Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 31 October 2008

GBDW - Sheds & Outbuildings

Our frost tinted garden shed - late October 2008

I've been struggling to write something about my shed for this month's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop. It was the word design I was having difficulty with. At first I thought about the implication you've either made it yourself or done something spectacular with your garden building. We've only repaired the roof felt this year, plus given it a couple of coats of eco-friendly preservative to see it through the winter. I haven't got the trendy living roof I considered earlier in the year and our shed was certainly an off-the-peg purchase.

But then I gave myself a shake and started to consider design as finding something fit for purpose and occupying the space available well. Here I think our chosen building fits the bill. The lower patio in the garden is diamond shaped, so the traditional square or rectangular shaped buildings wouldn't make the best use of space. And choosing something that looks more like a summer house makes a more attractive focal point at the bottom of the garden. It's also in a shaded area, under a silver birch tree so I believe keeping the natural wood shade (red cedar) is more pleasing than any colour we could have painted it. It's at the bottom of a short, wide flight of steps - this has given me the opportunity to use shade loving potted plants around the entrance area which hide the leaf-mould heap and storage bins to the sides of the building.

Sometimes simplicity is all you need to provide a satisfying design solution.

I love my shed, so I've written about it before. To find out more about our choice and its construction, there's a piece on my Open Garden fundraiser blog. I've also posted in this blog about its demise earlier this year and subsequent repairs. I also have a very rundown shed that's part of my allotment - make do and mend sheds are the way of life there. You can find out more about it in the same article on my Open Garden blog and also why I had to evacuate it for a few months this year here.

And now here's a quick round-up of some great resources I've found. Sheds are part of the great British eccentricity and have a number of blogs devoted to them. Two of the best are We Heart Sheds, which also sponsors National Shed Week in July. I wrote a photoessay to celebrate the diversity of our allotment sheds for this year's event. The other site is a great resource for cool looking and contemporary sheds, particularly those used for homeworking and is called Shedworking. And finally if anyone is thinking of installing a green roof on their shed, then instructions can be found here.

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop is bought to you by Gardening Gone Wild.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Fat Lady's Sung

That's it - the frost's turned my Dahlia leaves to mush. But oh, what a finale to see us out until next year. These are the dark leaves of D. 'Moonfire' on view with their delicate white tracery for just a few short hours yesterday morning. The best was saved 'til last.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

ABC Wednesday - O is for...

... Oranges

and lemons, plus juicy reds and maybe a hint of mauve too. The deciduous trees are changing fast and a carpet of colour is on our streets. I've returned to childish pleasures - kicking through as many piles of leaves on my daily walks as I can find. Here's a summary of some of the seasonal goodies I've found around my garden so far this autumn.

Do visit the ABC Wednesday blog for more Original ideas for the letter O.

Arrrgggghhhh - the quirkiness of Blogger! For some reason I can't get the collage to load in a clickable form, but over at the ABC Wednesday blog it has! I've also reloaded it, but it still won't enlarge. So if you want to have a better look, I'm afraid that option's only available here at the moment :(

Dave at The Home Garden has started a Garden Bloggers Fall Colour Project inviting everyone to show off their peak autumn colours this year. There are some mouthwatering contributions to check out as well as a link to this very post. Thanks Dave :) Why not head on over there and have a look at everyone's pictures, or better still write a post about your autumn colours and tell Dave about it? The Fall Colour Project link above gives you details on how to do this. You don't have to be a garden blogger to take part, but lovely autumnal pictures are compulsory!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Changing Chippenham - Plans for the Town's Centre

Royal Mail's sorting office - from Chippenham Railway Station - late February 2008

Brrrr - how chilly it's been today! Just as I'd decided to embrace Autumn at last, it's gone all wintry here. It's even tried to snow - with a very fine layer settling on the fields over at Lackham agricultural college. I can't remember when it last did that in October.

As well as the changes in our season, Chippenham's undergoing major changes in its character. It's hard to continue to describe it as a market town; more like a commuter town for the surrounding places like Bath, Bristol and Swindon - even London. Another 3,600 houses may controversially be built (thus increasing the town's population by about a third) - perhaps on the outskirts, on greenbelt, flood-plain land no less. Surely this is madness? ASDA (aka Wal-Mart) are taking the recent refusal for their plans to build a major new store to appeal in the High Court (does a town with a population of 30,000 really need a third large supermarket?) and all sorts of schemes seem to be afoot for the centre of the town.

One of these concerns the area around the railway station, itself sympathetically refurbished a while ago. Almost in the heart of the town, yet up a steep hill, this area is home to heritage buildings, plus a motley collection of business premises and the local college. The latter may be rebuilt; one of the businesses has folded and a planning permission notice has gone up for its redevelopment into shops and housing. Rumours abound that the whole area and other parts of central Chippenham are going to be redeveloped - I'm uncertain whether this is to be on a piecemeal or wholistic basis.

One of the central features of the area is the Royal Mail's sorting office for Chippenham. It's snuggled next to the station, but no longer really needing to be located here since transportation of the mail via train ceased a few years ago. This is the office where we pick up large packages and parcels where direct delivery was attempted, but we or our neighbours weren't in to receive them. There's been rumours for a while the office will move and this prime spot redeveloped. Well, those rumours are no more - the red vans have gone and a for sale sign has gone up on the buildings.

Luckily for us we read the card a couple of days ago dropped off by the postman when he failed to deliver a package to us. If we hadn't, NAH would have gone merrily into town as usual, only to find he'd have to come out again to the local industrial estate close to our home. Now you may be thinking the pick-up point's relocation has worked in our favour. That may be, but it's now much more inconvenient for a large portion of Chippenham's residents. We're also concerned the local infrastructure isn't really geared up for the increase in traffic. Besides, having a centrally located pick-up point meant people were more likely to go and peruse the local shops nearby. That won't be happening know, so I wonder what the impact will be on our town centre's businesses in the future?

What changes are you noticing in your neighbourhood, seasonal or otherwise?

As the nights draw in and the pace of gardening slows, I expect to return to some of my other regular themes like Changing Chippenham, How Advertising Works and Celebrating Regionality on an ad hoc basis. My last Changing Chippenham piece was in July, right here.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Tomato Trials

Windowsill ripened tomatoes - October 2008

We're expecting a frost tonight and an icy blast is forecast from the Arctic for the next few days, so I've been running around the garden today picking the last of my outdoor grown tomatoes and making sure the Dahlias are tucked up nicely for the winter.

I'm a bit surprised by my tomatoes this year. In August I'd written them off as tomato blight had well and truly set in. And yes, 7 plants were so far gone they went straight in the bin. The remaining 6 had a good dose of that treatment of last resort, Bordeaux Mixture. Three plants remained sickly looking and the other three (a good way away from the others and with much healthier foliage) soldiered on regardless. The upshot is I've had a couple of months of moderate tomato production. Enough for our daily salads until now - a much better result to last year when I managed to grow zero fruit. I've erred on the cautious side this time and picked the fruit as soon as they've started to ripen and finished the job off on the windowsill.

Even more surprising is the plants with blight have produced healthy tomatoes, even when others on the same truss have been affected. I'm wondering whether the Bordeaux Mixture has a slight systemic effect. I'd always thought it prevented blight by acting as a surface barrier to the fungus before it took hold. Was my spray timing sufficiently early to keep the plant healthy enough to produce fruit even when the fungus was attacking the plant? I see Pippa Greenwood has observed something similar with the tomatoes she's been trialling this year. The difference is hers are a new variety (Hundreds and Thousands): mine were common as muck Gardeners' Delight, not well known for its blight resistance. Pippa is speculating her new variety has some tolerance to blight, perhaps my Gardeners' Delight's developed some too? Needless to say I'm saving some seed from these battling tomatoes using the excellent guide Daughter of the Soil posted on her blog a while ago (I'm using the Quickie Bodge-Up method BTW) for a further trial of my own next year.

Like Pippa, I've also been trying a couple of varieties this year, though mine have been through the Gardeners' World magazine trial. I thought my return was going to be a null one seeing one of them was destroyed by blight before cropping and I've been picking the other variety before fully ripe. However, I had a reminder to send in my results a couple of days ago and when I re-read the questionnaire, I realised I have quite a lot to tell them after all.

Have you had any unusual results with your tomatoes this year, irrespective of whether you took part in a trial?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Getting Connected

In what feels like another life but was only a few years ago, I was a freshwater biologist. As a result I belong to a few online fora such as the British Ecological Society and Estuarine Science, which still have the odd announcement to interest me from time to time. A couple of days ago I received this:

'Dear all,

I'm a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where I recently finished my Ph.D on the philosophy of perception. With a team of people from Stanford and Cambridge, I've just launched a website,, which does two things: - It shows researchers around the world in a 'tree' format, organized according to the institutions and departments that they are associated with.

It enables researchers to see updates on the latest news in their area - the latest people, papers and talks. We are hoping that will eventually list every researcher in the world -- Faculty members, Post-Docs, and Graduate Students. Researchers can add their departments, and themselves, to the tree by clicking on the arrows. Researchers are adding themselves to the tree quite rapidly. More than 9,000 researchers have added themselves in the last two months...'

And so on. It reminds me of those pop music and comedy 'family tree' programmes which get broadcast on TV from time to time. I then started to mull over how a blogging family tree might look. I'd start with me in the centre, with all the blogs I link to and comment on arranged around me, then all their blogrolls fitted around them, and so on. I've just completed my first attempt. Of course I've had to use a very small scale to fit you all on there:

Can you just check I haven't left anyone out please ;)

Update: I didn't realise I would personally be getting connected when I wrote this yesterday - back into the world of Blotanical after fixing my feed last night. So, to those of you reading this post from there, welcome back!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Oh What a Circus, Oh What a Show

Click on image to enlarge it if needed

I went to Bristol's new temple of consumerism, Cabot Circus yesterday to meet some friends for lunch. The architecture's very striking and even the Christmas decorations are on a gigantic scale. I found myself not dashing round the stores in a shopaholic frenzy, but instead thinking for the first time ever about a striking contemporary garden - containing lots of clean lines with mixed textures and materials.

Most inspiring but probably not what the owners had in mind for me at all.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Monkeying Around

Am I the only person to find this latest story from the front of our local newspaper absolutely hilarious? It's a great combination of bizarre, lots of detail in a short space, yet leaving so many questions unanswered.

NB the clock's a reminder they go back an hour at 2am on Sunday.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

No Care, Less Acer

Remember this? I found one third of my lovely Acer tossed casually onto the top terrace amongst the Dahlias this morning. We're having the house fascias renewed at the moment, in the hope it'll prevent the squirrels getting into the attic again and nesting there. One of the workmen moved my beloved tree yesterday in order to start working on the back of the house.

I don't know what makes me more annoyed: the fact that four branches were thrown onto the garden in the hope I wouldn't notice the damage; nothing's actually been said about it yet (and they're not here today for me to raise it with them), never mind the lack of apology; or my oldest plant (24 years), nearly as old as my marriage, nurtured from a tiny tree and survivor of three house moves, will never look as magnificent again.

Hopping mad doesn't really cover how I feel at the moment.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

ABC Wednesday - N is for...


I'm surprised at how my gardening tastes are changing. Until recently Nerines were definitely in the 'not in my garden in my lifetime' category. However, I decided to start exploiting the garden's gravel areas last year, and these are perfect for the baked westerly facing sector right next to the house. During the summer evenings our brick walls radiate their stored heat back into the garden, so this is the warm, sheltered spot they need.

I investigated the possibilities at last month's Inner Temple and Malvern shows. I'd already decided Nerine bowdenii wasn't the one for me - the long drive from Dublin airport into the city sees lots of tired, bedraggled specimens in every single garden along the way and their floppy, sugary, baby pinkness was just too girly in my view. At Malvern I fell in love with the bright red Nerine 'Fothergillii Major', but no bulbs were on sale by the time I decided to buy some. Plenty were available at Lytes Cary Manor on Sunday, so I made sure I got my share this time. I also added a shocking pink Nerine hybrid 'Zeal Giant' for good measure. Unlike Nerine bowdenii, these can be planted out now to flower in late summer/early autumn next year. I've decided to plant them up in a pot as N. 'Fothergillii Major' in particular is tender. I'm going to use a relatively small one as they like to be cosied up together to flower well. I'm also worried the local squirrel population may be a bit partial to them, so they'll be kept tucked up in one of my cold frames until the spring.

Do visit the ABC Wednesday blog for more gorgeousness on the letter N.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Apple Day

It's Apple Day today, Common Ground's nationwide celebration of all things pomme. And to help my festivities (picking the last fruit in the garden before those pesky squirrels nick the lot), I've just received my favourite catalogue of the season. I discovered Adam's Apples three years ago after becoming interested in heritage apple varieties. The result was this internet discovery: lots of choice (over 100 varieties), far cheaper than most suppliers, who was doing a special offer on 10 trees suitable for cordons. E-mail and telephone conversations ensued where I described the soil, aspect and climate of my plot and some of the trees I'd like to have - Ashmead's Kernel, Falstaff and Egremont Russet were on my list. Adam then suggested some further varieties (e.g. Discovery to replace Beauty of Bath) and I ended up with a selection of 5. By then I was so confident of Adam's expertise, I left the choice of the other 5 to him. My 10 trees are a combination of old and new varieties:

  • Ashmead's Kernel
  • Court of Wick
  • Discovery
  • Egremont Russet
  • Falstaff
  • James Grieve
  • Kidds Orange Red
  • Princesse
  • Spartan
  • Sunset

The trees were healthy and very well packed on arrival. This year's been the first good cropping on the plot, as expected. The apples so far (since September) are truly scrumptious and some varieties will store well into the new year. As this is one of our indispensible weekly food items, that's very good news for our pockets.

Every year I receive my new catalogue and fantasise about a further selection of cooking, dessert and cider varieties for my dream orchard. Slack Ma Girdle, Hoary Morning and Sops in Wine are on my list alongside Roundway Magnum Bonum - an old Wiltshire variety that hails from just 10 miles away. I'm determined to squeeze in a few more somewhere, but I'll probably need to start or get involved with a community orchard to realise my true apple ambitions. In the meantime I'm also perusing the catalogue for other fruity delights for next year's plot, such as blackcurrants, kiwi fruit and possibly a more unusual variety of rhubarb.

Which apples or other fruit would you have in your dream garden or orchard?

Monday, 20 October 2008

VP's Guide to Good Manors

Click to enlarge image if needed

A return visit to Lytes Cary Manor for their 'Prepare for Spring' event yesterday. Plenty of colour left to admire; hints and tips from the Head Gardener's tour; crisp structural hedging; lots of lovely bulbs and plants to take home; polished off with a warming tot of ginger whisky liqueur courtesy of R. Pete Free. A perfectly relaxing afternoon.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Big on Pigs

We had a SUP outing yesterday. Not a tapestry in sight, but amongst the pigs arranged on display in Bath's Royal Victoria Park we found designs by Kaffe Fassett, Brandon Mably and Candace Bahouth. We went to the Farewell to the Pigs event - a chance to see all 105 pigs which have been placed around Bath and its environs all summer. Judging by the numbers in attendance yesterday, this fantastic public art event can be confirmed as a roaring success.

Friday, 17 October 2008

All Stitched Up and Ready To Go

I sent my consignment of tiny little hats to Innocent yesterday to meet today's deadline. I wonder if you or I'll spot any of my contributions in Sainsbury's next month?

Rather appropriately it's National Knitting Week, though I do prefer Flighty's discovery about Chocolate Week. Yum.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


Following on from yesterday's post about memes, it seems appropriate to continue with a recent fun discovery. A little while ago I was checking some of my newly found blogs when I saw this. It in turn led me to a lovely booky site which has lots of information about the Sorted Book Project. Being a lover of books I just had to join in, but I found my initial restriction of just keeping it to gardening titles a tad difficult. Finally inspiration struck yesterday (at 3 in the morning to be precise) and I came up with the theme for my first set of sorted books. It's a homage to a certain radio programme. The best part's the book on the bottom of the pile: it's signed by the panel who were at the recording I went to three years ago.

After that, I found my own piece of gardening advice:

I'm glad The Garden Monkey has also joined in the fun. What Sorted Books can you find on your shelves - gardening or otherwise?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

GBBD/ABC Wednesday - M is for...

Dahlia 'Moonfire'

... Memes

Stick around the blogosphere for very long and it soon becomes apparent there are all sorts of memes out there. There's the award kind - such as You Make My Day, I Heart Your Blog, You Give Good Chat and so on. Or there's the type requiring an answer. They're often along the lines of: 5 things you don't know about me; what I was doing 5, 10, 20 years ago; show me your screensaver etc. These are often called viral memes because they're designed to be spread and shared around, usually with links back to their originator. As a consequence, many bloggers dislike them and don't participate. I've chosen to join in as I've found them fun and I've found things to say on whatever topic is asked for. If any of that changed, then I wouldn't join in either. So far I've also chosen to pass them onwards, but without any obligation to the recipients. I do understand why some people choose not to participate, particularly if theirs is a blog with a wide readership.

The other main type of meme is the themed one. These are varied too and can be most enjoyable: they can be a fun one-off, such as Sunday's LAPCPADPOUB day, or they may reflect a particular interest, be a challenge to do, or may help with the ever dreaded lack of inspiration. I've chosen to participate in a few of these, but today I'm writing about just two of them as a joint entry.

As well as being due today, both of them are connected further with the letter M: ABC Wednesday was devised by Mrs Nesbitt and the monthly Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens. I chose to take part in ABC Wednesday a while ago as I liked the challenge of finding a photograph/post with the weekly change of the alphabet whilst still fitting with the (admittedly rather loose) style and content of my blog. Some of the letters are much more difficult than others! Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day has been a great way to build a diary of what's flowering in my garden over the months. I also wanted to have a go at creating slideshows and here was the perfect excuse to do so.

What's flowering in my garden today? Have a look at my new slideshow on my sidebar. There's a lot more than I expected - I think the unseasonably warm, sunny weather (though welcome) has made my flowers hang on for a little longer. I've shown you most of these before, but the Saxifrage, Skimmia, Viburnums, most of the Fuchsia and the Schizostylis are new kids on the block. Autumn has only really started to look well established here this week. On Saturday I took some pictures of the ash trees at the side of the house and was surprised to find they hadn't really put on their autumn coat of colour. As of yesterday they're quite different: the green of Saturday is now an burnt orange/yellow hue and a myriad of leaves are silently falling onto my gravel path below.

Carol's garden is the way to go for more blogs in bloom; the ABC Wednesday blog is your route to find more on the letter M.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

VP's Open Garden & Sing for Water Update

Firstly if you've popped over here from Gardeners' or my Open Garden blog, you're most welcome! There's plenty to look at and I do hope you'll make yourselves at home.

I've got loads of good news today - not bad seeing the gloomy news that's prevalent elsewhere.

I must confess I'm in Threadspider's bad books a little as I've hung onto my first bit of good news for a week. Thanks to you, I've met and exceeded my Open Garden £1,000 fundraising target. For once I'd hugged this good news for myself - I'd been thinking you might be getting a bit fed up of my Open Garden entries on here. But Threadspider's right, it's an achievement that needs to be shouted from the rooftops alongside the loudest thank you possible to all of you who've helped to make it so. As you know I've extended my garden's opening by popular demand, so I'm resetting the target to £1,300. According to my Sing for Water sponsorship form, £1,300 could pay for a hand-dug well plus handpump to serve 150-200 people in Ghana. I think that'd be a wonderful gift for us to bestow.

You'll see Wiltshire Wailers has another CD out. Those of you who followed my Sing for Water experiences may remember we were followed by BBC Radio Wiltshire during rehearsals and for the concert itself. Unbeknown to us, the BBC broadcast an hour long special in August. Luckily Chris our choirmaster has managed to get permission to put the recording onto CD and the above picture shows my very own copy. We got them last night, where there was a lovely surprise for me waiting on the back of the CD's cover - guess whose pictures are featured :)

Some of you have said you'd like the opportunity to hear us sing. I'm hoping I'll be able to sample a little bit of the CD to put on here and possibly something from the concert in London too.

The Wiltshire Wailers are getting together again to Sing for Water in December for 2 Christmas concerts. We're singing at Center Parcs on the 5th and also at the Wiltshire Music Centre on the 16th. The early date of the first concert means we started rehearsing our Christmas carols last night!

Monday, 13 October 2008

To Avebury

Yesterday's unseasonably warm weather (20 degrees centigrade) and cloudless sky cried out for a good afternoon walk. NAH completely surprised me by suggesting Avebury as our destination. We're blessed with being close to several World Heritage sites and Avebury is by far my favourite but each time I suggest it for one of our forays, NAH without fail greets it with less than enthusiasm. However, it's ages since we've been there, so I cheerfully agreed to go.

The landscape beyond Calne dramatically changes to that of chalk upland. It's relatively empty with big skies and the signs of current habitation are far outweighed by the signs of our ancient Britons. I always feel like I'm entering a different world. It's the same landscape which hosts the more famous Stonehenge, but I prefer the more rugged and oddly shaped stones of Avebury. I also like how the stone circle encompasses Avebury village: it's as if ancient times are dominating our more recent history. It's a place I return to regularly (with or without NAH) and has often been the subject for my photography. I've had particular success with using infrared film - a medium which seems to suit the site's mysteriousness. Famous photographers have also captured the surrounding landscape well - Bill Brandt and Jane Bown for example.

We set out on our regular route, firstly passing by the stones themselves, crossing the main road to Swindon which cuts a swathe through the circle and then up onto the embankment circling the village. There's also the odd bit of woodland - beech with twisted roots and I saw signs of tree dressing for the first time. I'm sure it's happened here before, but perhaps it gets cleared away by the National Trust who manage the site on behalf of English Heritage? It'll be interesting to see if it continues and grows.

Avebury of course is a very popular site, particularly on sunny October afternoons. The car park was almost full and there are obvious signs of the damage that the passage of so many feet are causing to the site. Some of the pathways by the beech woods are being relaid and strengthened at the moment, causing a little confusion as to which route is actually the way to go. This in turn is causing new stresses and strains on the site. We made our way across one of the ditches back to the village and it soon became clear why NAH had been so enthusiastic to come here, as he suggested we have a well earned cuppa and slice of cake at the tearoom! On our way back to the car park I spotted the sign shown at the top of this post - the advertised event looks most intriguing. I think I'll be returning in November to check it out, subject to the requisite starlit evening being available.

Sunday, 12 October 2008


In view of this auspicious day, I couldn't resist another post - especially as our two have been particularly endearing this morning. JAS has warned against the perils of cats on beds in his contribution, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears chez nous:

Skimble in his usual cat on top of the bed mode

But what's this?

Ah yes, it could only be - Jess under the duvet!

For some reason Jess decided not to leap onto the top of the bed this morning, but to snuggle straight under the duvet instead. There she stayed, purring happily next to NAH's leg whilst we had breakfast. We think it harks back to her antics as a kitten. She would often climb up one arm of NAH's dressing gown, across the shoulder and down the other and nestle into the crook of his arm. Yes, this was whilst NAH was wearing it!

This time I've enlisted the power of Google to find the poem below - this one's particularly appropriate for Skimble's usual behaviour. As a quality alternative, TS Eliot also has something appropriate to say about cats here. A "good" dire cat poetry resource can be found here - some of them are by poets who should have known better. It shows we all can have off days I suppose.

--------------------------There’s A Cat In the Way-------------------------
There’s a lump of cat on the floor,
Her intention: Blocking the door;
If I don’t watch my step,
I will have a mishap -
I think my cat’s keeping score.

There’s a bump of cat in the hall;
Does she want to make me fall?
If I really do trip,
There’ll be no more catnip
For the cat with too much gall.

There’s a clump of cat in my chair;
Sit down? I’d better beware!
You would think it would leave
And provide a reprieve,
But that cat will never share!

There’s a hump of cat in my bed;
What else needs to be said?
Everywhere, there’s my cat -
Sprawled out like a mat;
I can’t seem to ever get ahead

Abrupt action from the cat just now:
She let out a pleading meow;
I’ll try a bribe of food -
Now, a cooperative mood!
I’m safe, for the time she’ll allow

LAPCPADPOUB - A Celebration

Skimble is still my harshest critic when it comes to poetry...

When the idea of Lets All Post Cat Pictures and Dire Poetry on Our Blogs day was first mooted, I thought cats - yes can do that easily, but poetry? Oh dear, JAS has banned me from writing poetry after the great transatlantic sock wars. I've been flouting this openly ever since by posting my Magnetic Poetry anthology from 2004. I'm unchallenged thus far (perhaps JAS isn't reading my blog anymore - boo hoo), but I'm ready to argue the ban is to 'never, ever, ever, ever, ever write another poem' and I was in fact publishing archive, not fresh material.

But why am I being such a wuss? Hurrah, the inaugural LAPCPADPOUB day has released my chains and freed me from such despotic tyranny! I'm standing firm with my fellow brothers and sisters who are incensed that blogging about cats and writing bad poetry should be struck off from the ether! Why such censorship when even worse crimes are committed in the name of blogging? I'm aghast the myriad pictures and stories of knitting, garden tools, sitting (not to mention here, nor there) or telling bad jokes aren't treated with equal disdain and derision. Harrumph!

Bring back the birch, or exile to the furthest corners of the Empire*, I say. Even better, let's introduce deportations to secluded birch woods on the Isle of Man for the worst offenders. Let's...

But I digress.

Thus liberated and feeling much better about life, I sat down to write you a lovely new poem. Silence. No frantic tippety tap of the keyboard as usual. I was experiencing my first ever bout of writer's block. No words, meter or rhyme would enter my brain. Rien. Nada. Nothing. For all of oh, about 12 hours and I was asleep for 8 of those.

Then NAH told me a little something about Jess at breakfast on Thursday. That, swiftly followed by a brisk walk up the hill to Threadspider's for coffee and chocolate biscuits later on that morning, soon got the creative juices flowing again:

Our playful heroine

Our Jess has found a brand new game
To amaze and surprise us all
What's she doing? I hear you ask
Well, now she's playing football

Not for her some red dot to chase
Unlike her brother Skimble**
Not for her much quieter games
For example Hunt the Thimble.

For I've been drying firetongue beans
To send off here and there
But Jess espies a playtime treat
Especially for her

So now we lie awake at night
Hearing paws go pitter-patter
Across the kitchen floor below
As beans from tables scatter.

Some Beans

Now James, haven't you missed my awful poetry - just an eensy weensy tiny little bit? Yes? If not, then let fire and brimstone rain down on my head :p

LAPCPADPOUB is bought to you by Happy Mouffetard (HM), inspired by a Comment conversation with Arabella Sock. Do you think we should have the longest possible acronym contest next HM?

I'm listening to the theme tune to Top Cat from McPhee1969.

The pictures are subtitled, so I don't need to tell you what they are here.

And I can't tell you what I was writing about this time last year, because this blog wasn't even a twinkle in my eye at that point ;)

STOP PRESS! JAS is awarding prizes for LAPCPADPOUB entries! Let the kittenwars begin!

* = Empire Theatre Sunderland, for example. A well-known performance graveyard. They breed their audiences tough up North.

**= Skimble loves to chase a laser beam light; Jess thinks this is all rather old hat. The link is to a proper cat poem :)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Traveller's Tales

the garden of the three r's: reduce: reuse: recycle = responsible - at Gardeners' World Live in June

I'm delighted that after a bit of encouragement behind the scenes, Maggi has at last ventured into the blogosphere with The Intrepid Explorer. I was invited to her launch party yesterday and can report the signs are looking very good. Some of you know a little about her already - she won my first Open Garden's prize draw; she's created the lovely Emsworth to help raise further funds and she was also a chicktastic winner at EmmaT's village show. But all this pales into insignificance compared to the tales Maggi will be relating over the next few weeks. Next month she's off to Africa - Uganda no less, to work on a community gardening project in Kampala's slums. So do go over and wish her bon voyage.

I've met some pretty enthusiastic people on my gardening travels this year. The most bubbly of them all is Claire, whom I first met at Gardeners' World Live. It turns out that Deb was not only creating a fab show garden at Malvern, she was also expounding the delights of blogging to Claire, who was reprising her GW Live show garden across the marquee from her. She's already putting together a great blog, the ecospot which will be full of ideas, tips and rants I'm sure. I particularly like this from her sidebar, which I'll leave with you:

Whatever we do as designers, nature is always cleverer.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Treasure Chest

Woo hoo my big bulb order has arrived! I've felt a bit bereft the past couple of years as I haven't been able to indulge my passion for bulbs as my borders are full and the opportunities for Guerrilla Gardening them nearby are becoming more limited too. However, a change in my winter pots strategy has enabled me to order a satisfyingly large boxful this year.

Being a gardener of the lazy sort, I haven't really done that much with tulips so far. Just a sprinkling of species tulips here and there, plus contrasting dark T. 'Queen of Night' and T. 'Purissima' in the mirror beds in the front garden. These I feel are safe enough to leave from year to year and look stunning. It's the idea of the autumn planting followed by early summer lifting that's put me off from planting more - much as I love the form and beauty of the flower, that's just too much of a faff for me.

However, I've made the decision not to f**t around with fiddly little pots of pansies this year. Each autumn I've planted up dozens of them once the summer plants are going over (am I the only person who apologises to her half flowering plants as she adds them to the compost bin?) and replaced them with the large flowered pansies. For a month or two they're fine, then with the first hint of frost or wet weather, they either go into a non-flowering sulk, or get an attack of mildew. Or both. There they sit flaccidly until the spring, when the warmer weather coaxes them into a last flowering flourish for a month until it's time to plant the pots up ready for summer. But in the intervening few months they've been a bit of a damp squib and I've also come to realise that I don't really look at that part of the garden that much during the winter anyway.

So my strategy this year was to plant up lots of lovely Cyclamen in my little pots in September. Most of these will go over about November, but by then I will have had a good couple of months of their beauty. The ones right by the house manage to survive and flower right through until March, so these will stay. Last year I was bowled over by Sarah Eberle's large pots of a single flower (marigolds in her case) in her Best in Show winning garden at Chelsea, so I bought two of the largest Mayan pots I could find to do something similar. These are sited just outside the kitchen and lounge patio doors and have been filled with a succession of Tagetes, primroses and bedding Dahlias thus far. This year I've bought armfuls of little Violas - these have been very successful in the hanging basket by the front door in the past and it's great to have something that not only looks good throughout the winter (they don't seem to have the same problems as their larger cousins and flower their socks off for months), but is scented too. These will be clearly visible from the house and will be just enough to brighten the winter view out of the window into the back garden. And if I do venture outside, I can enjoy their delicious scent as I step out of the door.

In the meantime, my little pots will be filled with tulips and placed on standby in the nursery area ready to be brought out when the time is right and I'm working more frequently in the garden again. Once their flowering is over, it'll be very easy to clean them up and put into storage for next autumn without the bother of all that lifting. So I will have the pleasure of planting up a multitude of pots with T. 'Ballerina', 'Praestans' 'Red Riding Hood', 'Rembrandt' 'Spring Green' and mixed 'Viridiflora' next month - totalling nearly 200 bulbs.

Thus in the dying days of the year, the hopes and dreams for next year's garden are started.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Magnetic Poetry - October

It's National Poetry Day today and this year's theme is Work. By an absolute coincidence this month's magnetic poem, written in October 2004 is about my work at the time, so it seems appropriate to share it with you today. This is the only poem I've written where I've been consciously inspired by another poem. Until yesterday I was only familiar with the first 4 lines:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

These lines are oft quoted in business courses and motivational materials. I've experienced it on Total Quality Management, Train the Trainer, project management and my Diploma in Business Analysis courses. It's any easy mnemonic trotted out as being the holy grail to ensure success in requirements gathering, assessing training needs and problem solving. And yes, I've used it many times with much success in my work.

However, by the time I wrote my poem, my honest serving men were fast becoming my demons. As reported last month, I still wasn't sleeping and I was working on projects which not only had ridiculous timescales (the When? of the first line), I often didn't understand the need for them (Why?) and where they were going to be delivered was extremely complicated (OK I had to use Were, as Where? wasn't available - 4 cities, 3 companies and 2 countries). The last 2 lines refer to the ever changing nature of the projects - bringing the delivery date forward was a common occurrence. My head was in a complete whirl and these words pulled off the magnetic poetry calendar summed things up perfectly.

Seeing the effect these tiny little words can have in the world of work, it's ironic they come from a children's story, The Elephant's Child, from the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. It's a delightful tale of how a little elephant's insatiable curiosity lands him in trouble and as a result gets the trunk we're all familiar with. The poem comes at the end of the story, and I wonder if everyone read beyond the first four lines, whether it would be so popular in the world of work?

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small-
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes-
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

Flighty is gathering the bloggers' response to National Poetry Day - why not pop over and see what everyone else has to say on the world of work, or even add your own response? BTW the label bad poetry is for my poetry (I am the crowned queen after all!), not Kipling's.

And if you find the world of work depressing, then watch out (or better still, why not take part?) for a fun blogging poetry event hosted by Happy Mouffetard this Sunday. Yes, in response to JAS' musings about the prevalence of bad poetry and cats on blogs, we have the inaugural LAPCPADPOUB day - Lets All Post Cat Photos And Dire Poetry On Our Blogs day. Hurrah! You have been warned ;)

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

ABC Wednesday - L is for...

In Threadspider's garden - July 2008

... Love-in-a-mist

When I offered saved seeds to my Open Garden donors on Sunday, I didn't think Love-in-a-Mist (aka Nigella damascena) would be that popular. After all, they're always being given away on the front of gardening magazines, so everyone must have some right? It looks like I'm wrong as this is the most requested seed packet thus far. I can see why: an evocative name with lovely jewel-like flowers above all that floaty foliage. The seedheads are pretty too, each capsule containing plenty of seed, which can be used in Indian cooking. It's an easy annual, once sown always filling in some gap in the garden. Don't worry if this is your requested packet, I should have enough to go round.

This afternoon my SUP friends are coming round to help me make the seed packets ready for sending your selections. I'm really looking forward to it as we haven't all got together since our jolly trip to Weymouth in August. There's lots to catch up on and future trips to plan, such as the Farewell to the Pigs in a few days time. We may be artistic this afternoon if the muse takes us, but I've also printed off some mini-photographs I took of each flower or plant during seed saving time just in case chatting, coffee and cake (another windfall cake BTW) take precedence and we choose the easy route to packet making.

I rather like the idea of around 40 gardens next year having plants sown from just 3 gardens as a living reminder of my project. 50 or so of you have been involved in one way or another, and between us we've raised enough money so far to make a permanent difference in the lives of around 120 people. Marvellous.

Do have a Look at the Lovely ABC Wednesday blog for one L of a Lot of stories and pictures ;)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Autumn Acer

I first showed you my prized Acer in May, bedecked in its Spring finery. Now it's telling me Autumn's well and truly here. Not that it needed to prove that much to me - the gales and lashing rain of the past few days have been enough to confirm that summer (what summer?) is well and truly over and it's time to start collecting leaves for leaf mould making.

NAH and I have had our annual battle over when to put the central heating on. I take my old school's stance of no heating until October - a woolly pully should be enough for daytime and there's always the winter weight duvet to be pulled out of the cupboard to snuggle under at night. I finally caved in on Saturday. We called it honours even - we'd lasted until October, NAH had had a month of complaining he's cold.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Hat's Off, Scarf's On!

I was glad to be wearing this out in the garden today!

The scarf's finished and off on the next stage of its journey to Pakistan. However, I couldn't resist showing off the final product to you, courtesy of NAH. I'm wearing it in the style I imagine it'll be worn and I hope one girl in a very remote mountain village loves it as much as I do. I can also vouch for its warmth, it was distinctly chilly in the garden early this morning - trust me to brave it out there in just a T-shirt.

Kathryn at Plant Whatever Brings You Joy updated us a couple of days ago on where our contributions are headed. It's worth a look - the photographs are absolutely jaw dropping. She has promises of 63 scarves so far - another Blogging With a Purpose success :)

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Seed Saving Saturday

Leaving seeds to dry - Geranium 'Splish Splash'

Yesterday saw me whizzing round the garden picking up the last of the seedheads I want to save before the forecast winds and heavy rain lashed them into damp submission today. The less time it takes them to dry, the sooner I can send them out. These are the seeds I'm offering to my Open Garden donors. I'll be contacting everyone involved to ask what you'd like, but you may like to peruse the list below prior to my getting in touch. You'll see that some of the seeds have been kindly donated by Threadspider and Patient Gardener and I've tried to cater for both veggie and floral preferences. On Wednesday, my SUP friends will be joining me to help make the seed packets, so quite a few people will have been involved in putting it all together :)

There's still time to grab yourself a packet of seeds simply by visiting my Open Garden and leaving a small donation if you haven't done so already. You Grow Girl has lots of information on seed saving and decorative packet making if you're interested.

The list of seeds available are:
  • Agapanthus 'Blue Peter' (see 1st picture)
  • Allium christophii
  • Althea rosea - mixed Hollyhocks (from Threadspider - see 2nd picture)
  • Barlotto 'Lingua di fuoco' - firetongue bean
  • Campanula persicifolia - mixed blue & white (from Threadspider)
  • Carex elata 'Bowles Golden' (from Patient Gardener)
  • Coriandrum sativum 'Leisure' - the leafier version of coriander (aka cilantro)
  • Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
  • Digitalis purpurea - foxglove (from Threadspider)
  • Digitalis purpurea 'Alba' - white foxglove (from Patient Gardener)
  • Eruca sativa - wild rocket
  • Foeniculum vulgare dulce - green fennel
  • Geranium 'Splish Splash'
  • Mathiasella 'Green Dream' (from Patient Gardener)
  • Nigella damascena - Love-in-a-Mist (from Threadspider)
  • Papaver somniferum - mixed poppies (from Threadspider)
  • Primula japonica - mixed (from Patient Gardener)
  • Sisyrinchium striatum (from Threadspider)
  • Viola (from Threadspider - see 3rd picture)

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Plot Views - Autumn Digging Begins

I have tennis elbow - ouch! Any ideas on how I can get the autumn digging done? And you're right - asking NAH isn't an option!

Friday, 3 October 2008

VP's Guide to Garden Bargains #2

This is a brilliant excuse to bring you another picture of the fabulous borders I saw recently (they look much better if you click to enlarge the picture) at the RHS Inner Temple Show. Amateur Gardening (AG) magazine has their account of the event in this week's edition. As The Garden Monkey points out, having the power and immediacy of the internet, we bloggers were well ahead of their game, though they did have a rather nice piece on the Head Gardener, Andrea Brunsendorf.

However, I do need to correct an inaccuracy in the AG report re when the garden's open to the public. It implies there's only a couple of occasions - during the London Open Garden Squares weekend in June and the National Garden Scheme (October 4th 2009). I've been looking into the Inns of Court gardens (of which The Inner Temple is one of four) in a little more detail since my return from London, and can reveal they're open to the public every weekday lunchtime (at the Inner Temple's discretion) from 12.30 to 3pm for free. You may have to share them with lawyers taking a break from their expensive labours to enjoy their sandwiches in the fresh air, but I believe that'll just add to the entertainment.

The other Inns of Court also open their gardens to the public. As each one has its own head gardener, I think it's worth a return visit to see whether each garden has its own distinctive style or whether they form a coherent whole. These gardens don't charge for the privilege, which in view of their heady and historic location in London, just has to be a top bargain. The other gardens are open as follows:
  • Middle Temple - Monday to Friday 12pm to 3pm in May, June, July and September
  • Lincoln's Inn - Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm, year round. North Lawn may be used for picnics between 12pm and 2.30pm
  • Gray's Inn - Monday to Friday, 12pm to 2.30pm, year round

Thursday, 2 October 2008

How Handy!

This book arrived on Monday. As you can see it was just in time for last month's Allotment Show - not. First published in 1953 (this is the seventh edition, updated this year), it contains many gems of advice to potential exhibitors, such as trimming fingernails prior to picking fruit or vegetables to prevent damage.

I ordered it on August 3rd - next time I'll order directly from the RHS instead of Amazon.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

ABC Wednesday - K is for...


Knitting a scarf in this household has some particular furry hazards. Skimble loves to tread any knitted garment and seems to think balls of wool are kittens that need to be moved out of his mum's way! This is the scarf I'm knitting for Pakistan - just one more foot to go and then it'll be off to Plant Whatever Brings You Joy.

If knitting a five foot long scarf is a bit much for you, but you'd still like to get involved in a knitting project, then look no further than Innocent drinks' the big knit. It involves knitting miniature hats which are then placed on their 330ml drinks bottles for sale in November. Each sale results in a 50p donation to Help the Aged. Over £200,000 was raised last year. I'll be knitting some after I've finished this scarf, so I'll tell you more about that another time. The deadline's 17th October, but as the hat is tiny and relatively easy to make, there's time to make a shedload of them and still meet the date!

NB This is my 366th post this year - a post a day, but finished by October. I contemplated having the rest of the year off, but find I can't shut myself up that easily ;)

For other K posts do have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog.
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