Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Magnetic Poetry - September

September 2004 - This is the kind of magnetic poem you write when you've been waking up at 3 in the morning and not getting back to sleep again in months.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Marvellous Malvern

Self Contained from Beholder's Eye

I love Malvern. It's a place of good times and memories as it was our family's premier choice for a day out when I was little. It was like magic - the number 144 Midland Red bus from the end of our road would whisk us away from the dingy outskirts of Birmingham and we'd arrive in a sparkling new world full of hills and fresh air. We'd climb up Worcestershire Beacon, unpack our picnic and drink in the view as well as a welcome cuppa brewed up by dad on a tiny camping gas stove. The rest of the world was spread out below us like a map and it was easy to spot the Three Counties Showground from our perch atop the hill.
So it felt a little like coming home yesterday when I pitched up at the showground for the Malvern Autumn Show. I'd only been to the Spring one previously and I was a little worried on my arrival as most of the stands seemed to have very little to do with plants. Luckily I'd arranged a couple of rendezvous at the From Plot to Pot tent and soon found the heart of the show's plant action.

It was lovely to meet Deb at last and to see her first show garden for real instead of in blogland. It was a fabulous result and Deb was so enthusiastic about her whole experience and achievement. It's great when people's dreams start to come true and I believe she is already contemplating her next show garden - after some well deserved sleep of course!

I then met up with Helen (Patient Gardener) who lives in Malvern and we had a few very happy few hours nattering and pottering around the plant highlights of the show. This included seeing Toby Buckland in the flesh as he and 'big chef ' Peter Osborne had a gossip on stage and tried to outdo each other with their top tips for veg growing and cooking. Toby came over as a very relaxed, friendly chap and seemed to have the collective approval of the women in the audience at least.

One of the day's highlights was the produce show - including the mysterious world of giant veg as well as the more usual competitive fare I've started to try for myself. We'd missed the talk on monster veg, so don't have much insight into why growing such monsters is such an attraction, though Helen and I did think we'd spotted a couple of likely proponents of the art. Some of the vegetables were so large, they seemed almost obscene, so it was almost a relief when we found the more 'nomal' classes such as this almost too perfect trug of vegetables.

The RHS Floral Hall revealed further treasures. I was worried that it would be solely flower arrangements, but the majority of the hall was devoted to the small nursery exhibits I've grown to love. I took the opportunity to find out a little more about Nerines. I believe I may have the perfect spot to slot some into my garden - a baked area of gravel at the side of the house. However, I was worried that I might have to settle for a garish pink variety, so I was very pleased to find this more delicate, but gorgeous red N. sarniensis 'Lydia'. We actually revisited the Hall and outside plant sales areas much later in the day, suddenly realising that the plants are much cheaper at this time as the nursery owners don't want to take vast amount of plants home with them. Helen bought some Autumn Ladies-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) and we both succumbed to an autumn flowering Saxifrage. At this point we suddenly twigged that preparations were being made for the bargain big plant sell-off at the end of the day as little raffle tickets were appearing on exhibits all over the hall. Unfortunately 'my' Nerine was just cut stems, but I'd also fallen for some Gladiolus callianthus at the RHS Inner Temple show and the same stand had several pots for sale. So at 4pm I duly presented my raffle ticket for my new treasure to be rescued for me from the back of the stand.

However, my greatest plant to cherish from the day is this Heuchera 'Metallica', raised from seed by Helen herself and given to me when we met. It's a reminder of a great day out and a growing friendship, I hope.

BTW both Helen and Happy Mouffetard have enjoyable accounts of their day at Malvern last weekend.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Psst! Fancy 15 Minutes of Fame?

Just back from a fab day at Malvern with Patient Gardener - more on that tomorrow as I'm a bit pooped. I just wanted to share this e-mail I found in my inbox from KLC when I got home:

Dear VP,

RedHouse TV have developed an exciting new series for C4 about people and their passion for Nature. It follows the design and creation of the most ambitious and inspiring private gardens, and tells the stories of the inspirational people driving them, over the course of a year.

It is a celebration of what is achievable in outdoor spaces, but a realistic portrayal of how hard it is to create truly stunning landscaped gardens. Created by the people behind Grand Designs it will be both inspirational and aspirational in tone. They are looking for a couple of ambitious, large-scale garden projects to include within the series and follow over 12 months.

Ideally the gardens will be at least 1 acre and above in size, with work due to commence this Autumn. The style of the garden is not necessarily important- all that they require is that the plans are 'epic' enough to culminate in a fantastic transformation, and that the gardens are privately owned. The series will set a new benchmark for the area and show people with ideas and passions and visions that go far and away beyond anything we normally associate with gardening on TV. It is a fantastic opportunity and anyone interested should contact:

Louisa MacInnes RedHouse TV,
6 Gorleston Street,
London W14 8XS
T: 020 7855 7424
F: 020 7603 2148

Sadly I don't have the requisite acre, but perhaps one of you out there in the UK does? Shame they can't amalgamate several gardens together on our estate and do something with that instead.

Another thought - is this the rumoured new programme starring Chris Beardshaw?

Update: It isn't - he's in this one on BBC1 instead.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Things to Smile About in Bath Today

Warm September sunshine

Meeting a friend not seen for months - good company and chat

Coffee and cake at St Michaels Without - proceeds support projects in India

Unexpectedly finding another King Bladud Pig

Street advertising's still there

Feel good busking - particularly this fiddle player with an inventive way of playing his Dobro guitar

A lovely long browse in the Garden section at Waterstones - sadly no purchases as I forgot my book tokens

Finding a book about Banksy with the publisher's disclaimer that they're not condoning Graffiti Art

Banksy must be having a laugh...

Friday, 26 September 2008

Windfall Cake

From this...
... to this. Yum!

This is the first year I've had a sufficiently large apple crop where I haven't insisted we eat the windfalls up ASAP before tackling the really nice fruit. My allotment cordons have yielded nearly 300 apples, so I can afford to do other things with the less desirable ones. Our current favourite use is to bake this rather nice apple cake. As it was the World's Biggest Coffee Morning earlier on today, I made one to accompany my morning cuppa. The apples in the bowl are a mixture of Scrumptious, James Grieve, Sunset and Princesse (aka King of the Pippins).

I found this recipe for West Country Apple Cake by Googling 'Apple Cake' and it seemed the most apt one to use bearing my location in mind. I intend to try substituting cider in the recipe sometime to make it even more authentically West Country. The cake slices into 8 generous portions, which means you're getting about one of your '5 a day' per slice!
  • 450g (1lb) Cooking Apples peeled, cored and chopped - it seems to work fine with my windfall dessert apples too
  • 225g (8oz) Plain Flour - I've successfully used Self Raising (SR) Flour instead and omitted the Baking Powder
  • 175g (6oz) Dark Soft Brown Sugar - any other sugar I have to hand seems to work fine
  • 110g (4oz) Butter
  • 2 Eggs, beaten - I use medium size and don't bother to beat them = less washing up to do
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk (or cider perhaps?)
  • 1 tablespoon Clear Honey, warmed slightly - I haven't bothered with this yet
  • 1 tablespoon Light Demerara sugar - I haven't used this either
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Mixed Spice - I use lots more of this and the cinnamon because NAH and I love spicy cake
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder - omit if using SR flour
  1. Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees centigrade: 325 degrees fahrenheit: Gas mark 5
  2. Grease a deep 18cm (7 inch) round cake tin - I don't bother lining it like the recipe says, especially as I use a tin with a loose base
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  4. Add the eggs, a little at a time, beating constantly - or beat in one at a time if you're using my approach to the recipe
  5. Gradually add the flour, spices (and baking powder), mixing thoroughly
  6. Fold in the apples and enough milk (cider?) to produce a soft dropping consistency
  7. Pour into the prepared cake tin
  8. Bake for one and a half hours until well risen and firm to the touch - I have a fan assisted oven, so find that one hour and ten minutes is about right.
  9. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool
  10. When cool, brush with the warmed honey and sprinkle with demerara sugar (optional)
Update (November 2008) - further notes having made several of these since:
  1. Wholemeal flour can be used instead, or a half n' half mixture of refined:wholemeal self-raising flour. It doesn't seem to make much difference to the final taste or texture
  2. If using dessert apples, the sugar content of the recipe can be significantly reduced. Two thirds or half of what's given in the recipe works fine
  3. If using dessert apples, there's no need to peel the apples first as their skins are thinner than cooking apples. It's a much quicker cake to make as a result too!
  4. The milk can often be omitted if using dessert apples, so be sure to add the apples before the milk, no matter how dry the mix looks after the adding flour stage
  5. I use loads more cinnamon as we like a spicy cake - up to four heaped teaspoons

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Mystery of the Clematis - Case Solved

For solving heinous crimes and mysteries, Agatha Christie had Miss Marple. EmmaT currently has Miss Maple on the case at Midsomer Berryfields. And recently I've had a most courteous Male to help me solve the mystery of my Clematis.

She's appeared here before and also over on my Open Garden. A completely beautiful floosie who makes everyone visiting my garden say 'Wow! What is that?' At which point, I have to shuffle my feet and answer 'Er, I bought it as a C. 'Crystal Fountain' from the garden centre, but it looks nothing like it. So, actually I've no idea!' Nevertheless, I do love her.

In my previous posts, two people were kind enough (Fat Rascal and Niels) to suggest what my Clematis could be: C. 'Blue Light'. I could see where they were coming from, but there were some differences, particularly in the way the flower looked in bud, that made me unsure. Besides, the lineage was different (C. 'Mrs Cholmondeley') and the Clematis I'd bought was a Raymond Evison Signature plant i.e. the best Clematis you can get. His website doesn't have C. 'Blue Light' listed, which seemed to fit with my notion that this wasn't the solution to my mystery. Whilst looking through the rest of the catalogue, I noticed that my garden's version of C. 'Josephine' was quite different to the one shown, So I now had not one, but two mystery Clematis!

There I left it - mentally making a note to send an email to Guernsey sometime, but I never got round to it. Then 2 weeks ago I went to the RHS Inner Temple show and who should be exhibiting there but Raymond Evison. I finally plucked up the courage to approach the stand in the afternoon once most of the crowds had gone. The cheerful lady there soon realised she couldn't answer my query and beckoned forward a dapper looking gentleman to help her. I suddenly realised I was talking to the great man himself. I explained my mystery and he confirmed that it couldn't be C. 'Blue Light'. 'You've got yourself a "sport" (i.e. plant mutation)' was his conclusion. I then explained about C. 'Josephine'. 'Ah, she regularly produces sports, that's how we got C. 'Empress'!'

Thanks to a charming gentleman the case is solved. I have two completely new Clematis in my garden, both climbing up the same obelisk. How exciting - do you think I'm allowed to name them?

Update: The Constant Gardener wrote a great article for the BBC Gardening pages about how C. 'Josephine' was discovered and named. She also reveals C. 'Crystal Fountain' was going to be called something else, but it got blocked by a rather famous company. It seems that naming a plant can be rather tricky - though I do like the sound of Clematis 'VP' as suggested by Karen!

Update May 2010: My mystery Clematis was launched as C. 'Diamantina' by Raymond Evison at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. She might not be Clematis 'VP', but I still love her to bits :)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

ABC Wednesday - J is For...


A couple of weeks ago Karen at Artistsgarden wrote a great piece about the messy bits in her garden and challenged the rest of us to 'fess up on the situation chez nous. At the time I was feeling most superior having frantically tidied everything up so I could safely show you my garden without embarassing myself. However, old habits die hard and like the pile of 'useful things for later' on my allotment which I had to remove and rehome earlier in the year, a quick inspection last week shows that I'm beginning to accumulate things at home again. It took me less than five minutes to take the pictures in the above collage. Some of the pictures give you a sneaky extra look at some of last week's Impulse Buys too.

Here's what they are - clockwise from top left:
  • 1 & 2 - pots from planting up winter planters and various seed labels
  • 3. Old washing up bowl - why it's there is a complete mystery
  • 4. Useful bits of pipe for adding drainage
  • 5. You can never have enough old bricks and bits of paving!
  • 6. My next door neighbour's most recent donation of pet bedding and grass clippings for composting/mulch up at the allotment - still to be taken up there a week later
  • 7. Old bits of rotten wood taken off the front of the house when we had it repainted a couple of years ago
  • 8. Bit of land drain 'acquired' when the estate open spaces were done up a couple of years ago. Some of it's been used to make carrot planters up at the allotment (tall enough so the carrot root fly don't get in) - this is earmarked for the same use, but I do find it useful to kneel on when doing stuff in the cold frame instead
  • 9. Old compost bags and pot trays - to go back in the shed when I can get back in it

Remember - one person's idea of Junk is another's idea of something useful, especially if we do more reusing and recycling!

Do have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog for more jazzy stuff beginning with J.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Open Garden - The Awards Ceremony

Picture courtesy of: WaterAid/Daniel O'Leary

I feel a bit like my old Headmistress at Speech Day. It was always held at this time of year and she'd be presiding over a table groaning with prizes for presentation to high achievers. But it was always a bittersweet time as it marked a fresh chapter in the school's history and not everyone could receive a prize, no matter how deserving they were.

It's the same with my Open Garden. I've decided to keep it open for a while: the Just Giving website is valid until 9th February and some of you've asked to come and visit a few times more. I also have a couple of great prizes to auction a little later in the year - watch this space for more details. Thus begins a new chapter in my open garden's history - I'll be revamping it over the next few weeks to reflect its new status. I'm in the process of adding some new bits and pieces, such as the plant lists for each bed. I've also added another recipe - for courgette and brie soup, yum. I'll be adding links - I didn't put them in during the main fundraising phase as I wanted you to stay in the garden and not be tempted to wander away. That's not so important now (though donations are still welcome!), so I can put in a proper blogroll as a thank you to everyone who's participated.

And I too have a table groaning with prizes. Some have been awarded already, but I still have a substantial number here to hand out. So without further ado, here's the final list of awards. Big round of applause please:

So unlike Speech Day, in this instance everyone is a winner! Hurrah! Well done and I'll be in touch regarding getting your prizes to you and finding out what you'd like in the case of the seed giveaway. Thanks so much for making my Open Garden such a success - donations stand at £861.50 at the moment. It's been such fun to do and I'm going to miss it a lot. I feel like I've had a very early Christmas this year - I guess I'm going to feel a bit flat for a while...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Thanks and Prizes

This Gladiolus was too late for Blooms Day, but has brightened up today instead

Firstly I need to thank those of you who've nominated Veg Plotting for a Blotanical award in the Best UK Blog and Best Agrarian Blog categories. It was a complete surprise as my feed (or lack of it) has been caught up in the Blotanical feed problems saga, so I've been feeling a bit lonely here of late. Thanks to all of you who've remembered me and especially those of you who are still coming over to have a read. I'm in extremely good company, so I urge those of you who are in registered in Blotanical to go and vote for your favourites. I've found it an ideal opportunity to make acquaintance with some new blogs too - what could be better than a recommendation via the votes of my fellow bloggers?

Now let's get down to the day's business - the results of Friday's quiz. I received three entries; two were 100% correct. Thanks to Anna, Happy Mouffetard and Zoe for entering: I hope you found it a good diversion over the weekend. Out of Hat 1 came The Allotment Keeper's Handbook by Jane Perrone and out of Hat 2 came... Anna. Well done Anna - I'll contact you shortly about arranging to send you your prize.

I still have the final prize draw to make, so some of the rest of you will receive something. I'll let you know the results tomorrow. It's not too late to donate!

And here's the answers:
  1. Q. How did I squeeze in 9 more Clematis into my garden? A. By buying 3 obelisks and planting 3 Clematis of the same pruning group to grow up each of them
  2. Q. What do we call our garden shed? A. The Shed with Windows
  3. Q. What's the length of the sides of our garden? A. 50 x 50 feet
  4. Q. Where was the photograph taken for the Bramble Jam recipe? A. At Threadspider's House (I also accepted kitchen)
  5. How many photographs were donated by WaterAid to illustrate the Open Garden site? A. 4 - I sneakily put one at the bottom of the Sidebar entries; a little girl from Malawi, thanking you for your support. The rest of them were the blog header picture, the little boy above the Just Giving button and the Sing for Water 2007 picture. BTW all the African pictures are from Malawi, which is one of the two countries supported from our Sing for Water fundraising. The other is Ghana.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Food Bloggers Get Together

No problem with blight here - tomato selection courtesy of Patrick & Steph

Yesterday found me in Oxford - at the Botanic Gardens on a glorious September day. Thanks to Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots, a number of food growing bloggers met to chew the fat and also some produce. It was a nice mix of bloggers present - some of whom I read regularly, some I lurk on from time to time and others were completely and delightfully new. And with a real international flavour, as not only had Patrick and Steph come over from Amsterdam, Kate (Hills and Plains Seed Savers) had stopped off on her whirlwind tour from Australia to be with us for the day.

The day kicked off with non-stop chatter. That's the great thing with meeting bloggers, there's no introductory barrier to get over first. Ben from The Real Seed Catalogue had to be very assertive and insist he start his talk. At this point we gave up on the hired room and decamped outside to listen to his whirlwind tour of seed domestication over the last 11,000 years and the reasons why seed saving is important. Patrick then followed with a talk on garlic - he grew 100 varieties this year, so it's a subject close to his heart. Simon (The Plot Thickens - great to meet at last, hurrah!) finished off the morning's proceedings with some thoughts on allotments (including one of his poems), plus a fun quiz based on his blog.

Lunch then followed with us picnicking on the grass - for once we had to seek a shady spot. How often has that happened in England this year? The pictured bowl of tomatoes was full to the brim when the picnic started. Cat (Manor Stables Veg Plot) also supplied a delicious pie filled with apples from her neighbour's garden.

Next we had a seed swap. I was feeling rather a fraud at this point as my disorganisation meant I'd bought no seeds. Besides, mine would have been paltry fare compared with the heirloom varieties, seeds saved in Australia and Patrick's unusual garlic varieties on offer. So I held back for a while until encouraged by the others to take a few packets. So I've made a deal with myself as a result - I'll not only save some seed, I'll also make sure some of it gets passed on to someone else. I'm particularly looking forward to trying Rebsie's (Daughter of the Soil) tomatoes and Patrick's garlic. I'll also try out his tip about mulching garlic with straw to even out the temperature over winter.

The day ended with a stroll around the gardens - I was impressed with the standard of labelling. In most gardens it's usually non-existent, sporadic or wrong. There pretty well everything was labelled and we had a fine time going around the glasshouses and were pleased to find a good food crop display both in there and outside. We only went round a fraction of the outside gardens, so I've made a mental note to return soon.

It was a great day in great company. I was particularly pleased to meet Emma (Fluffius Muppetus) and thank her personally for donating a prize for my Open Garden fundraiser. Mustardplaster, Soilman and Spade Work were friendly first timers for me. It was inspirational and educational too - so thank you Patrick and Steph for arranging such a great day for us.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Round Garden Quiz

Singing for Water, London 14th September

It's Friday, so it's time for another prize giveaway. As promised earlier in the week, I'm setting a fun quiz for you to ponder over the weekend. All the answers can be found in my Open Garden (opens in a new window, so you can easily get back to the questions on here). All you need to do is grab a cuppa, pop over to the garden, make a small donation (if you haven't done so already) and find your answers. There were just 4 entrants in the last quiz, so you may increase your chances of winning a prize if you enter this one.

As I'm away over most of the weekend, you have until 9am Monday morning British Summer Time to send me your answers to: vegplotting at gmail dot com - good luck!
  1. How did I squeeze in 9 more Clematis into my garden?
  2. What do we call our garden shed?
  3. What's the length of the sides of our garden?
  4. Where was the photograph taken for the Bramble Jam recipe?
  5. How many photographs were donated by WaterAid to illustrate the Open Garden site?

British gardeners should also note James-AS has kindly donated a couple of Malvern Show tickets for 27-28 September, which I'm auctioning on eBay as an additional WaterAid fundraiser. If you'd like to go and don't have a ticket why not visit eBay and make a bid? Searching for Malvern Show should get you there and the auctions close just after 8.20 pm on Sunday. Note that the tickets can be used for either day, for the day of use only.

Update 9.00 pm Sunday 21st September - the tickets raised a further £13.50 on eBay.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

ABC Wednesday - I is For...

...Impulse Buying

All of us who garden do this don't we? No garden visit is complete without a little something from the plant sales area on the way out. We tell ourselves it'll be a nice souvenir of a lovely day out, or it's just what we've been looking for, it's an absolute bargain, or it'll be ideal for...

...ideal for where? If you're like me, you bring your new most treasured possession home and then reality hits. There's absolutely nowhere for it to go. I get round that temporarily by putting it in quarantine - after all I don't want to introduce any new nasties into my garden. And there it stays - I've just managed to plant out a lovely Phorium 'Jester' in the front garden. It's been in quarantine for two years and it had to wait for a variegated Rhododendron ponticum to die before it could be planted out in a chunky Mayan pot. Looking at my nursery area I've got a tree fern, two Heuchera, a Syringa palbin, a Prunus mume, a smoke bush, chocolate mint, Christmas box, lavender, two kinds of Sanguisorba, a Hydrangea quercifolia, two kinds of daffodils, that Clematis x aromatica that's twinkling away nicely on this month's slideshow (purchased last Friday - yes the RHS show did unblock my resistance to using my half price plant voucher at the local garden centre) and an Astrantia all looking for new homes. I've just put in a massive bulb order, but couldn't resist augmenting it with all the plants on special offer, such as some Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'. In May five kinds of Dahlia will join them. All these will find a home - some are lined up for my planned garden revamp and I've just spotted a nice Heuchera shaped area that's opened up in one of my borders. But what on earth possessed me to buy this Holly tree (another I - Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea Marginata)? I think it's a lovely tree and yes, at the moment I could find a space for it, but only if it stays the size it is now. That's just not going to happen is it?

I suspect I'll have to resort to my usual solution to excess plant buying - guerilla gardening.

What do you do with your impulse buys? And what's the oldest plant you have waiting to get planted out?

Do you fancy doing a little Impulse Buying too? Right now? James-AS has donated a couple of tickets to Malvern Autumn Show on 27-28th September as part of my WaterAid fundraising. The tickets can be used on either day and it's just been announced that Toby Buckland, the new lead presenter of Gardeners' World will be in attendance on the Sunday. Also, fellow blogger Deb will be showing off her first show garden there - click on the link for a sneak preview of the design and the run up to the show. I've been to the Spring show and it's a lovely venue - one of the best ones for a garden event. I'm also hoping to be there. So if you'd like to come too, I've put the tickets up for sale on eBay, with the proceeds from the sale going directly to WaterAid. Searching eBay for Malvern Show should take you straight there. If not, leave me a Comment and I'll give you the Item Numbers.

And after that, why not visit the ABC Wednesday blog for more pictures and stories.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Flushed with Success

One of the more unusual volunteer opportunities WaterAid has on offer

I re-discovered a number of things I'd forgotten on Sunday - getting up in the dark, the 5.30 am Shipping Forecast on Radio 4, mist laden fields and empty roads. They were all worth it for the experiences later on that day. Sing for Water forms part of the Thames Festival - an end of summer extravaganza held on the banks of the river. A heady mix of dance, world music, stalls on all sorts of watery themes and of course song. All of it free, except for the food and drink. It's really hard for me to adequately describe the day - except to say it was one of the best, ever. I hope the following pictures will give you a flavour.

1,000 people in rainbow coloured tops with nothing to do but sing our hearts out...

... to an audience of 1,500+, who gave us a standing ovation at the end...

... conducted by Michael and Roxanne (who wrote Focus on the Horizon), exaggerating every movement so we could all see what was wanted...

... right in the heart of London opposite where Zoe could see from her perch on the Epsom Downs...

... with some of you actually making donations over at my Open Garden whilst we were singing. Thank you so much! You've helped to exceed my second target of £750. Today the donations stand at £813. Shall we go for a third target of £1,000? Oh yes, I think so.

Update 30/6 2009: I've just found WaterAid's promo of last year's Sing For Water. A chance for you to hear a little bit of most of the songs, plus a glimpse of Chris and Ali being interviewed on the day.

Monday, 15 September 2008

GBBD - September's Mists

September's a transition month: my small pots get filled with Cyclamen - this year's chosen colour is a bright pink edged with a suspicion of white. The autumn clearing of both plot and garden commences and everywhere there is the smell of damp earth and the beginnings of decay. Banded spiders spin their webs everywhere, taking me unawares during my morning garden inspections and even getting into my eyes at one point last week.

Therefore I was surprised to find lots of new flowers to show you this month. Enough to change July's slideshow to a new one in my sidebar. This has been helped mainly by the Dahlias and hardy Fuchsias making a splendid show. Both will carry on to the first frosts and bring cheer to both front and back gardens. I'm particularly pleased with my new Fuchsia 'Hawkshead'. I'd coveted one for ages and finally found them for sale at the RHS Show in Cardiff in April. I planted it in the front garden where its slender but plentiful white flowers, with the merest hints of green and pink, are brightening this north facing area. I combined it with a white Diascia - I must use more of them next year.

A thick mist has adorned the local fields the past few days. In my garden these flowers are my mists - here until the chill winds and frosts of autumn blow them away.

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

PS I will be posting an account of yesterday's Sing for Water - my head's still too full of the sights and sounds of yesterday's adventure for me to make sense of it for you yet. Probably tomorrow?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A Bee in My Bonnet

My friend S with all his 'girls'

I've had a long standing invitation from my friend S in Corsham to go and visit his new bees. These were acquired a few months ago, but it was a chance encounter with his partner L on the train to London on Thursday that actually saw us make a tentative arrangement for me to go and see them yesterday.

I phoned up in the morning to confirm arrangements. Yes it was OK as long as it wasn't raining and not too windy for them - so I wouldn't have been able to see them any earlier anyway as that's just how our weather's been for ages. But a miracle occured - the sun shone and it was actually quite warm. Too warm for someone asked to don themselves in long trousers, a kagoule and gloves to protect herself from the bees, S not having a spare beekeepers outfit to hand.

So apart from donning my 'safety outfit', I confirmed I wasn't allergic to bee stings (I don't know I haven't been stung by one before), wasn't wearing perfume (the smell can make bees go mad and attack you) and I was wearing the right kind of deodorant (preferably none, for the same reason as the perfume, but my unscented stick variety was deemed acceptable). S donned his safety outfit and went about making some smoke to calm his charges down. This comprised of a funnel shaped tin with bellows attached containing some lit cardboard. I was put in charge of gently pressing the bellows for a while to keep the vessel smoking whilst S went to get the rest of the stuff he needed. Whilst he did that I took this badly posed one-handed photo of the smoke generator.

The bees are at the bottom of the garden, just past the orchard area. As S got them late in the season, they're not collecting sufficient nectar and pollen for their winter stores, so he's having to supplement it with a sugar mix. The bees are busy putting their stores into the cells and ensuring there's enough of next year's brood locked in with the food. Already most of the chambers in the hive were turning yellow, where the cells have been capped with wax. S also showed me some uncapped cells and you could just see the grubs of the new worker bees in them. One chamber held a surprise, the cells were looking quite different and he thought this was the start of making the new drone component of the colony. It was either that or for a new queen bee, but as the worker bees were shaking their bottoms skywards at the entrance of the hive (bee language for 'the queen is here, so all's well'), S thought it was more likely these would become drones. I think that means the colony's pretty healthy: the male drones only serve one purpose - to help breed a new queen (thus they're only good for one thing - sex, typical!), so there has to be a healthy supply of female worker bees around first to provide enough food for the survival of the colony, before 'thought' can be given to making drone and queen cells.

It was fascinating stuff. S hasn't perfected his smoke yet, so I was hastily despatched to relight the smoker at one point. And whilst I thought I'd battened down the hatches with the hood on my kagoule to protect most of my face, a bee did manage to find it's way in there at one point, buzzing angrily in my ear until I was able to remove myself from the vicinity of the hive and let it out. Bees hate vigorous movement, so all this had to be done in a very calm fashion otherwise I would have been stung. It didn't put me off. I'd dearly love to have some bees of my own, but I don't think my garden's suitable. They need to be in a spot facing the rising sun and in sunshine for a good part of the day to keep them warm. That would mean putting them on the patio, which I suspect is too close to the house. I don't think they'd be acceptable on the allotment either - our plot contract says no animals. Do you think I could get away with saying they're insects, not animals?

Update: S is keeping a blog about his bees - Diary of a Novice Bee-keeper.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Welcome Back Gardeners' World!

Did you hear the collective sigh of relief go round our gardening fraternity last night? Yes, I hadn't dared to hope, but Toby Buckland's start at the helm of our flagship gardening programme was a welcome return to form. He's someone who seems approachable, isn't afraid of lashings of rain whilst saying his piece to camera and doesn't mind showing his dirty hands whilst eating a freshly plucked tomato. I even picked up a couple of ideas to try at home. It's ages since watching Gardeners' World has actually made me want to go out and start gardening instead of my usual falling asleep half way through the programme.

And there appears to have been an almost universal uniting of us behind our new Head Gardener. Unbelievably the BBC Message Boards are almost 100% in their praise. The reaction I've seen thus far in the blogosphere is positive too. This has got to be a first.

So join me in raising a glass of home made wine or two (or any other tipple that takes your fancy) and toast our new gardening team! And what do you think - thumbs up, or thumbs down?

A Day of Rehearsals and Prizes

Logo courtesy of: WaterAid

Tomorrow's the BIG day - the Sing for Water concert in London. So I found myself in Trowbridge at lunchtime for another rehearsal. A number of the songs will be sung quite differently in London - in a much simpler way. Apparently we were given a much more complicated mix for our concert in July to make the performance more interesting. However moving 800-1,000 singers across The Scoop in London (where we'll be performing) can't be done, so I'll be somewhere at the side of choir for tomorrow's performance and there I'll stay.

But our choir masters don't want us to rest on our laurels. So we had a completely new song to learn today, in an African language to boot. Luckily for us, most of the song is calling (i.e. a soloist or group singing the song's verse), and we just sing the response back. It's a catchy number, involving African drummers too. The tempo quickens as we go along, which was a little difficult to master at times, but we have a rehearsal in London at 9.30 am tomorrow to put the final polish on the song. That means we leave Corsham at 6.30 am, a time I previously didn't think existed on a Sunday. I'm grateful Corsham's the final pickup, the Trowbridge singers will be picked up at 6 am. :0

As far as fund raising is concerned, we stand at £698 tonight, so we're nearly there folks, just £52 to go!

It's time for another prize draw: I know I should have posted this yesterday, but I wanted to give you a report on today's rehearsals as well. I did make the draw last night and pulled Gardening with Kids out of Hat 1. Hat 2 yielded... Tiny Clanger as the winner. Congratulations Tiny, I'll be in touch shortly to arrange getting your prize to you.

I still have lots of good prizes left and next Sunday marks the closure of my Open Garden. So I propose to do another quiz next Friday and a draw for the remaining prizes on Sunday. Remember, if you enter the quiz, you're very likely to be improving your odds of winning a prize. That's assuming you've donated of course...

Friday, 12 September 2008

A Day of Near Misses & Close Encounters

I seem to have the stamp of approval

I'm a little late in filing my report - The Garden Monkey has the best paparazzi style, JAS is in lurve (with the tall pink frothy number to the left - Persicaria orientalis) and R. Pete Free tells it like it is. So I'll try and fill some of the gaps left with my overview of yesterday's RHS show at the Inner Temple. I missed most of the paparazzi shots - Roy Lancaster, Nigel Colborn, the President of the RHS, the editor of The Garden magazine and Jekka McVicar were all spotted within seconds of my arrival, well before I could whip my camera out. Next time I'll have it to hand before I get through the gate. I managed to capture Peter Seabrook - only because he was held rooted to the spot for a couple of hours by his adoring public. I'm saving that story for another day. Unfortunately I didn't even get to bump into James, even though we were there at the same time (sob) and I must have missed the Garden Monkey by a mere swish of that simian's tail.

Luckily I'd arranged to meet R. Pete Free (RPF), who was a little damp around the edges owing to the weather earlier in the day. RPF had already had a good look around by the time I arrived, having stayed up in London the night before. So it was more of a quick handover of the baton rather than exploring the show together. My first pass around the show left me a little disappointed - there were lots of people and many of the stands felt unapproachable as they were across a sea of well-worn grass (I could feel the Head Gardener tearing her hair out at the sight). But as the crowds dispersed, I was able to focus more and have a really good chat to the exhibitors. This was much more prefereable for me, but disappointing for them I suspect. At other shows I've tended to be a bit overwhelmed by it all: this time there was space to breathe and really take note of the plants. I've an extensive list to take back to The Botanic Nursery - it seemed silly to buy the plants in London when the nursery's a few miles away. Avon Bulbs got thoroughly perused and my jaw dropped at The National Collection of Dahlias stand put on by Winchester Growers Ltd. I'll have some very special cuttings finding their way to Chippenham next spring. I also bumped into Elspeth Thompson and it was great to thank her personally for her visit to my open garden - she's a charming person, especially to complete strangers who buttonhole her in the middle of a vast marquee!

The Inner Temple show marked a return to the RHS' grass roots as this was the venue for the RHS Flower Show before it moved to Chelsea in 1912. As a result a number of the stands were travelling back in time. The most noteable for me was Pennard Plants' display of old gardening implements, gardening books and heritage vegetable varieties. It was a fine display and drew many remarks from my fellow attendees. The cucumber straightener in particular drew lots of attention. Next year Pennard Plants will be giving a talk at my allotment society, so this display has whetted my appetite for both the talk and the heritage varieties that will be on offer. I'm also a sucker for heritage fruit varieties, so the RHS Wisley display of late 19th and early 20th century apple and pear varieties was a welcome sight.

For me the absolute highlight of the show were the Inner Temple Gardens themselves. They formed a masterclass in late summer border planting. I don't know whether it was done specially for the show, but the very talented Head Gardener had also displayed the planting plans for the two large borders just inside the garden's entrance. They were utterly magnificent, as were the annual borders (see picture at the side of the first paragraph) and the frothy white Cosmos borders flanking the steps down into the main part of the garden. I spent ages taking notes and dozens of photographs and now have plenty of ideas for some of the 50 plant profiles I need to complete for my KLC course. The quality planting wasn't confined to the borders either. There was an inventive clutter of pots flanking the sides of a set of steps at the opposite end of the garden. I also spotted an impressive blight free crop of tomatoes nearby. I also loved this silvery display seen on the way back from my visit to the Temple Church for Dr. Brent Elliot's talk on the history of the RHS.

There was a very relaxed feel to the show. The ambience was greatly enhanced by the presence of a steel band and the Bollywood band (pictured), who were particularly fun. However, I understand they were not to the taste of the hallowed precincts surrounding the garden. Lawyers take their work very seriously indeed. However, the bands did return later on in the afternoon and I stayed to just listen, parked on a bench by the pool (whilst giggling at the incongruous presence of fire extinguishers - see The Garden Monkey for more). I was also amused by the statue of a child at the side of the pool - the child's book said 'Lawyers, I suppose, were children once'. I wonder if that's a quote? * I'm glad I stayed - it meant I bumped into Emma instead of us missing each other. We had a good gossip before we were ushered out of the gardens ready for their transformation as a place of evening entertainment. Emma was part of the great and the good invited, so regretably we had to say goodbye - just as the flaming torches were lit ready for the party to commence.

* = It is, by Lamb.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

VP's Guide to Gardening Bargains #1

It's been a great week here in Chippenham for finding a few bargains, so I thought I'd pass these on to you.

I've just discovered Gardens Illustrated magazine. Of late I've become a bit frustrated with seeing the same old articles across most of the genre and had previously dismissed Gardens Illustrated as being a bit toffee nosed. But a couple of months ago, I bought a copy and found most of the articles to be a much more satisfying read. It's not perfect - I suspect I'll never find a gardening magazine to be perfect again after having the pick of so many gardening blogs to read every day. But sometimes I do hanker after the printed word (much easier on the eye than a computer screen) and this one fits my mood and needs for the moment. I was delighted this month to find their subscription offer includes a free book I've been meaning to buy for a while, the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials. The cost of the book in the shops is almost as much as the subscription itself, so I've treated myself. If you already have this book, they offer the recently updated RHS Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations as an alternative. I've met the author and my copy of the older version is very well thumbed indeed, so it's another worthwhile book to own if you don't already. The offer closes on September 28th.

Some of you are already familiar with the story of Victoria opening her garden under the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) late last month. The NGS also operate a 'Friends' scheme - it's £10 and includes a copy of the famous Yellow Book, plus special NGS events, discounts on entry to some of the gardens and a regular newsletter. For £10 this has got to be another bargain. Membership is closed at the moment as most of the season's events have been completed. However, by contacting them now, they will put you on the early mailing list for when the scheme starts up again in the New Year.

On a more local front, Franks Plants has started up again for the autumn season - 6 pots of Cyclamen for £5 and packs of bedding plants for £1.50. Shrubs start at £4.50. It's at Frogwell School this Saturday/Sunday. Also, Whitehall Garden Centre have a free bag of daffodils for Garden Club members, plus a half price plant offer for any plant you care to choose, no matter the price. Would you believe I went round the place yesterday and couldn't find one plant to buy. I'd set my heart on a golden Irish yew to partner my other one. There weren't any and my brain just couldn't get into the groove of selecting something else. I'm hoping a quick tour round the RHS Inner Temple show today will cure me of such ills and I can return to the fray refreshed and ready to grab my bargain!

However, I've saved the best til last. Today sees the start ot the annual Heritage Open Days (HOD) weekend. Hundreds of properties will be open to the public for free. Many of them usually aren't open to the public, so if you're nebby like me, it's a great opportunity to have a good old nose around an unusual building. On Saturday 300 National Trust properties also open their doors under this scheme, so it's a great way to see some of our best heritage for absolute nowt, including some of the best gardens in Engand. Sunday's taken up with Sing for Water in London, but I'm looking to use the HOD link above to find something open locally on Saturday - see you there?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

ABC Wednesday - H is For...

... Huggable and Happy

Emsworth (for it is he) is on his way to join me at VP Gardens. Mine will be but a temporary home as Maggi (fellow KLC Designing with Plants Student and winner of my first Open Garden prize giveaway) has made him to help me raise funds for WaterAid. Her bears normally retail at £75 or over, so he's not only a very huggable and happy looking bear, he's a posh one too. You can tell that by the jaunty tilt of his bow tie. Therefore I'm not adding him to my Open Garden prize stash, I'll be auctioning him off a bit closer to Christmas. Watch this space - I'll let you know when he's up for grabs. If you can't wait that long, Maggi does take commissions - do leave me a Comment if you're interested.

I might just have to put a bid in for him myself.

Do checkout ABCWednesday3 for further stories and pictures bought to you by the letter H.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Quiz Results Are In

Drumroll... We have our first international winner in my Open Garden prize giveaways!

Congratulations to Amanda from Cooking in Someone Else's Kitchen - you've won this lovely necklace made by ArtistsGarden. I'll be in touch with you shortly to make arrangements for getting your prize to you. I'll also take it along to Sunday's concert just in case I bump into you there as I see you'll be in England then. I do hope we do get to meet - it would be lovely to see you and handover your prize personally.

Well done to everyone who entered - Threadspider, PatientGardener and Anna. You all submitted correct entries, but as ever it's the luck of the draw. Don't worry, there's still plenty more up for grabs. I'll be doing another quiz at some point as I put together far more than the 5 questions asked last week. Note, if last Friday's quiz is anything to go by, it's a good way of shortening the odds to win a prize! Also note, Amanda has made the chocolate cake featured in my Open Garden. Her version lasted a mere 20 minutes in her house...

And here's the anwers to the quiz:
  1. Q. What event was taking place when I started planting up the garden? A. Sydney Olympic Games
  2. Q. What's appeared on the allotment site for the first time this year? A. I accepted either Allotment People or Scarecrows
  3. Q. When is the Sing for Water concert in London? A. 14th September
  4. Q. What's the unusual ingredient in my chocolate cake? A. Mayonnaise
  5. Q. What does NAH stand for? A. Non Allotmenteering Husband

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sowing Some Seeds - Let's Knit!

It's not often you see me on here is it? ;)

A while ago I wrote about Rebel Knitting. At the time Helen aka Patientgardener commented that like me, she's looking out for some sort of community knitting project to join in with. Yesterday she found it and emailed to tell me so. Kathryn Hall of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy has started a great blogging community initiative to knit warm scarves for schoolgirls in a remote region of Pakistan. Kathryn was inspired by reading Three Cups of Tea, a dramatic tale of a mountaineer lost on the slopes of K2, who is rescued by the inhabitants of a remote village. From that act of kindness and sheer chance, the mountaineer, Greg Mortensen, returned to the United States determined to start a school for girls back in Pakistan. Having read the book, Kathryn explains the story much better than I can (see the above link) and would like to help in a more practical way than just giving money. So she's come up with the idea of knitting warm scarves for the girls. A number of our blogging pals in the States have pledged to join her and Helen and I will also be knitting away over the next few weeks.

Kathryn is co-ordinating things in the US, but it struck me that it would be wasteful for Helen and I send our scarves all the way to the States for them to be sent on to Pakistan. So one of us (and I'm happy for it to be me) will co-ordinate a similar initiative from here in the UK. Would you like to join us? Each scarf should be 1 foot wide and 5 feet long and can be in whatever yarn, colour(s) and pattern you wish to use. Leave a comment here if you and/or anyone you know who likes knitting are intending to join us. Helen and I will work out exactly what needs to be done regarding timing and where to send your completed scarves to. The most important thing is to raid your wool stash, get your needles out now and start knitting!

Thanks to Threadspider for taking the photo today when I went over to hers for coffee. Note to Emmat - this is what happens when you get three wet days in February ;)
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