gardeners - Roses

Rosa 'Fantin Latour' - picture courtesy of Threadspider who took this specially for me yesterday morning as I have no roses blooming in my garden at the moment. Thanks Judith :)
One of the great things about volunteering at Heelis is having access to their Intranet aka internal website. There's so much of interest and ooohh the photographs are gorgeous. I have to ration myself each time I'm there, otherwise I'd be spending my whole time surfing instead of getting on with my volunteer duties. One thing that did catch my eye this week was a long promised 'Rose Recipe'. Ed Ikin, the Head Gardener at Nymans has revealed how he and his team keep the roses in their care healthy for the whole season:
  • Early April - spray once with conventional fungicide e.g. Roseclear 3
  • 2 weeks after first spray - apply bicarbonate of soda fortnightly: 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda per litre of water, plus a couple of drops of washing up liquid (Ecover) and vegetable oil
  • Switch to milk in the 3rd to 4th week of July: 1 part milk to 10 parts water with drops of washing up liquid and vegetable oil
  • Spray until early October and then spray with Roseclear 3 one more time
  • Also spray with Maxicrop ( a seaweed plant feed and tonic) in between the bicarbonate of soda and milk sprays
This is a vast improvement on the usual regime found in most rose care guides, though I'm surprised at the use of 2 fungicide applications as Ed is a member of the Trust's sustainable gardens project team. Nymans is one of the gardens at the forefront in researching what can be done to reduce the National Trust's eco-footprint, so I'll be keeping an eye open for a revised rose recipe and any other handy hints and tips to pass on to you.

In the meantime, what's your favourite eco-friendly plant care routine?

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Getting Foxy Amongst the Digitalis

Digitalis purpurea 'Excelsior Hybrids' - a form of our native biennial foxglove with flowers all round the 7ft high stems

After a morning's hard graft at the allotment today, Threadspider and I rewarded ourselves with a delicious afternoon at The Botanic Nursery. We've been there before for some of Terry's monthly workshops, but this time it was for Foxglove Week. The nursery holds the only National Collection of foxgloves, so this was an opportunity not to be missed as it's pretty much on our doorstep.

The nursery looks so different to my last visit a month ago. Lots of lush, choice plants in flower and quite a few people around ready to buy them. The collection itself is found in a serried row bordered by a yew hedge and my first surprise was the perennial species far outstrip the more widely known biennial ones. There are 22 species and Terry has 20 of them, plus 10 forms of our native Digitalis purpurea, making a grand total of 21 species. We saw that a number of the plants have escaped from the confines of their national collection border into other areas of the nursery - just like foxgloves are meant to do ;)

Unfortunately May's cool weather meant that many of the perennial species were yet to flower, including the sport D. 'Glory of Roundway' originally found in a garden less than 10 miles from the nursery. However, there was still plenty to keep us interested and Terry's enthusiasm was much in evidence as usual. I was surprised to learn the seed remains viable for 100 years, so who knows when the next foxgloves may pop up in my garden, even though I've not had any for a couple of years?

Naturally, we couldn't leave without taking a few plants home with us - for Threadspider a lovely Digitalis ferruginea plus a variegated Iris that just had to be bought for her pond. I resisted all the foxgloves as I want to replan my borders first, but caved in and bought the Heuchera 'Lime Rickey' I'd admired so much a couple of months ago that also was one of the 'plants of the show' at RHS Cardiff in April. I must apologise to Karen - we couldn't get you any seeds, Terry only does plants. Hopefully the following foxy feast will give you some ideas for your new wall though.

A closer look at D. 'Excelsior Hybrids'
Digitalis x mertonensis - a perennial form raised in the 1920sDigitalis parviflora - a perennial from the mountains of Northern Spain discovered in 1770. A striking flower spike with a lovely silvery edging to the leaves. I'll be returning for this little beauty
Digitalis lanata - a perennial from the Balkan peninsula discovered around 1753 and is the plant from which the heart drug Digoxin is obtained. A classic example of a scientist observing the local medicine women and then isolating the foxglove as the active ingredient in the herbal drink they were making to treat Dropsy

D. 'Apricot Shades' - a lovely biennial form

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

ABC Wednesday - S is for...

...Shadowy Self-Portrait

This was taken in late January this year not far from my house on the way back from taking photographs to illustrate my piece on World Wetlands Day.

Stroll on over to Mrs Nesbitt's Place for a multitude of striking S Photos

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

No ifs, no buts - butt

This post's for Rose and all of you on the other side of the pond who've been rather puzzled when I refer to my water butt. I'm not being rude as over here I'm not talking about cigarette ends or my bottom, though NAH says I talk out of the latter sometimes. It's simply a way of storing water. This one's on my allotment, about half way down the plot. I'm the furthest point away from 2 water standpipes and as my plot's on a slope, I choose to fill my butt up from time to time and water from a central point on my plot instead. Much easier! It also means I have a water supply over winter when the standpipes are turned off.

One of the projects on my ever growing list is to fix up some guttering on my shed, so that I can use rainwater instead of the limey tapwater supplied. This means I'll be able to water my blueberries using my butt instead of leaving out washbowls to collect the rain for these. However, before I can do that, I've either got to move my second largest compost heap or get rid of half a plotfull of nettles that my plot next door neighbour is growing on the other side of the shed. If I did the latter I'd technically be putting the butt on his plot, so it looks like moving the compost heap might be my chosen solution. Then there's getting the guttering and fixing it to the shed so that the shed doesn't fall down etc. etc. *Sigh*

Thanks to those of you who've left supportive comments re the state of my allotment. I'm afraid there's still work to be done. One of the results of the weedkiller on my nettles incident is that a whole new pile of rubbish has been uncovered from the time before I got my plot :( Plus the weeds are growing ever taller :( And I've got plots to prepare and stuff to plant :) I've also had a word with Mr Allotment Warden and clarified what's needed to be done - unfortunately it includes my drying rack (which you can see in the picture above - behind my butt!), something I inherited with my plot and I find very useful at onion and garlic drying time. However, the plot is looking a lot better and fingers crossed we don't get the bad weather that's forecast for the rest of the week, so I can crack on with what's left to do.

It also looks like I'll be getting a swanky new water tank for my garden. NAH's just agreed that a 555 litre (approx. 110 gallons) one would be just the thing to go down one of the paths at the side of the house. I have a 190 litre (40 gallon) one similar to my allotment butt in the back garden at the moment, which lasts about a week when we have dry spells. The larger tank will also mean I can be extremely generous with my watering instead of the measly measures I usually give my plants. The garden's noticeably more lush this year owing to last year's rain - I'm aiming to keep it that way.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Jingle Bells

Things are always a little different in Chippenham during our late Spring Bank Holiday weekend. There's the sounds from a multitude of bells, stomping feet, accordions, drums, fiddles and the odd banjo. We're invaded by 20 or so Morris dancing sides, folk dance troups and clog dancers, folk bands and singers, clowns and story tellers. All gathering this year for the 37th Chippenham Folk Festival.

Temporary camp sites spring up overnight, similar in fashion to The Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter. People arrive in multi-coloured attire often with a musical instrument slung over their shoulder. Whole families roam the streets with brightly coloured festival passes round their necks. It's a very different weekend to the other 51 of the year!

There's dancing in the streets, parks and almost every other public building and space in the centre of town. Open mic sessions are held in pubs, there's almost every possible folk music, song and dance workshop you can think of, plus more Ceilidhs than you can shake a stick at, including the famous Aqueilidh - folk dancing in our swimming pool.

It's a most colourful sight, but under threat as last year's bad weather led to the festival losing money. A good year is needed this year to keep the festival going. Saturday's weather was perfect, but I suspect the indifferent weather yesterday and today's atrocious wind and rain does not bode well for the future.

But we don't know that for sure yet, so let's celebrate this year's festival with my Photo essay from Saturday morning's sunny High Street:

Chippenham's own Hips 'n Haws - it's not all hankie waving though...

...Sticks may also be wielded - watch out for those splinters!
Morris dancing dates back to the 15th Century and was influenced by the Moorish style of dancing. Some dance sides choose to wear make-up to reflect this - the sunglasses are a more modern touch though
Waiting his turn - 4 dance stations along the High Street with 3 dance sides per station. Plus two stages in Monkton Park. Then there's all the pubs and other indoor venues...

Let's hear it for the band...

Another form of traditional Morris dress...
Fancy footwork - clog dancing this time. Whilst I was there In Step performed dances they'd collected from canals and Northumbria

Self portrait in Chippenham's answer to Diagon Alley

All good things must come to an end

Plot Views - Hoping to Pass Muster

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Chelsea Round Up

Simple, yet effective public planting outside Heelis, the National Trust HQ - 19/05/2008

It's been a thought provoking week looking at the coverage of Chelsea. Having a blog and an easier access to the thoughts of other gardeners has added a new and fresh dimension to the extensive 'official' coverage by the RHS and the BBC. I confess that Chelsea always leaves me in a bit of a whirl and with a feeling of inadequecy. So many choices, so much excellence and my own small space always seems so dull in comparison. I always have to give myself a shake and a good talking to post Chelsea. After all, my space has to work for 365 days, not just a few. However, I'm resisting the urge to rip everything out and start anew more so than ever. I think that's the influence of my gardening course and a lack of a major gardening project this year beginning to kick in as well as the usual effect the show has on me. However, I've just about managed to hold myself in check - extensive notes on what is and isn't working in the garden, plus a project to improve my soil with lots of grit and compost are my overall tasks for this year, prior to any major changes.

So what of Chelsea itself? I thought Alan Titchmarsh summed it up pretty well in 3 words - Aspirational, Inspirational and Sensational. Many of you agreed with the inspirational and sensational - Emma, R Pete Free, Victoria and Zoe all summed these aspects well when describing their own visits. I also enjoyed JAS' take on the show, particularly with his judges hat on. (Note - most of these did more than 1 post) However, some of you disagreed with the aspirational aspect when commenting on my posts earlier this week - Sylvia (sorry I can't link to you, but thanks for the comments) loves the perfection, but doesn't want it in her garden and Yolanda doesn't feel pressurised into buying or changing anything. I'm glad there are people out there comfortable with what they have achieved. Deborah and Flighty think the smaller shows are better as there's more time to talk to the stallholders - I suspect this is also true of the designers if my experience at Malvern and Cardiff is anything to go by.

Chelsea is often criticised as being too snobby, expensive and of no value to real gardeners. If this were true, I don't think its success would continue. Yes, obscene amounts can be spent on the gardens, but I'm pleased that over 20 of these are going to be created elsewehere after the show. Also without Chelsea, I don't think we'd ever have gardening talked about as a mainstream topic like it has been for the whole of this week. For example, Cleve West's BUPA Garden has not only been a real crowd pleaser (as evidenced by his People's Award), it has done so much to raise issues around Alzheimer's and the needs of all people in care homes, many of whom do not have access to the kind of sanctuary this garden will provide for the lucky care home in London.

So where does my problem fence above fit into all of this? Well, another Chelsea criticism is it has no relevance to real gardens. I disagree - there are simply oodles of nickable ideas. It's very easy to go into idea overload if you're not careful! This year I'm restricting myself to just 3:

  • Mark Gregory's Children's Society Garden had lots of 'Vertical Borders' - a great idea to try to brighten up my fence
  • A multi-stemmed Prunus serrula - taken from Adam Frost's A Welcome Sight. I've been wanting to replace the supplied ash tree that came with the side garden when we bought the house. It'll be too close when it's mature - the Prunus will be the perfect replacement and provide so much more interest
  • Cleve West used Geum 'Lemon Drops' in his BUPA Garden - more dramatic and less problematic than the self-sown wild geum around my Clematis obelisks

How about you - did you find any ideas to use from Chelsea this year? If you need further help before you decide, the BBC has some downloadable plans from 10 of this year's gardens. Also the Crocus website has plans for the 4 gardens it supplied plants for this year - thanks Zoe for letting me know about these.

Finally, this year's Chelsea has engineered a real gardening breakthrough for the VP household. NAH usually sets me up to watch the coverage and goes off to fiddle with a lathe or something. The mention of the George Harrison garden on the news led to the following conversation:

NAH (suddenly alert at the mention of one of his boyhood heroes): So who goes to Chelsea then?
Me: Today it's royalty, celebs and the press, but tomorrow...
NAH: You mean anyone can go?
Me: Yes
NAH: Why haven't you gone then?
Me: Well I do want to go. It's easier now I'm an RHS member as I could go on the RHS member days or the public days. I will go one day.
NAH: Perhaps I'll come along too

:o This is from the guy who's interest in gardening is almost as non-existent as his interest in allotments!

Cat Sitting & Skimble the Bold

It's typical British Bank Holiday weather today, so our bed cats are back!

Our neighbours over the road are away, so we're cat sitting for them at the moment. M came over to hand over the house keys a couple of days ago and cheerfully announced Fluffy's gone off cat treats. Since when do cats not go for cat treats I ask you? I think our two have in-built radar for when a hand goes for the treat jar in the cupboard, they appear that quickly. Honey decided to greet 'Uncle NAH' yesterday by crapping on the floor - luckily in the conservatory and not the carpet this time. So it's a lot of fun over there - I think I'll let NAH continue to deal with them for the time being ;)

Last night our next door neighbours came round for drinks, nibbles and a good old catch up. A arrived home from a GNO earlier this week to find Skimble eyeball to eyeball with a fox in front of our house. Neither animal was giving in until A got out of her friend's car, broke the spell and the magnificent fox melted away into the night. Until now we'd thought Skimble was a bit of a scaredy cat apart from when he's bullying Jess. Today we think differently.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Thanks for Visiting

Last night, just after I'd finished blogging for the day and was in bed writing up my garden diary, my 10,000th visitor crept in (at 23.45.07 to be precise) after Google searching for water butt, where they were taken to my ABC Wednesday G post. I do hope they enjoyed my musings on vertical gardening in Chippenham as there was only a fleeting reference to what they were actually looking for. Sadly the potentially more apt piece for them didn't mention water butts, it just had a picture of a most unusual one instead.

So, to whoever it was in San Francisco and to all my other 9,999 visitors since I started last November, I salute you and here's the most unusually positioned bunch of flowers I've ever seen as my gift to you - captured at Chippenham station last Monday morning. Now, having a bunch of flowers next to your driving wheel might be considered a little quirky, but to team those Gerberas (do click on this link - the photography's stunning) with a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle's just plain inspired. For once the flowers are in a bug instead of being infested with them ;)

Friday, 23 May 2008

Rising to the Challenge

Skimble's reaction to his mum's latest doggerel

By popular demand (well, er Rach actually), here's a special poem to commemorate the inaugural Fork 'n Monkey awards:

The talk's this week of Chelsea
And who has won the Gold,
Of simplicity & greenness
And planting oh so bold.

But Garden Monkey's been playing
Amongst his blogging pals,
With promised fame and glory
For all the guys & gals.

Thus was Fork 'n Monkey created
An award to beat 'em all,
Full of fun and mayhem
To keep us in his thrall.

So we cogitated & nominated
And added Comments too.
All the votes were counted,
Then all the winners knew:

So here's to Wilb & Esther
And Alex in his shed,
To Fuggles & to Patrick
And Frankie on her bed

To Monty we say "Get well soon"
And James - "Keep the writing flowin' ",
Cleve - "You've been currying favour"
And from me? Another bad poem ;)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Use Your Initiative

Sign at Stanley Mill, King's Stanley near Stroud. A Grade 1 Listed building and a venue for the Stroudwater Textile Festival.

I have a choice of initiatives for you today. Firstly it's National Learn at Work Day. Part of Adult Learners Week (17-23 May - yay they know how long a week is for once!), this year's theme is Sustainable Workplaces. The above link has plenty of ideas for you to update your skills under the sub-themes of The Environment, Work/Life Balance and Learning Through Life.

Secondly, it's International Day for Biological Diversity. This year's theme is Biodiversity & Agriculture. You may think the two don't go hand in hand, but if sustainable agricultural practices are adopted, we have a chance to feed the world without impacting our natural heritage.

I feel strongly about both initiatives. I was quite scared of being bored at work, so always sought out work in different departments and projects. At appraisal time I always felt it had been a good year if I'd learnt something new. I studied Agricultural & Environmental Science at university, a relatively new type of course at the time. Back then it was thought the two subjects (and groups of people) were poles apart, but I like to think courses such as mine have gone some way to help develop our thinking on sustainable farming practices in general and organic farming in particular.

Blooming Marvellous?

Judging by this planting on the way to the station, it seems Chippenham won't be winning any prizes in this year's Britain in Bloom competition. What do you think?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Awww Shucks!

Hurray, hurrah, harroo! I have my first award as voted for by the blogging community :o At last my bad poetry has been given the recognition it deserves. So my thanks goes to: The Garden Monkey for putting on the whole damn show in the first place; whoever it was that nominated me; everyone who voted for me; NAH who has nothing at all to do with this blog; my mum, etc etc etc...

There, that was a relatively short acceptance speech and I didn't burst into tears like Gwyneth Paltrow did at the Oscars. I'm pretty chuffed actually :D

The award winners are:

Is There Anybody Out There? Esther in the Garden
The Favourite Way of Wasting Time Shedworking
The Adam Pasco Award Veg Plot
Proud Parent Fuggles (for the dancing frog beansprout photo)
Vegetable Matter Bifurcated Carrots
What’s New Pussycat The Big Sofa - well Wilb actually (hugs from Skimble & Jess!)
Inky/Green Fingers Blogging at Blackpitts
We Are All in the Gutter Veg Plotting (yes, me, me , me!)
Crash Bang Wallop Cleve West’s poppadom photograph (I wonder which award he's most proud of this week - Gold at Chelsea or this one? Hmm tough call...)
The Jeeves award Monty Don

So congratulations to my fellow award winners and commiserations to all the other nominees. You can still check them all out over at The Fork 'n Monkey website - I discovered a whole new rich seam of blogging loveliness to dip into whilst all of this was going on.

ABC Wednesday - R is for...


I took this photo two days before Christmas last year and knew straight away it would be my 'R' shot when I decided to take part in ABC Wednesday. As you can see it depicts two of the rules applicable to allotment sites in Chippenham. There are a whole lot more detailed in the plot contract I had to sign when I was assigned my plot just over four years ago. These include no subletting my plot to others, not making a profit from my plot, not keeping animals, keeping it cultivated and tidy at all times etc. These rules vary slightly from town to town, for example I know of sites where animals such as chickens and bees are allowed.

All the plots on my site are let and there is a waiting list in Chippenham now, so this year the allotment committee is being much more fastidious about adherence to the allotment rules and contract terms. Regular plot inspections are being held and plot holders informed if theirs doesn't meet the more detailed guidelines issued in the last allotment and garden society newsletter. I have to confess I failed this year's first inspection at the beginning of May in the matter of tidiness owing to my pile of 'useful things for later' left out on my plot. I have until the beginning of June to make amends. I'm not complaining - I should have done something about it sooner. I'm now working very hard and hope the inspectors view my plot much more favourably next month.

Do go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place for a whole host of ABC photos on the theme of R.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Stories from Chelsea

View from our bedroom window - this morning at 9am.

I'm still getting to grips with this year's Chelsea, but have two major impressions thus far - simplicity and green. Last year's Chelsea had some very complex designs and structures, this year seems to be more restrained. There is a place for both and simplicity doesn't mean there's less in the way of ideas. Green is manifesting itself in both eco-friendliness and planting styles. I'm all for the former, but I do like a touch of colour in my garden too.

I'm not going to review every single garden - the link I gave you yesterday will allow you to judge for yourself. However, two of the gardens I've seen so far have a particular resonance.

Firstly the Dorset Cereals Edible Playground has put vegetables to the forefront of it's design with a mouthwatering result. I think it's important for children to make the connection with what's on their plate and where it comes from. Seeing children up at the allotment always brings a smile to my face. I also love the way the designer has used materials and techniques local to Dorset. The garden deservedly won Best in Show in the Courtyard Garden section and was sponsored by the company where NAH's second cousin is quality control manager.

Secondly, it's been interesting to read Cleve West's blog during his Chelsea build. I love looking behind the scenes and it's impressive he did this during such a manic time. The garden itself is a joy and has meaning for me as my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with dementia and has just moved into a home (a BUPA one - BUPA sponsored this garden). I can really appreciate the attention to detail - not having dead ends is so important for alzheimer's and dementia sufferers as they will just stop when reaching a blank wall and not move any further. Subtlety in colour is also needed, otherwise it adds to their confusion. I'm so pleased this garden will actually be used after Chelsea at a care home. I can imagine my MIL finding peace and tranquility here - any chance it'll go to Wakefield please?

A sneaky third garden review - any garden providing a design solution for all those wheelie bins and recycling containers has a definite plus in my view. It's great to see someone has designed a practical yet stylish garden, showing that form, function and beauty can actually go together. This garden for The Children's Society does just that.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Please Bear With Us - Garden Viewing in Progress

Peony amongst Weigela florida 'Variegata' - on Friday in my garden

You may find your UK garden blogging pals a little quiet this week. It's the annual gardening feast that is Chelsea that's to blame you see. Many will brave the crowds to visit - the rest of us will be glued to the TV for the daily lunchtime and evening broadcasts, starting this evening. This will result in major anxieties for us gardeners - I don't have the right colour/ plants/ accesories for this year; there's not enough in bloom in my garden; I need a water feature; I so loved that garden, I need to create my own tribute to it; I simply must have that... (insert your own long list of beauties here) etc. etc. As a result, we'll be making even more visits to our local nurseries/ garden centres/favourite plant sales websites and spending more time frantically working in our gardens to get them up to scratch.

So do bear with us during this stressful time - we'll be back with you shortly ;)

Update: The link I've provided takes you through to the RHS Chelsea website - it is their show after all. There's plenty to see on there. They also provide a link to the BBC website which in previous years has had all sorts of goodies such as 360 degree tours of the show gardens. Both sites will give you a very good idea of what all the fuss is about.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Be Kinder to Nettles?

Unbelievably it's Be Kind to Nettles Week (14-25 May - note it's another example of time being stretched) and I don't think they mean the cultivated kind like the picture above taken in my garden yesterday, but the wild sort shown below from our neighbouring public land a few moments later.
I don't think my niece will be celebrating, in spite of efforts by major organisations like the Natural History Museum in London. She fell into a bed of nettles at the age of four whilst we were walking in the Cotswolds (oh the inconsolable screaming!) and has had an aversion to them ever since, poor thing. There also appears to be a campaign against them up at the allotment at the moment as several patches (including 1 on my plot) look like someone's put weedkiller on them. It's a shame really as they are such a versatile plant. So much so that this author has found 101 uses for them. I already knew about their attractivess to butterflies, the foul smelling concoction you can make to feed plants, cooking nettle soup and the use of their fibre for clothing, but there's also nettle cordial, tea and beer, plus insect repellent, dandruff treatments, omlette flavouring and a whole lot more! Instructions for using nettles as plant feed/pest control, nettle soup and hair conditioner can be found here. It seems they may have their use medicinally too, so perhaps we all should be looking at this much maligned plant a little differently from now on.

Update: Mark (The Green Fingered Photographer) asked what my cultivated nettle variety is. It's Hermann's Pride aka Yellow Archangel. I've found it to be a great plant to grow - as you'll see in my comments. However, when investigating suitable links for this update, I found that gardeners have been warned not to plant it as it's invasive. It's not proving to have these troublesome characteristics in my garden, perhaps it's not in its perfect spot. I thought I'd better pass on this warning though.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Strange Brew

I think NAH is trying to tell me something - he's decided to plaster the pictured fridge magnets all over our cooker. Our fridge door is wooden, so we have to be a little more inventive with where we display our magnet collection. I believe NAH's message isn't just a reminder about our reusable carrier bags - which I've been using for the past two and a half years, well ahead of him. What do you think?

Any road up, I took said bags shopping with me yesterday. Whilst there I experienced a bizarre role-reversal conversation. I bumped into our Doctor and asked her if she's feeling better now - she's been on sick leave following a back operation. We both grinned.

Back home, I switched on the TV to catch the local weather forecast only to hear the announcement that Radio Wiltshire has installed a webcam in a bluetit nest box. Am I the only person to think that's a bit strange or is everyone used to the multi-media world we live in now?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Memes, Polls and Early TV Gardening Memories

I love the way blogging takes you in totally unexpected directions. A little while back I tagged Aunt Debbi with the '6 random facts meme', which she answered a couple of days ago - cheers Debbi, nice one. In it she revealed she doesn't like folding socks - alongside a number of others I commented that life's just too short for all of that. Debbi's now taken it a whole stage further by running a sock poll on that vital question 'Should socks be outlawed?' You betcha. You have just 5 days to get over there and add your vote and even add to the debate if you want.

Which brings me to the Fork 'n Monkey awards - voting closes tomorrow, so get over there now and vote! For one of the awards, The Most Unusual Vegetable Based Blog, The Garden Monkey reminds us of those glorious Sunday evenings when Cyril Fletcher held court on That's Life. As well as his odd odes, he often produced pictures of the most curiously shaped vegetables sent in by viewers. This is My Patch posted about her Ood-like parsnip a while ago - well worthy of commendation to Cyril (RIP).

Pretty well everyone in the UK has fond memories of Gardeners' World (GW) on TV and there are often heated debates on who is/was the best presenter. Geoff Hamilton is often declared the eventual winner. However, I also have memories of another gardening programme from my childhood, ATV's Gardening Today - so bad Googling it doesn't come up with the goods. This was part of ITV's (i.e. commercial TV) regional programming output, so was consigned to the post 10 O'Clock News graveyard slot on Thursday evenings. I suspect my dad was often the only viewer, though it did inspire him to found Birmingham Organic Gardeners (I love the resultant acronym - so like dad).

This programme was filmed at King's Heath, in the public park next to my old school. We always knew when they were filming as the outside broadcasting lights could just be seen above the sixth form block. The presenters were Cyril Fletcher as the keen amateur gardener, plus another old codger as the expert. Cyril was supposed to ask all those daft questions we're usually too afraid to ask about gardening and the other guy was supposed to answer them. They were as wooden as the potting bench that was frequently featured on the programme and I don't think they got on particularly well as 'Mr Expert' (Arthur Billett?) always seemed to be in a bad mood. Like GW, they also used a number of garden sets - veggie plot, loudly coloured annual bedding plot (this was the seventies after all), traditional greenhouse with geraniums etc. etc. What amazed me was how large these gardens looked on the telly compared to the actual postage stamp size of the entire set when I walked past it on the way to school. It's the TV TARDIS effect I suppose.

Sadly my blog doesn't have sufficient veggie content to be nominated for the veggie blog award, in spite of its title. However, I couldn't resist reprising the photo from my International Year of the Potato posting in honour of the Fork 'n Monkey awards, my childhood memories and the good all round fun to be had here in blogland.

Update: dND's come up with the goods re Gardening Today's presenter. It was Bob Price - I knew there was a B in there somewhere. Her superior internet search skills have come up with this link. It would appear that the TV garden has expanded somewhat since my day.

GBBD - Now is the Month of Maying

On May Day I could only show you May blossom in bud, but on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day I can now show it to you in its full glory.

The garden has really taken off over the past few days owing to the hot and sunny weather of the past week and a half. It means I have flowers in abundance to show you, so I've replaced April's Flower Shower with a Now is the Month of Maying slideshow on the sidebar. You'll see I have Clematis in abundance - they only opened their fat buds just 2 days ago. Phew, just in time! There are still flowers on the allotment - April's fruit tree blossoms have been replaced by those of the soft fruit - particularly blueberry and strawberry, plus rogue flower shoots amongst the rhubarb. These weaken the plant, so they were cut down straight after being photographed and added to the compost heap. Apart from that everything's been left to flower their socks off.

GBBD is bought to you by Carol at May Dreams Gardens [Shouldn't this be renamed Hurrah May is Here Gardens this month? Ed.].

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Plot Views - Maytime

ABC Wednesday - Q is for...

...Quercus robur

One of the most venerated of our trees, otherwise known as the pedunculate oak. This one stands guard over the nearest water standpipe to my plot and also the subject of my recent ABC Wednesday 'N' posting. I often go and sit under its stately branches on a hot summer's day when it's time for a break from my hard labours. It also causes me great amusement during the Autumn when its many acorns rain down on our allotment loo. As this is a 'tin box', the noise can be quite something until you get used to it!

It's one of two native oak species, the other is the sessile oak (Quercus petraea). It grows to over 100 feet - so is not a good choice for most of our gardens! Our allotments were once part of a country house estate, so I suspect it's part of the original landscape planting. It's magnificent size suggests it's pretty old anyway. They can live for up to 1000 years, can host up to 423 insect species and is said to be an indicator of better soils. Certainly the sessile oaks I've seen have been in poorer soil upland regions, such as Snowdonia National Park.

The use of its timber for building has made a comeback in recent years, thanks to programmes such as Grand Designs which has featured some magnificant oak framed buildings. It's an extremely tough, hard wearing wood - lasting for many centuries if well cared for. Lord Nelson ordered many trees to be planted across England so the nation would never be short of a good timber supply for ship building. Little did he know that iron would soon replace oak as the material of choice.

Finally, it's also part of our weather lore:

If the oak comes before the ash, then we'll only have a splash.
If the ash comes before the oak, then we'll surely have a soak.

If this is true, then we're due for a good summer in this area as the oak unfurled its leaves first this year. However, our weather forecasters who use more scientific methods disagree!

ABC Wednesday is bought to you courtesy of Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours

San over at A Life With a View is a new discovery for me thanks to Authorblog (g'day David). I'm enjoying her stories of Life in Santa Fe, which also bring back memories of our last stateside holiday in 2001 as we stayed there for a few days. She's tagged everyone who wants to play with the meme I've seen on several people's blogs recently and as I've been wanting to participate for a while, who am I to say no?

As you can see, the meme is to show everyone your desktop. Mine's looking much tidier than of late as NAH cleared off all the unused icons a couple of weeks ago. That's not the reason why I wanted to show it off though. NAH chose the screensaver for me about 5 years ago from my first forays into digital photography. Whilst I now have thousands more photographs to choose from, I never tire of seeing this one when I turn on my PC. It's another Acer - Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' *, aka the Golden Leaf Full Moon Japanese Maple (who on earth makes up these names?).
The picture was taken not long after I'd bought it, so it was easy to take it looking down at the top of the tree. The shot also gives a clue as to what lies beneath - an underplanting of 2 Pieris japonica 'Little Heath' * and an Azalea (now renamed as Rhododendron Diamant Group, red-flowered *). I'd been inspired by looking at some photographs of Japanese gardens, but as we're lacking the required acid soil, I decided to create a mini Japanese garden in a pot. The pictures above and below show how the assemblage has matured since the first picture was taken. These were taken yesterday.
I'm not going to tag anyone specifically for this meme as I've done a couple of others recently. I think I'll carry on in the spirit of San's and invite anyone reading this who hasn't done this one already to join in if you want. Please let me know if you do - I've shown you mine after all ;)

* = I couldn't find a non-sales website to give you more information about these plants. Needless to say the chosen websites are not sales recommendations as I've never shopped with them. However they do have good photographs, hence my choosing them this time.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Yes, I've Won a Lettuce

This popped through my letter box on Saturday. I'd completely forgotten I'd entered the competition on the RHS' Grow Your Own Veg website. I'm not happy about the (just about recyclable) plastic packaging though. It contains a 'patented granulate' which soaks up water. The seeds are meant to be at the top, though whether they've stayed that way whilst being conveyed through our postal system remains to be seen - I'll keep you posted (!).

According to the growing instructions, the container should be filled right to the top with water which should be replenished each time the granulate starts getting lighter. It also says helpfully that the Lollo Rosso lettuce is edible and goes with all meals.

The Wiltshire Wailers

Here we all are in full flow on Saturday
Do click on the image to enlarge it :)

Photo courtesy of Chris Samuel

Sunday, 11 May 2008

In an English Country Garden

Just feast your eyes - isn't it exquisite? It's Stourhead, a world class landscape garden owned by the National Trust. This is the view which greeted us as we arrived yesterday for The Festival of the Voice, 30 choirs singing in 8 locations throughout the gardens from 11am to 6pm.

Our choir merges with 2 others to form the Wiltshire Wailers, a 100 strong group for special occasions. It was our second public performance ever yesterday (I blogged about the first one here) and we must have been the largest choir there. You can see both places where we performed - stretched out on the bridge in the morning and then perched on the steps of the Pantheon across the lake in the afternoon. The second performance in particular was magical. As Chris our choirmaster said 'We formed last September, this is our second ever perfomance and we're going to sing our socks off!' So we did. My friend overheard someone say 'That choir [us] were amazing and we had to follow them!'

We sang:
Unison in Harmony - my favourite
Quand je Bois - a French drinking song
Ca' the Yowes - a Robert Burns poem
Lily of the Valley - a spiritual adopted into the Welsh hymnal
Light my Fire - as in The Doors (skip the first 40 seconds) and Jose Feliciano
Big Milly's Backyard - a song about a Ghanaian backpackers' hostel
Plovi Barko - a Croatian love song
Fernando - yes, the ABBA song and a real crowd pleaser

Be Upstanding for the Alliums

We had a most dramatic thunderstorm on Friday night, so yesterday dawned rather dull and misty. As you can see, the polite alliums I showed you on Friday are now standing to attention instead.
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