Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Taking the Credit

I'm not given to on the spot decisions. My head usually spends too much time dithering over things my heart just knows are right. Finally I'll inhale deeply and take the plunge, just like I do at a swimming pool. Today's different. For once head and heart were as one immediately and now I'm a film producer :o

Cinema's always been a major part of my life. In fact, I can confidently say that without it, I wouldn't be here at all. Dad and mum met completely by chance in the 1950s when the film broke at their local picture house in Birmingham. The lights went up and they started chatting. Dad escorted mum home at the end of the film, they started going out and well, I'm sure you can guess the rest...

I saw my first film aged 4: Zulu at the ABC in Selly Oak. A surprising choice for parents to make perhaps, but I was transfixed. I had a box of Paynes Poppets and they went untouched for the entire film. Mum reckons it was the soldiers' uniforms - bright red, my favourite colour - which held my attention, but I can also remember how large Michael Caine's head looked in close up and the sound of the Zulu warriors as they approached Rorke's Drift for the big battle. From then on Saturday's trip to the cinema was pretty much a weekly family ritual.

Ever since I met NAH, cinema going's also been one of our favourite things to do together. We go for the total immersion experience: adverts and trailers are the warm-up act to get us in the mood and we always stay and watch the credits at the end. My GNO friends giggle at how important these things are to me, but we're still there as the credits roll. NAH's the technical brains for our local film club now and we even contemplated buying our own independent cinema a while ago. I also visit any filming going on locally whenever I can, so I expect film watching's going to continue as a life-long activity for both of us.

All that came to mind this morning as I watched Breakfast News, where 3 young men were explaining their ideas for a film of a Jules Verne story they're planning to make together. People full of hopes at the start of their careers and a novel way of raising the million pounds they need to make those dreams a reality: from people like me willing to pay a small sum for their name to appear on the film's credits at the end.

Today's also the anniversary of when I had my blogging Open Garden idea a year ago. I can remember how excited I was and how much I feared that nobody would visit, let alone donate some money, no matter how good the cause. Then you confounded me totally and helped raise a wonderful sum (£1085 and counting!) I hadn't even dared dream of. So, with that in mind and a lifetime of cinema in my heart, I signed up without hesitation today.

After that story it's a bit of a no brainer isn't it? Especially as they're blogging about their experiences too. I'm looking forward to seeing both my name and Veg Plotting in the end credits :)

Monday, 29 June 2009

OOTS: Where the Wilder Things Are

Two of my favourite places in Chippenham are within yards of my house and I'm not even sure how much of them is public planting at all. They're very different to anything I've shown you previously in Out on the Streets. Both represent the wilder face of Chippenham's open spaces and are neither park nor wasteland. They're definitely not wilderness, as both are managed by the local council, and they provide vital green lungs for the town.

The first is at the lower road entrance to our estate and is a small area of land bisected by the Hardenhuish Brook. In the middle is a reedbed - celebrated previously here at Veg Plotting for World Wetlands Day last year. Now this really is public planting, but of a different sort as the reedbed has been installed as a way of filtering and cleansing the runoff from the main road nearby. If it wasn't there, I wouldn't be able to use the brook further downstream for freshwater invertebrate identification workshops as there wouldn't be enough diversity to make it worthwhile.

Surrounding the reedbed is a meadow area as pictured above. I'm not sure if it's been seeded with a mixture or if it's a true remnant of the fields that were here before the estate was built. However, at least the curve of trees and the Rosa rugosa bushes at the edge must have been planted and they provide a link between this wilder area and the more parkland feel to the rest of the estate's open spaces. Each year the wild flowers get better and better - when I took the photo there were at least 5 different grasses, ox-eye daisies, field buttercups, red and white clover, marsh pea, bird's-foot-trefoil, knapweed and cow mumble without having to look that closely. I really need to go there with my Wild Flower Key and do a proper survey. In the spring there's a wonderful carpet of cowslips. The edge closest to the road does get mown so that traffic visibility isn't impaired, but apart from that the area is left pretty much to fend for itself.

This is the kind of place I believe towns should have more of where appropriate. It's perfect for its situation as it acts as a natural link between the estate and the more open countryside on the other side of the main road. It's also marvellous for a quick walk or a relatively safe area for children to explore unsupervised. As is my next example.

This is part of what's known locally as the Donkey Field. It's really two fields and the picture shows part of the smaller one closest to my house on the opposite side of the estate to the reedbed/meadow area. I can get there in a couple of minutes and it forms a very pleasant half of my 20 minute walk into town. The larger field is more open plan and mown frequently, but does have a belt of trees and wild flowers next to the footpath and a further belt of trees lining Hardenhuish Brook. But to me it's the smaller field that's the most glorious, particularly at this time of the year as it's a sea of meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense. The picture shows you a mere fraction of it. The council does manage this field slightly differently to the other one as it isn't mown until the cranesbill has stopped flowering. This year I think they're some of the best I've seen in the 10 years I've lived on this side of town.

The Donkey Field was bequeathed to the town in 1938 by the Clutterbuck family and has a covenant forbidding any development upon it. However, the council has ignored this already when Chippenham sports and social club was built some years ago. Last year plans were mooted to take another chunk away in order to develop facilities for the football club. The cranesbill area wouldn't be affected by it, but I still think the area allocated to the planned development should be left for all residents to enjoy. We have so little of this kind of land here, so it's all the more precious.

This is my final Out on the Streets post for this quarter, apart from my wrap-up post due later this week exploring what you've posted plus other blogging goodies I've found this month. That means there's still time for you to take part: simply write your post and add a comment on here when you've done so :)

Sunday, 28 June 2009

All Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion

Here we are - all ship-shape and Bristol fashion* - at the end of our rehearsal for Sing for Water West yesterday morning. This is what a choir of 641 looks like - you'll have to imagine the foreground (and more) filled with the massive audience we had for the afternoon. Umbrellas were much in evidence during the day - as sunshades! I sang on the far right of the photo and it was quite hard to hear the choir's other parts apart from our own soprano one from that position. When I slipped out to take this photo during our encore rehearsal of Shine, I was amazed at the incredible wall of sound we were making. Just after we'd finished our morning's work, The Matthew (see yesterday's picture) sailed by, so we gave everyone aboard an impromptu rendition of Bristol Ho!

Sometimes we had a little taster of what it must be like for those whom we were fundraising for. There was a standpipe available for us to refill our water bottles - the steward smilingly informing everyone that no it's not drawn directly from the harbour and the little photo shows our toilets arriving for the day! Nothing like Africa of course, but it was good to have a little reminder of why we were there. The aim is to raise £24,000 from our performance.

* = one of my favourite phrases - meaning in perfect order - from Bristol port's reputation for efficiency in the days of sail. It's also rather fitting for yesterday in view of our location and being asked to wear blue or green tops for the performance.

Update - 30/6: We've made YouTube! Arabella has her wish and gets to listen to us sing Shine and there's a better recording of our finale, Imagine. The recording of Shine, not only shows us, but also our conductors for the day: Chris our regular choirmaster - the guy in the hat - and Ali who wrote the wonderful arrangement of Imagine. They both were instrumental putting the day together and were two of our teachers for Sing For Water last year. The total raised so far on Saturday is £20,000.

I've also just found a WaterAid promo of last year's Sing For Water in London. Some of you asked if it was possible to hear us at the time I blogged about it. Now's your chance to see and hear a little of most of the day's songs. Chris and Ali also feature as do Mouthfull, the group you'll see at the beginning performing the wonderful Lodore Falls.

Update - 9/7: Gill, my fellow Wiltshire Wailer found this blog recently and left a comment :) She's not only posted about our fabulous day, but her son also took a video of part of our opener Iqude. This is a Zulu song about there not being any water in the house and most apt for what we were doing on the day. It's well worth checking out her post.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Bristol Ho!

From Bristol Harbour we set sail
When blowin' it was a devil of gale
With the ring-tail set all avast the mizzen peak
And the rule britannia plowin' up the deep

With a Bristol Ho! Tow row row
Foll dee roll dee rye dolly day

It's Sing For Water time again! Chris, our choirmaster has been busy organising the first event in the south west and tomorrow's the big day. 600 of us will be assembling dockside at the Lloyds TSB amphitheatre in Bristol to sing our socks off for WaterAid. We're rehearsing there all morning and the real event kicks off at 2.30 pm. The Wiltshire Wailers will get things going in style with Now Let Us Sing and Bamba Lela - you can still hear us performing these songs on Chris' website together with the words for tomorrow's programme.

We've seven songs to sing for the main event, which also shows off the talents of some of our local choirmasters as they've either written or arranged them. Seeing we'll be harbourside it's most appropriate one of them's a local sea shanty. The first verse and chorus are shown above as is a view of The Matthew - a replica of Cabot's ship which sailed to America - and the harbour quite close to where we'll be singing. It's impossible not to sing this shanty without suddenly finding yourself singing with a Bristol accent and a massive smile on your face!

Pray it doesn't rain and I hope to see you there tomorrow :)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Out on the Streets: Can Plastic Be Fantastic?

Ever since I started my public planting series this year, I've been waiting for the right moment to ask Can plastic be fantastic? For years my daily commute ended at Bristol Temple Meads station where the most elaborate hanging baskets were to be found. As they were in the underpass section - the main thoroughfare to various train platforms - they were made from plastic as no self-respecting brightly coloured real plants would be able to survive the low light levels. However, this year they've disappeared. I suspect they've been hijacked by Kemble station - Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said he'd been fooled by some there on How Britain Got the Gardening Bug recently, until they were taken down for dusting.

So I shelved my planned post - though I was seriously tempted to make the 40 mile round trip to Kemble for you dear reader. Now I don't have to as I found just the thing on a very wet afternoon in Norwich recently. There's a great shopping area where one of the main focal points is the marvellous Royal Arcade. This place is a celebration of Art Nouveau dating from 1899 and the tiling murals are breathtaking. As I admired the designs, I realised that the flower displays above most of the shops were a most convincing plastic. You can see from their position that real flowers would be quite difficult to look after. I still can't make my mind up whether the flowers add anything as they hide quite a bit of the tiling when viewed at ground level. However, the pictured shop did have some real box topiary balls either side of the door in large planters. One of them was dead and actually looked much worse than the plastic flowers.

What do you think - is there a place or use for fake 'planting' in our public displays? Or should things be left unadorned in locations where real plants can't be used, particularly if the place is already as ornate as the one I found?

Don't forget there's still time for you to take part in this month's Out on the Streets - I'm keeping it open until early July for those of you who've said you need a little extra time to take your photos. Once you've got them and made your post, do come back over here and take the link from the top right sidebar, where you can leave us the link to your post in the comments.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: W is for...

... Walsingham

Sometimes I'm amazed at how little I know about my own country and its history: I didn't know a place like Walsingham existed until a couple of weeks ago. During medieval times, this was the second most popular destination for pilgrims in England - Canterbury was the first - all because Lady Richeldis had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1061.

Today pilgrims still make their way to Walsingham and shrines and churches of the Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox faiths are crammed into an otherwise small village. Many of the houses seem to be used for housing pilgrims, with glazed pottery plaques dedicated to the saints adorning their walls. I say seem as the door of the one dedicated to St. Anne opened whilst we were passing to reveal a bent old lady intent on watering her potted plants. This made me think some of them might be almshouses. Even the village shops are in on the act - there's a gift shop with a nice line in the largest, most ornate crib scenes you could ever wish for, even in June. The secondhand bookshop reflects the village's heritage in name, stock and the appearance of its owner in the window (click on the picture for a larger image). Here Theology takes up half of the shop's space and Gardening is reduced to sitting alongside others on the single shelf dedicated to Hobbies.

The entrance to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham has a Mediterranean feel to it reminiscent of a Spanish patio garden. It's a place unlike any other I've been to in the UK - the link gives you a good idea of what's there. Inside all is candles, ornate carvings and little notices like the one pictured. Outside again, at the back is a lush, peaceful garden containing lots of lavender, alliums, geraniums, roses and waving Stipa gigantea. It was a lovely spot for a quiet stroll and the shrine's refectory did a very nice, reasonably priced cup of tea and coffee to round off our visit before we took the steam train back to Wells-Next-The-Sea. NAH now has lots of incentive to keep on with his low very fat diet as he's managed to reduce his cholesterol level to an acceptable one without needing to take tablets, so we didn't have any of the tempting cakes on offer :(

PS W is also for... WaterAid. Our choir will be taking part in Sing for Water South West in Bristol on Saturday, a major fundraiser for this very Worthwhile charity. I'll be telling you more about it on Friday. In the meantime, you might like to have a look at my Open Garden blog. This will tell you all about my Sing for Water experiences in London last year as well as giving you a full tour of my garden.

For more Wonderful posts, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

GBDW: Front Gardens

Click to enlarge image if needed.

Paired photos from top to bottom: Top - The usual kind of modern housing estate front garden; Middle - my version of it from the side and above; Bottom - common design issues: drain covers and extra parking spaces

Regular readers will know that I very rarely show my front garden here on the interweb. That's because I don't really want to reveal exactly where I live in Chippenham. However, for this month's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop I've cast caution to the four winds and roped in a few of my neighbours to help out too.

Our house is 10 years old and sited on a fairly typical modern housing estate. This means the gardens are small, especially the front ones. The minimalistic planting provided by the builders tends to be just like the top two pictures: a minute patch of lawn surrounded by a hedge of something tough like Lonicera nitida, or side boundaries comprising a single species like the pictured Rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum). The lucky ones will also get a specimen tree or two. The deeds to the house will often come with a covenant saying how the householder must treat this more public part of their property. This is usually along the lines of keeping it well tended and sometimes - like our last house - not to alter it, so the integrity of the estate's original design (no matter how plain) is maintained.

Of course most house owners bend these 'rules' a little, just as we have done with our current property. We weren't 'given' a boundary hedge at all and as the front garden came with no less than 5 drain covers plus a telephone junction box, these were in plain view and very ugly. Our covenant says we must look after our front garden so that it's in keeping with its neighbours, so I was soon planning changes to our sloping semi-circular shaped lawn.

Money was tight at the time, so I moved some of the tough as boots shrubs from our side garden where they were becoming shaded by the trees and starting to suffer. To this I added some of the shrubs like the Euonymus I'd been using to add height to winter pots displays which were now outgrowing their home. This is a north facing garden, so I also added lots of spring bulbs such as snowdrops and daffodils to lighten the gloom. For summer I planted lots of different alliums and I've used variegated thymes to make a scented edging.

Later on I built a metal archway (echoing the railings at the side of the property) covered with Clematis 'Guernsey Cream' and 'Arabella' to make a more attractive way through to the gravel area at the side of the house. I also added a couple of 'mirror' beds either side of the dining room bay window for some of my Heucheras and more bulbs. I have a hanging basket plus pots close to the front door filled with something scented to welcome my visitors. Whilst I'm happy with the overall design, as is usual at this time of the year I can never make up my mind on whether the summer yellow leaf/pink flower combination of the Spirea 'Goldflame' is attractive. In spring and autumn their orange or fiery colouring is much better, which is what's letting them stay for now.

Having what NAH calls 'drainsville' in our front garden, I came up with several solutions to this common problem which are all shown in the bottom left picture. How many drain covers do you think there are? It's not one, but three. The left hand pot is covering up one of them; the large coin shaped stepping stone - which takes you to the gravel area at the side of the house - covers another one; and finally I've used the prolific trailing and ground hugging properties of various Sedums to hide the other one. This plant is ideal as the soil is rather poor and stony in this area, so its succulent properties are extremely useful for keeping this area looking a little greener.

Finally, I can't leave a piece on front garden design without saying a little about the issue of our disappearing front gardens in this country. More and more front gardens are being paved over as houseowners seek off-road parking for their cars. You can see from the bottom picture that this is happening around the corner from us, despite the builder's designs having room for at least two cars. I just wish the house owners had thought a little more and incorporated further planting in their re-designs for the areas where the car can't get to. So far at least they've used a relatively permeable material instead of the dreaded tarmac like the builders gave us.

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop is hosted by Gardening Gone Wild.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Seasonal Recipe: Elderflower Cordial

Ever since I took Tea in the Garden with my SUP friends last year, I've been waiting to have a try at making elderflower cordial. It's deliciously airy, refreshing taste is just like drinking a glass of summer. This weekend's sunshine and plentiful hedgerow flowers meant it was the perfect time to start. However, I was lacking a key ingredient: some citric acid. A search around town yielded nothing. Brewing shops are quite some distance from here and an internet order might mean a delay until the flowers are past their best. Fortunately I found just what I needed in my trusty Jekka's Complete Herb Book: a slightly different recipe using ingredients I had already. It makes lashings of elderflower cordial at a fraction of shop prices.


4.5 litres water
700g sugar
Juice and thinly peeled rind of 1 lemon
30ml cider or wine vinegar
12 large elderflower heads

  1. Shake any bugs off the flowers
  2. Bring the water to the boil and pour into a sterilised container
  3. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved
  4. When cool, add the lemon juice, lemon rind, vinegar and elderflowers
  5. Cover with several layers of muslin and leave for 24 hours
  6. Filter through muslin into sterilised glass bottles
  7. Cap or stopper the bottles (these should also be sterilised by boiling in water for a few minutes) and leave for 2 weeks
  8. Store in a dark, cool place. Store in the fridge after opening
  9. Dilute to taste and serve chilled. Neat cordial makes a delicious topping for ice cream or a basis for summery gin cocktails
Hints and tips
  1. Give each flower a good sniff before picking - if it hardly smells or smells of cat pee don't pick. Flowers should have a light, lemony scent reminiscent of the final product
  2. Pick flowers away from roads and other sources of pollution as these will taint the cordial
  3. Elder trees are in flower from late spring until early summer. The golden elder, Sambucus nigra 'Aureum' tends to flower a little later than its common cousin, Sambucus nigra.
  4. If the flowers are beginning to turn into berries or have brown flowers don't pick them - these will result in a bitter tasting cordial
  5. Inspect both the tops and bottoms of flowers for insects - if I hadn't done so, I would have included lots of blackfly still clinging to a couple of stems! I merely snipped these away from the flowers
  6. Granulated sugar is ideal and the cheapest
  7. A potato peeler is ideal for producing the thin strips of lemon rind
  8. Zap the lemon on high in a microwave for about 20 seconds to obtain maximum juice
  9. If you don't have any muslin (like me), clean J Cloths boiled for a few minutes to sterilise them are a good substitute
  10. There's a slight risk that the yeast associated with the flower pollen may not have been killed whilst making the cordial, which then may start to ferment. There have been instances of bottles exploding if the cordial ferments strongly. If possible store bottles in a cardboard box or other container, so you don't end up in a sticky mess! However, if an alcoholic drink still appeals to you, then do have a look at the recipe for Elderflower Champagne - Zoe kindly gave it to me for my Open Garden fundraiser last year
Update: I've been having a think about this recipe overnight and I thought I'd pull out the reply I've just given to Modern Gardener's comment:
I'm not sure if the liquid's thick enough for cordial. Perhaps it's elderflower champagne instead as it's very similar to the recipe Zoe gave me last year. The cordial recipes using citric acid all seem to have less water and more sugar in them. Citric acid's pretty hard to come by, so if anyone out there has a recipe for cordial that doesn't use it, please do tell us about it.
Update 24/6 @10 am: I've found a local source for citric acid and I've just picked some more flowers to make the cordial. I'm using Cottage Smallholder's straightforward recipe. If you haven't come across this fantastic blog already, it's well worth a look :)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Postcard From Norfolk: Blakeney Point

If you're in North Norfolk, a boat trip out to see the seals at Blakeney Point is a must. Most of the coast there is a mass of salt marsh, sand dunes and secretive river creeks that eventually meander out to sea. Blakeney Point is a large sand bar across one of these and also a National Nature Reserve. You'll find lots of unusual plants and well camouflaged birds eggs amongst the sand and shingle, but the main reason for going there is one of the largest colonies of seals in the UK, about 500 of them. There's common seals (the grey looking ones) and more confusingly the grey seals (the black looking ones). We were about a fortnight too early to see the newly born common seal pups, but dark, unfathomably curious eyes bobbing just a few feet from our boatside ones, were just as exciting.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Postcard From Norfolk: Great Massingham

Almost completely at random (i.e. find a cottage in North Norfolk that's centrally located, reasonably priced and for 4 or more people - we always like things to be a bit more roomy on holiday) we found ourselves based in Great Massingham - all the villages in North Norfolk have cheerful signs like the one pictured. It's just how an English village should be, with an extensive village green and with not one, but four massive ponds. These came complete with bulrushes, yellow flag irises and a multitude of quacking ducks, some of whom were found outside our door every morning in spite of Squid, the cottage owners' cat.

A place with a traditional church, sadly not one of the intriguing fortress style churches found elsewhere in the area, but built from the same materials. A thriving village shop plus a pub rescued from the ashes of the deceased Rose and Crown and resurrected as The Dabbling Duck. An object lesson in how a community/council partnership can restore the beating heart to a village. Note the plastic topiary balls outside though and contrast that with the overflowing jugs of real cottage garden flowers (foxgloves, delphiniums and sweet williams) on the scrubbed wooden tables inside. A place for great beer, morning coffee and afternoon tea as well as locally sourced lunches and dinners. A place to linger with newspapers, books and games close to hand, or to borrow a laminated map showing one of the popular walks around the area and go further afield. A fiendish monthly quiz and curry night to take part in, other regular events and an exhibition by a local photographer.

And our cottage? A place fashioned from the outbuildings of The Old Swan, another deceased village pub. Traditionally built using red brick and grey flint, just like many cottages in the area. Wooden beams inside and plenty of space, yet cosy. Books on the shelves (including Beverley Nichols) and tricky jigsaws to complete on the odd rainy day.

A perfect place to stay.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Out on the Streets: In Norfolk

Click to enlarge image if needed.
From left to right and top to bottom: outside Cromer Museum; King's Lynn; roadside lavender in Sherringham; 3 from Norwich

Norfolk provided both resignation and surprises in pretty much equal measure as far as public planting is concerned. I'm rather resigned to a significant amount of our public planting in the UK being poor and unfortunately found further evidence whilst I was away. There are many issues contributing to make it so - to be covered at a later date - but I'm convinced there are ways of addressing these to get something more like what we deserve.

I was surprised Norfolk had so much of poor quality though. This is a county of blowsy seaside resorts and lush countryside, where tourism is one of the main sources of income and so needs to look good. Unfortunately, many of the few places set aside on the streets for planting weren't well maintained and so looked rather threadbare.

If Norfolk has a signature plant, it must be lavender. This probably owes much to Norfolk Lavender, which has over 100 acres in commercial cultivation for precious lavender oil - more to come at a later date. As a result it was to be found everywhere and the pictured example I found in Sherringham echoes the rows of lavender to be found in the fields. Rows of single planting were also a common theme: seen in the long row of petunia planters decorating a handrail I found in one of Norwich's main shopping areas and the rather blurry picture of Stipa gigantissima snapped from the park and ride bus at the end of our day there. Unfortunately the bus moved off just as I took the photo, but in some ways it mimics one of the desired results of the planting - a long-lasting blurry curtain to soften the concrete beyond. It does show that even narrow strips of bare ground on our streets can look good if the right plant is chosen.

As ever the majority of good public planting was to be found in the parks - just like the pictured one in King's Lynn. I suppose this is not surprising as I believe most councils naturally concentrate most of their relatively tiny horticultural budgets into these 'showcase' areas. It was pretty dire elsewhere in the town: I found just a few sad looking planters containing multi-stemmed silver birch and French lavender (Lavandula stoechas). These could have looked pretty good, especially as the more unusual white form of lavender had been used, but there were large gaps in the planting, suggesting little is done to maintain these. In Norwich there was very little planting to be seen too, but I did like the many mature trees in the central shopping area with circular seats wrapped around them inviting shoppers to pause awhile. You'll see they're also very honest about where they source some of their plants!

In Cromer, there was some lovely planting to be found outside the museum. They'd chosen plants which I'd not seen in other locations - in Norfolk or anywhere - covering a much wider season of interest which I thought worked really well together. I liked the use of chunky timber for the planters too - I feel it echoes Cromer's maritime heritage as well as being attractive in its own right. It was raining when we were there, but I felt the pictured scheme plus the others there were really welcoming, not only to the museum itself, but also to that part of the town.

There's not much to report roundabout-wise, just the usual untidy gathering of shrubs and trees on the whole. However, I was delighted that the ubiquitous combination of hebes and cotoneaster which I'm used to around here had been replaced by English lavender and vibrant pink Cistus in Norfolk. Much more cheerful and equally hard wearing.

I must also report on one that got away. In Fakenham there was a tiny scheme next to the town's cinema*: the understorey was a little unkempt and non-descript, but it was topped and lifted by two glorious weeping pears (Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula'). They'd been semi-trained into shaggy silvery hairstyles which the breeze blew around most winsomely.

* = we saw Doubt there last Thursday, a dramatic and well acted film on the whole - with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman on fine form - but rather spoilt by the rather weak final scene and a woman snoring away 2 seats from me during the entire second half. Apart from that, the cinema owners are to be congratulated on providing a varied programme of films - for such a small independent cinema and town - just like they manage to do here in Chippenham and Devizes.

Back home, I'm pleased to report I spotted Chippenham's carpet bedding scheme being given a spruce and tidy up yesterday. The dog-eared Euonymus used for the wording was being replaced when I drove by, so I must pop out for an update picture as some point.

So now it's over to you - what are you finding Out on the Streets this month? I especially need to appeal to the Spring Flingers. Did any of you take any pictures of Chicago's schemes Prairie Rose told me about when commenting on one of my earlier posts? Do show me some pictures as I'm dying to see them. Rose says they're some of the best public planting she's ever seen and we're in sore need of some good examples to show just what can be done! To any of you wanting to join in this month - good or bad examples are welcome, as are any issues you'd like to raise on this theme - the kick-off post for you is here. Leave a comment on there when you've posted - you can also get back there by clicking on the planter picture I've put up on the top of the right sidebar for this month - and we'll all come over for a visit :)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: V is For...

... Viburnum Beetle

Just before we went on holiday my friend L emailed me with the following question: guelder rose [aka Viburnum opulus - VP] is being eaten by small black and white caterpillars, about 5mm long. Not that I mind particularly but they are making a good job of turning the leaves into skeletons and I’d be interested to know what they might turn into, and if I might care then. I’ve had a quick look on t’internet but can’t find it. Any ideas?

My reply was:

I hope they aren't Viburnum Beetle:
The larvae do the damage, not the adults. My Vibunum tinus leaves are like lace and I'm going to replace it soon because the damage is that bad.

You've guessed what came next haven't you - it is indeed Viburnum beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) that's doing the damage. The picture's of my Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' showing the early signs of the beetle's presence - the badly damaged parts are currently swathed with Clematis 'Rouge Cardinal' and C. 'John Paul II', so I can't show you a 'lace' example. The link will take you to Cornell University's factsheet which has lots more information and pictures of both leaf damage and the tiny beetle larvae.

My Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' which touches V. 'Eve Price' never gets attacked, nor does my Viburnum davidii a little further down the same bed. This fits with the observations reported in the Cornell factsheet which puts these two species into the 'Highly resistant' category. Viburnum opulus is in the 'Most susceptible' one, with most plants being destroyed in 2-3 years if the beetle isn't controlled in some way. The organic solution is to encourage natural predators such as ladybirds and to pick off the larvae by hand. Viburnum tinus is in the 'Least susceptible' category which means plants should recover from attacks. I've found this to be true, but flowering tends to be much reduced. With two other Viburnums in my garden, I feel I can safely get rid of it - once the Clematis stop flowering - and plant something new and exciting in its place, without seriously affecting the winter interest in my garden.

BTW L's partner writes Diary Of a Novice Bee Keeper and has lots of exciting news on the bee keeping front at the moment. Well worth a look.

For a Veritable cacophony of posts on the theme of V, do consult the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

You Know It's Summer When...

Strawberry bed escapees I found lurking behind a bench yesterday

Just before I went on holiday, I was delighted The Guardian Gardening Blog accepted a guest post on how to spot it's summer. I didn't realise that comments would be closed by the time I came back, so I'm unable to thank those people who took the piece at its light hearted face value and added their own contributions. Here will have to do instead, so thank you.

To those others who saw fit to add personal remarks, I'll say only this: I'm glad I was out in the real world enjoying myself at the time. Of course everyone's entitled to their own opinions and The Guardian was right to show them as they say far more about the commenter than they do about me. However, it would be much better if the same standards used when judging my piece were applied when commenting. I don't mind disagreement or criticism of what I say - what a boring world it would be if we all agreed with each other - but a constructive comment saying why or what's wrong, means something can be done about it next time. I'll keep on writing and submitting guest posts and in future any personal remarks coming my way will be met with a dignified silence.

To all of you who added something in my defence on the original piece, here or via e-mail, thanks so much and I'm sending you hugs and all good things your way. You helped me to keep it all in proportion and made a huge positive out of a negative experience.

Now back to normal business. I've since realised that by posting on The Guardian blog instead of on here as originally planned, a number of you wouldn't get to comment as the required signing up for our media's blogs tends to make Blogger Word Verification look a breeze in comparison. I'm sure Jane Perrone won't mind my re-publishing the list which caused all the fuss, and I'm also confident you'll respond in the spirit of what I've written, just like you did back in the spring ;)

You Know It's Summer When...

  1. The news is full of stories of hosepipe bans
  2. The weather forecast has a severe weather warning for flash floods
  3. You're glad you never got around to the spring lawncare because the clover and moss are the only green things left in your lawn
  4. The entire housing estate smells of barbecue lighter fluid
  5. Parts of the garden are flattened by cats finding a sheltered spot from the sun
  6. You're frantically picking crates of courgettes and tomatoes
  7. In spite of your best efforts, you still find at least three courgettes of marrow proportions the next time you go a-harvesting
  8. The lounger's a permanent feature in the garden, but somehow you never find more than 2 minutes to lie on it
  9. The dawn chorus has stopped apart from two pesky pigeons who insist on a most repetitive duet right next to your bedroom window. Plus there's the raucous flock of seagulls from the railway station flying over the house at 4am (the nearest bit of sea is 40 miles away BTW)
  10. The patio's too hot to walk on in bare feet
  11. You're amazed at just how quickly things can grow/die/run to seed/insert plant disaster of your own choice during your holiday
  12. You find yourself making jam or chutney on the hottest day of the year
  13. You were awash with seedlings in the spring, but you still have spaces in the garden
  14. You're still behind with your gardening jobs
  15. It's warm enough at night to be in T-shirt and shorts whilst watching the bats fly around the garden
  16. Your local garden centre's employing someone to manage the traffic
  17. Alarmingly large cracks have appeared in your soil, which you try to fill with compost
  18. Bees drown out the sound of everything else, apart from your neighbour's lawnmower
  19. The wasps/mosquitoes/slugs/aphids/insert detested pest of your own choice are out in force
  20. You just love every minute you can be outside
  21. What else can you add to the list?

Enjoy the summer and your garden everyone :)

Monday, 15 June 2009

GBBD - Flaming June

Click on the image to enlarge it if needed.

From left to right, top to bottom: Clematis obelisks (C. 'Elsa Spath', C. 'Dorothy Walton'? and C. 'Hagley Hybrid' on the left and my 2 clematis sports on the right); Gladiolus byzantinus*; C. 'Crystal Fountain'; Rosa 'Rambling Rector'; C. 'Rouge Cardinal'; Aquilegia 'Mckanna hybrid'; C. 'Arabella'; Cosmos 'Chocamocha'*; sport of C. 'Crystal Fountain; Geranium 'Splish Splash'; C. 'Rouge Cardinal' & C. 'John Paul II', self-sown Allium christophii; C. 'Hagley hybrid'; Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'; the label says C. 'Duchess of Albany', I think it looks more like C. 'Ville de Lyon'; this year's new welcoming hanging basket; sport of C. 'Josephine'; a bargain Regal Pelargonium*; C. 'Elsa Spath'; and creamy Euonymus flowers

* = new this year

What a difference 2 weeks makes! Dan Pearson said at the Hay Festival he felt one of the joys of designing here in the UK is how regularly a garden changes on a daily basis. I feel this must have been happening whilst I was away as the garden looks well and truly in its summer clothing. I make no apologies for showing off my Clematis and some of this year's new arrivals.

My garden trail for Blooms Day has also revealed some new lessons to ponder: I'm pleased to report that my Dahlia duvet has worked for D. 'Moonfire' and D. 'David Howard' in spite of last winter's chills and my misgivings. It looks like having a duvet and being closer to the protective terrace wall have been key factors in their survival. Sadly the middling bed D. 'Happy Party' and D. 'Romeo' have yet to put in an appearance.

The pictured Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' is the result of an experiment from my spring trimming tasks. I have 2 plants from last year which flowered continually from April until the really cold weather this February. After that both were very woody, but with some tiny side shoots towards the bottom of the plants. I ruthlessly chopped everything back to these, gave them a good mulching and left them to their own devices. The result you see is the plant with a good crop of new flowers and growth. This was the one with the healthy looking sideshoots when cut back: the other had rather sickly looking ones and looks even worse at the moment...

Why didn't anyone tell me how wonderfully scented Regal Pelargoniums are? I've had an an aversion to all things Pelargonium since infant school, where musty cuttings of the more common types of annual Geraniums were overwintered in a corridor outside the headmaster's study. Their awful scent put me off all Pelargoniums for life, but no longer. I want more of these ones please. I'm also enjoying the delicate blooms of the Cosmos, but have yet to detect anything of a chocolatey scented nature...

The Rosa 'Rambling Rector' has yet to get fully into its stride on the side fence, but NAH has complained already about it clawing at his clothes since we got back home on Saturday. Happy sigh. Now I really know it's summer :)

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

Sunday, 14 June 2009

A Postcard From Norfolk

Hello, hello, good to be back...

A change of scenery and two weeks without a computer - absolute bliss. Of course it means I've got loads to tell you - gardens, bookshops, places, wildlife, public planting and an Art Deco marvel just to whet your appetite. However, I also have hundreds of photos to sort, a massive sack of post and e-mails to sift through, probably loads of weeds up at the allotment as we've had 30+ mm of rain whilst I was away and a photography competition deadline on Wednesday. Oh, and there's a little matter of cramming 5 weeks worth of song learning and rehearsals - including knowing all the words in several languages - into two weeks ready for Sing for Water on June 26th. Gulp. Then back in the world of blogging there's Blooms Day tomorrow, all your comments here - many thanks for them, you've been as delightfully thoughtful and thought provoking as ever - and I need to catch up with everything you've been up to as well.

So forgive this little taster of a postcard and I hope you like the photo of one of the vast fields of poppies I saw over in Norfolk - do click to enlarge the picture and drink it all in. It's good to see this wildflower's back in a big way too.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: U is For...


One of things I learnt from my visit to Chelsea is that the devil's in the detail. No matter how much you look at the TV and internet coverage, there will be lots of tiny little design details and ideas that you can only glean by actually being there. This is some of the paving used in A Japanese Tranquil Retreat: I didn't particularly like this garden, but I loved the solution used to add interest to the paved areas. It just goes to show that even where I wasn't inspired by the overall design, there's still something to engage and interest.

If you like the Unusual, then you'll like the posts over at the ABC Wednesday blog.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Off on Holiday...

I'm away in North Norfolk at the moment - have been for a while actually - where I'm hoping the weather will mean we'll need to follow rules 1-3 of the notice I found in London recently, but can safely ignore rules 4-5, unless T-shirts are included. My U for ABC Wednesday is scheduled to go up on the 10th and I'll be back shortly after that.

In the meantime, don't forget about Out on the Streets - just click on the picture in the right sidebar, leave a comment on there when you've put your contribution up for June and I'll come and have a proper look real soooooon.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Product Test: The Air-Pot

I'm pretty excited at the moment as I've just been given my first product to test, courtesy of Gardeners' Click. I was asked if I was interested in testing an Air-Pot, so naturally I jumped at the chance. I had the option of testing a kit for growing tomatoes or one for potatoes. I went for the latter and decided to go for the smaller, 50 litre patio sized kit so I could keep an eye on things at home.

I'm already familiar with Air-Pots, as the Yew I bought at the garden centre 2 years ago came in one and Martyn used a close-up picture of one for his mystery guess quiz a few weeks ago. It looks like they're going to be more widely available in the future, hence the product test. Since getting my Yew, I've been intrigued at how they work as a pot with holes seems plain wrong doesn't it? According to Martyn, the holes encourage the roots to grow a myriad of fine hairs in response to their contact with air rather than spiralling round the pot as usually happens. I'm yet to remain convinced as I'm worried about keeping the pot watered sufficiently well. Whenever I've watered my Yew, it only seems to take a small amount before leaking everywhere.

I was concerned it might be too late for the product test this year, but then remembered that I'd planted some of my left over seed potatoes rather late for a compost bag growing trial. Therefore I could split the young plants for a comparison test between the Air-Pot and the compost bag method. My Air-Pot came on Friday and surprise, I had 2 instead of the one I was expecting! As you can see from the main picture, the kit is pretty simple, comprising a base, a wall and some screws to hold everything together.

They took less than 5 minutes to assemble. The base needs to snuggle in between 2 of the rows of dimples and I found it was easy to do so and include a hole in the bottom if I didn't roll the wall around the base tightly enough. Everything seemed fine at my second attempt, but closer scrutiny of the picture on the instructions showed I'd assembled it upside down. Some of the dimples don't have holes in them (which are easy to miss) and where these are is important for the finished product. Everything came together at my third attempt thank goodness - luckily the screws come out as easily as they go in and the assembled pot looks and feels pretty sturdy.

Then came the potato transfer. If I'd been planting them as newly chitted potatoes, I'd just be filling the first 4 inches of the pot and adding compost as the plants grow just like I'm doing with my compost bags. However, the plants were large enough for me to fill up the pot immediately as you can see in the picture. I made sure the compost was pressed down well (as instructed) and I found it took about 70 litres of compost to fill the 50 litre pots. The instructions also say that the pots will need more water than conventional ones, so I thought I'd mix some water retaining gel into the compost to keep the need for watering down a little. Now all that remains for me is to keep an eye on progress, water the pots and then pull them apart when I'm ready to harvest. Luckily I've kept the join to the front of where I've placed them on the lower patio, so I don't have to move the pots around come harvest time.

I'll let you know how I get on :)

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: T is For...

...Terrific or Tacky?

I couldn't really go to Chelsea and not talk about that garden could I? Of course it's not really a garden at all as even the soil's made out of plasticine - 24 colours of it in fact. It really proved to be a marmite moment: you either loved it or loathed it. My friend H wouldn't even look at it whilst I was taking this photograph. I loved it.

Should it be at Chelsea? That's a toughie. Strictly speaking the show's all about horticultural excellence, so a garden without any plants doesn't have a place at all. BUT in a year when lots of show gardens had to pull out due to the economic climate and the RHS had space to fill, why not? It put a smile on lots of people's faces and there's just so much detail. Shhh, even an RHS banned garden gnome was sneaked in there! Lots of people were involved in its making and I hear it will be going on to cheer up the children at Great Ormond Street hospital afterwards.

The garden's part of a TV series about encouraging children to get back to real toys and being more creative in their play, so it should be applauded for that. I'm glad it's puckered the faces and raised the eyebrows of a lot of the gardening establishment too. It's good to see the RHS can have a sense of humour for a change - something sorely needed if it's going to attract more people like me as members in my view. They awarded it a gold medal* - in plasticine of course. And naturally, all that TV coverage and column inches in the papers won't do either the TV programme or the RHS any harm either.

Is it Terrific or Tacky? What do you think?

* = it was not judged alongside the real gardens. In fact it got a Special Letter, which might be code for got a b*ll*cking!

For more Terrific posts, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Things In Unusual Places #2: Astroturf

One of the freebies being handed out on the way to Chelsea was a sample of astroturf, something I'd associate more with the footballing version rather than the hallowed grounds of the Flower Show. I was given this about halfway between Sloane Square and the show itself. I can imagine it raised the eyebrows of a lot of visitors when they found out what was in the bag they'd been given. What amuses me most is that it even has little brown tufts of false grass in it, just like it's building up its own thatch for raking out. I wonder if Emmat will allow the use of astroturf in her plans for a revamped Chelsea?

Monday, 1 June 2009

GBBD: Bed In Summer

A perfectly fragranced bed for summer: Thuja plicata, roses, lilies, pinks, lavenders and irisis. Click here for the planting plan from Chelsea's Perfume Garden

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) from: A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)

Do you remember that frustration when you were a child? I certainly do!

BTW I'm rather pleased to be double posting today. I have a lighthearted guide on how to spot it's summer over at The Guardian Gardening blog: if you enjoyed my guide to spring, then I'm sure you'll enjoy this one too.

Garden Bloggers Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi over at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.
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