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Showing posts from July, 2011

Unusual Front Gardens #11: Wellies

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A few doors down the street from our holiday cottage was an old church which is now the Embsay Children's Centre. I was charmed by this display on the top step by the front door. I wonder if they got to take them home for their mum at the end of term?

Seasonal Recipe: Tomato and Pepper Soup

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My outdoor tomatoes are beginning to ripen nicely so I reckon you greenhouse growing types must getting near to tomato glut times. We're nowhere near that happy time yet, but a chance encounter with the cheap-because-the-sell-by-date-is-due-today shelf at my local supermarket yielded a goodly crop of ingredients for an instant make-it-up-on-the-spot simple tomato and pepper soup :)

Ingredients 2 litres vegetable stock 1kg tomatoes, whole 2 red peppers, chopped (preferably the ones with the pointy ends) Salt and black pepper to taste
Method Place all the ingredients except the seasoning in a large saucepanBring to the boilEnsure the tomatoes are well mashed into the stockAdd seasoning to tasteSimmer for 25 minutesTaste and adjust seasoning if necessaryWhizz everything together with a hand blender Serves 6-8 with lashings of freshly baked crusty bread - hot or cold depending on the weather and your mood.
Hints, tips and variations Ham stock makes a great substitute if you've had boil…

VP's Guide to Wind Strength

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Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated by the weather and its measurement. I'd love one of those really posh weather stations, but in the meantime I'm making do with my simpler rain gauge to measure any precipitation and a Max/Min thermometer. My trusty weathervane shows me the wind's direction, but instead of an anemometer I've been using the visual cues from the Beaufort scale. Does anyone else imagine the sound effects of the rising wind strength like I do when reading through the list, from calm (silence) through to hurricane (so loud you can't hear yourself think)?

A trip to Poundland the other week yielded a bright windmill initially destined as a bird scarer up at the allotment. Once assembled I stuck it in a pot on the patio and there it has stayed because it makes me smile. It's on view when we have our meals as well as when I'm out in the garden. Its continued presence has led me to devise my own gardening version of the Beaufort scal…

Jack Go To Bed At Noon

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Last year this rather exotic looking flower appeared on mine and several other allotments for the first time. Having been stumped (again) by Mr Allotment Warden as to its identity, I rushed home to find out what it was. It's salsify, aka the marvellous Jack Go To Bed At Noon - named as such because its flowers always close by midday.

Here you can see both open and closed flowers - making it seem even more exotic and alien than in the first picture. I think this must be the cultivated version because the flower in my Francis Rose Wild Flower Key looks exactly the same in form, but is bright yellow in colour and called meadow salsify.
Its other common name is Goatsbeard, which must be a nod to the fantastic dandelion-like clock which forms the seed head. With 'parachutes' like those shown above, who knows how far our plotted plants came from. I rather like the photographic dissection of the seedhead found in this link.
Salsify is edible: its lateral shoots and flowers can be u…

Designing With Grasses: Book Review

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I've always had a bit of a struggle with grasses. Too much tackling couch, then a highly invasive zebra grass at our first house have put me off them somewhat. Then my garden here goes from deep shade through to Mediterranean in just a few steps, so I haven't really managed to see how they'd fit in this garden either.

Helen (Patient Gardener) and Karen (Artist's Garden) find this a rather strange (and amusing!) state of affairs and have done their darndest to get me converted to grasses, with some degree of success. They hatched a sneaky plan at last year's Meet at Malvern and Karen's generous gift of plants meant I could experiment a little. I must concede there are some definite possibilities for succession planting amongst my Aquilegia.
But I'm yet to be fully converted. That is until I started reading Neil Lucas' Designing with Grasses. Neil owns Knoll Gardens in Dorset, famed for its grass specialism. He has a deep understanding of grass communitie…

RHS Hyde Hall: Garden Visit

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A few weeks ago I was invited to a bloggers get together at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex. A new garden to explore with blogging buddies old and new was way too much of a temptation, especially as a picnic, tour of the garden with Ian Bull the garden manager and a plant swap (a planned RHS event for the weekend) were thrown in for good measure.
I don't know Essex that well and as I got ever closer to Hyde Hall, I couldn't believe an RHS garden could be found anywhere amongst the rolling hills (yes, Essex has hills!) and extensive farmland - and that was after I'd taken the signposted entrance to the garden.*
Later Ian enlightened us about the farmland whilst looking at the pictured view above - over 300 hundred acres came with the house and original garden bequeathed to them. So as well as this being let out to farmers, the RHS has plenty of opportunity to make walking trails, plus plant 1,000s of trees on the estate as well as having ambitious plans to make a large lake on the …

The Big Butterfly Count

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This photo appeared on Sign of the Times earlier this week before I realised it would be perfect to talk about The Big Butterfly Count which starts today. All you need to do is spend a relaxing 15 minutes on a sunny day in your garden or other sunny spot between now and the 31st July and identify the butterflies and (some) moths fluttering by.

Don't know your red admiral (see above) from your peacock? Then all the help you need is on the Butterfly Conservation website where you'll find this handy ID guide (NB if all you see is a black page from taking this link, click on the + button at the top of the page and all should be revealed). You have until the end of August to record your results.
Just like the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch held in January, The Big Butterfly Count is a great opportunity to help gather masses of data about what's happening with a vital indicator of our wildlife's health.
Live across a the pond a feeling left out? Why not take part in today's f…

GBBD: Daucus carota

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It's high time for another trip to the allotment for Blooms Day so I can show off the frothy dreaminess that is my Daucus carota ssp. sativus in flower, otherwise known as carrots.
When I cleared the plot at the start of the year I was surprised to find a late sowing I'd made last autumn had not only come through unscathed - despite winter's harshness - but had also started to grow again. As carrots (like their parsnip cousins) are biennial plants, I thought it would be fun to see what happened to them if I left them to their own devices.
This is my reward: chest high creamy flowers in profusion with a most heavenly scent. Lots of insects seem to like them too. Tomorrow I'll cut some to put in a vase when I get home. We have visitors coming to stay from Australia next week: it'll be interesting to see if they can guess what these are.
Do you have any surprise blooms this year?
Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Garden.

ABC of Chippenham: Zumba

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Since March this year I've been attending a Zumba dance class at Hardenhuish school. This takes place in the gym which has the typical look and smell of any school gym built in the 1950s or 60s. Despite that, the class is a lot of fun - it's a bit like aerobics, with lots of moves from salsa/ Greek/ Bollywood/ belly dancing thrown in for good measure. I'm useless at it because it moves so fast, but I reckon that jumping around for an hour looking silly (and giggling a lot) has to be doing some good.

Whilst the school dates from the 1950s with various additions across the decades, the grounds are much older. They house the pictured rather stately Hardenhuish House and the grounds are the parkland of its former estate which still retain much of the feel of those grander times. The estate has been nibbled around the edges somewhat: part of it is now the Donkey Field which we encountered for the letter D and you've also seen the rather fine St Nicholas' Church in the l…

ABC of Chippenham: Yelde Hall

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The Yelde Hall is one of the oldest and most striking of Chippenham's buildings and you've seen glimpses of it already, filed under T for Tourism and Q for Quaint. It also has a version of U for Unity and Loyalty: the badge you can see at the top of the building over the steps to the right is an older version of the town's coat of arms.

Yelde is another form of the word Guild, showing that it was an important building in the town: the place where much of the Chippenham's business and justice was administered until the town council moved to its current premises down the high street in 1841.
In the 1500s it was rented to the town's bailiff and burgesses, though the building itself is believed to date back the the 1400s. Don't be fooled by the date on the building above the coat of arms: this is believed to date one of the earlier renovations of the building in 1776.
The Yelde Hall has 2 floors and several rooms. Upstairs was used as the council chamber and the la…

The Twilight Garden: Book Review

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The above photo is part of the amazing A Garden by Night, created for this year's RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. This was one of my highlights of this year's event, so it's rather timely that I've received a review copy of Lia Leendertz's book Twilight Garden, which has lots of information to enable you to do this kind of thing for yourself.
Now Lia's book is here, I've been wondering why no-one's thought of it before. When do most gardeners relax in their gardens? If you're like me, going into the garden during the day means even if you do manage to sit down, then you're soon up again having spotted something which needs doing. No, my relaxing time in the garden is at dusk, when the bats start circling.
The book is divided into two parts: Making Your Twilight Garden Reality and Plants and Planting. The first part covers the design aspects of a twilight garden and how to use colour, scent, lighting and water to make a garden for all the …

VP Goes Multi Media

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It's exciting times at VP Gardens as I have not one, but two articles in current publications. My first book review is in the latest Green Places magazine: a review of Biophilic Cities. Thisbookargues that we have aninbuilt need for nature to be incorporated into our daily lives and outlines a number of ways it can be achieved by planners, architects and designers.
I also have my second article in Wiltshire magazine (you can now turn to p47-49 in the online edition for July/August). This time I was taken out of my comfort zone because I was asked to profile Trowbridge at a time when two major employers - Virgin Media and Vodaphone - announced their sites in the town were to close. I also was asked to interview local people to find out what they thought of the place. Quite a major step for me when I'm used to researching in the local library, museum or on the internet. Luckily there was a community festival on in the few days I had to get my piece done, so I managed to find som…

Why I Care About Chalk Streams

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Around 20 years ago I quit my comfortable IT job and went back to university to study Freshwater Biology at Masters level. Several strands had come together at the time which made it necessary for me to want to do so - too many to go into detail here - suffice to say that one of them was the problem of low flows in Wiltshire's chalk streams and I was keen to do something about it.

At the time the problem was publicly denied by various stakeholders, so Wiltshire Wildlife Trust recruited an army of River Monitors to regularly gather information on the state of their local river. I was one of those volunteers and our data has contributed to the acknowledgement there is indeed a problem.
So I was really pleased to see WWF's 50th anniversary garden , Why We Care About Chalk Streams at this year's Hampton Court show. It's the second time my twin passions of gardening and freshwater biology have come together this year :)
The designer, Fiona Stephenson has done her research v…

The Show's Surprising Theme

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When I went to Palmstead's public planting workshop last year, Andrew Wilson spoke about how the facilities found in our parks and home gardens need to change to meet the demands of our lives today. He argued that technology will be moving outside, so we'll see many new design features to help us in our work and play.

I initially dismissed this as too fantastical, especially his example of park areas set aside for playing with the Wii. I thought we're too welded to doing this kind of thing inside. However, now I'm not so sure as several gardens at Hampton Court this year are about the impact of technology or how it can be used in the garden.
Instead of artworks adorning the wall, the Cinema Paradisosmall garden shown above has a large screen which can be used for watching a film, playing console games or even as a giant computer monitor. It's a practical example of Andrew Wilson's vision.
Elsewhere, there were no shortage of ideas and stories about the impact …

Showing the Sheds

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As it's National Shed Week, it's only right and proper that we should take a whistle-stop tour of some of those I spotted at this week's RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. It's also the perfect excuse to highlight one of the year on year strengths of this event: the edible gardens :)


The RHS' own Edible Garden is one of the show's highlights with half an acre of tippity top fruit and vegetables. The Constant Gardener has already enthused about this on her kitchen garden blog, so instead we're taking a peep inside the adjacent Grow Your Own Marquee, where the ever reliable Pennard Plants has the most solid looking of sheds.
Outside in the Small Gardens category, there are two sheds of particular note: firstly a more contemporary offering in Burgon and Ball's 5-A-Day garden...


...followed by potentially two for the price of one seen in Southend Youth Offending Services The Home Front. Post-WWII, many Anderson air raid shelters like the one shown here on t…

A Picturesque Hampton Court

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The long running debate over gardens as art has been turned on its head at this year's RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show via the original and very clever Picturesqueby Melissa Jolly. This garden is laid out in the form of a typical 'gallery' with several designs within representing famous pictures and art installations, many of which have a garden theme. The above picture shows an interpretation of Wassily Kandinsky's Natural Spheres. A Monet, Rousseau, Hockney, Mondrian and Damian Hirst are also represented.
This garden is not only thought provoking, it's also witty. I loved the play on the word Picturesque which spans both the worlds of art and garden design; the familiar 'Artist's Statement' next to each 'artwork' explaining how the original had been interpreted; the use of Gladioli to represent Mondrian and the very spiky looking air plants replacing Damian Hirst's shark. I emerged from this 'exhibition' with a smile on my f…

The Buzz at Heddington Steam Rally

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There was an unscheduled event at Saturday's Heddington and Stockley Steam Rally when these bees decided to swarm and land on a fence post next to the stationary (soon to be even more stationary than usual!) engine exhibit. Soon the entire showground was a-buzz with what was going on as regular updates were given out by the main showring's commentators.
Obligingly the bees had also settled close to the first aid point so any problems with stings could be sorted out quickly. This didn't seem to be a problem though - as you can see I could get up quite close to take this photograph without being troubled by them.
A local beekeeper was exhibiting at the show and was instantly dispatched to deal with the swarm. I spoke to him about it later and he told me he could have dealt with them within about 15 minutes. However, this would have entailed knocking the post to get them into his box and probably quite a few angry bees flying about as a result.
In view of the show's crowds,…

You Have Your Blog, Now Get the T-Shirt

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This week I've had loads of fun designing my own freebie t-shirt courtesy of Printed Wardrobe and Fuel My Blog. I could have chosen one of the many designs already available, but decided I'd be missing out on getting something more unique and personal, so I plumped for a wearable version of Veg Plotting ready for the next time I answer gardeners' questions :)

I had plenty of different styles to choose from. I've been fed up lately with the flimsy material and shorter sleeves available in the shops, so I was really pleased to find exactly what I wanted: a heavier weight Beefy-T as the starting point for my design (stop sniggering at the back there).

I'd been pondering whether to use my blog's header photo or my avatar, but then I realised it would be great to use both. As I already had the images I wanted to hand, it was a breeze to load them up and get cracking with the design software. All I needed to do was choose my preferred t-shirt colour, do a bit of resizi…

GBMD: A Period of Leisure?

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A period of leisure has arrived for those engaged in gardening for recreation alone.

Entry for July 1st, The Gardener's Perpetual Almanack: A Book of Days by Martin Hoyle.
BBC Radio Wiltshire are coming this afternoon* to record a couple of short slots from my garden. I'm most excited, though yesterday was hardly a period of leisure after I got the email confirming the presenter was coming! Although listeners won't be able to see my garden, I'd like to be able to talk about it honestly.
So some quick tidying up has been in order. Then Jess gave it her seal of approval ;)
* = the last flight ever from RAF Lyneham is due to fly over this morning, so I thought an afternoon visit might be less noisy!
Garden Bloggers' Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.