Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

ABC of Chippenham: X-Ray

If anyone needs an X-Ray in Chippenham, then they go to our local hospital, St. Andrews aka Chippenham Community Hospital. Luckily NAH and I have only had to avail ourselves of this facility a couple of times between the two of us. If you click to enlarge the picture, you'll see the blue sign on the left is directing you to the X-Ray department.

Whilst I'm pleased I haven't had to go there that often, I'm also glad we have a small hospital in the town, where on the couple of occasions I've had to go to the minor injuries unit, my GP has been in attendance. When I've had to go to Bristol or Bath instead, I've hated the depersonalisation going to such a large facility brings, even though I know full well to have done so in Chippenham would be uneconomic.

However, in much earlier times no-one would have been glad to go to the pictured building as it was Chippenham's workhouse. Built in 1858-9, it would have been considered the place of last resort (and dread) for the poor and needy. If a man entered the workhouse, his family had to go with him. Life was harsh, the diet poor and all the able bodied were expected to work extremely hard for their watery porridge. Occupants were free to leave if conditions allowed e.g. work became available outside. However, many didn't and the sick and elderly often became confined to the infirmary until the end of their lives.

Families wouldn't be housed together: children were separated from their parents and the men from the women. Chippenham's building has two main wings, opposite each other (the above link has a map and plenty of extra photos showing the layout) and I imagine one housed the men and the other the women. The 1881 census shows there were 225 residents from a wide area in and around Chippenham.

I haven't been able to find out when the workhouse became our hospital, but as it would have been one the town's largest public buildings at the time and contained some medical facilities already, I wonder if there is some connection with the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) in the 1940s.

NB the links about Chippenham's workhouse are taken from a fascinating website which has lots of information about the general social history, politics, architecture and life of the workhouse.

This is for ABC Wednesday and forms the 24th of my themed posts about Chippenham.

Monday, 27 June 2011

RHS Harlow Carr: Garden Visit

I've a few garden visits to show you over the coming weeks, not necessarily in the order I visited them as the planting in some of them can keep for a while. First up is RHS Harlow Carr from just over two weeks ago, chosen for today's post as these wonderful displays of candelabra primulas are sure to be fading fast.

I hadn't really read much about Harlow Carr before my visit, so there were quite a few surprises in store. Firstly I found the Yorkshire Rhubarb and Custard Garden, the People's Choice in the small garden category from last year's Chelsea Flower Show.

This wasn't far from The Alpine Zone, the largest alpine house I've ever seen. Lots of opportunities to get close and personal with this most dainty of groups.

I was pleased to see that Wisley doesn't hog all the RHS trials - an oft voiced criticism by many people. I chanced upon the tail end of the Meconopsis one. Visitors were asked not to touch the plants as the seeds were being saved as part of the trial, though I did manage to 'steal' this photograph ;)

It seems every RHS garden has its own version of an enormous double border with lush lawns and Harlow Carr was no exception.

But there was also plenty of wispy meadow, especially towards the woodland area.

As the RHS' northernmost garden, another emphasis is on the growing of tough, hardy plants. This means shrubs, conifers and foliage contrasts take a centre stage in many parts of the garden.

Carr is derived from the Northern Middle English kerr, which is an old topographic name for wet ground. A stream runs through the garden, so there are mass plantings of ferns, rheums, Gunnera and other moisture loving plants streamside in the dell. Many of the vistas, mass plantings and walkways are along this axis. Except where there's a bridge of course.

The latest addition to the garden is the very eco friendly Bramhall Learning Centre, together with its fresh herbaceous planting and teaching garden. NB the best view of the centre's green roof is from the car park.

Another unexpected surprise was the Gardens Through Time exhibit: a series of small gardens illustrating the varied styles of the Regency, Mid Victorian, Late Victorian, Edwardian, 1950s and 1970s periods. The last garden in this series is the pictured 'Contemporary' by Diarmuid Gavin. It's interesting to wander through these 'slices' of garden history, note their characteristics and see the innovations introduced in each age. We often mix and match these in our own gardens without realising just where we're borrowing from!

Unfortunately my visit was cut short as it started to rain by the bucket load - as you can see in this recent Friday Bench from Sign of the Times, so I didn't get the chance to explore the woodland, childrens garden and vegetable/fruit areas.

They're saved for a sunnier day :)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Crown Growbag Frame: Product Review

Those of you who read my Testing Times post at the end of April may recall I'm trialling Crown's Growbag Frame in my garden, courtesy of Fuel My Blog. I'm using it as a support for some of my tomatoes and comparing it with my usual method of using large terracotta long tom pots plus canes.

The picture shows the situation a month ago. I've chosen it over today's because the tomato plants have grown so well, they're obscuring most of the frame. Click to enlarge the picture if you'd like a better look at the construction.

The frame was incredibly easy to put together: the lower horizontal rod is threaded through the growbag I'm using, which in turn forms the weight needed to support the rest of the structure. I prefer the straps used as plant supports - which are attached to the horizontals - over my usual bamboo canes as my plants seem to be happily using them without me having to tie them in.

You'll see the growbag is used on its side. This makes perfect sense as it gives a greater planting depth and removes the need to add a pot on top filled with extra growing media to get better results. Inside each hole I've 'planted' a 3" pot which I use for watering as it means I can get more down to where it's best utilised: around the roots. I rolled the growbag around to break up any lumps before planting. I can report that a month later these tomato plants are taller and much more healthier looking than their pot grown counterparts, though the latter have started to fruit.

So on the whole it's a big thumbs up for this product, particularly as I'll be able to take it apart and stow away in a much smaller space at the end of the tomato season. The only downsides I can see are its relatively expensive price (compared to 3 long tom pots + canes), though it does compare very favourably with other gadgets on the market designed for patio growing. There's also a dependency on using growbags which I'm a little uneasy about, especially as there's usually much more choice available in the larger 50 litre bags of growing media for the same price or cheaper.

However, I'll certainly be using this handy gadget in seasons to come and seeing whether I can adapt it for use with a bag of growing media instead.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Spirit of Chelsea

My trip to London last Friday is the first time I've returned to the city so soon after the demise of Chelsea Flower Show. However, I found some tiny echoes which shows the 'spirit of Chelsea' isn't quite dead... yet.

Some of the shops in and around Sloane Square are still sporting their 'alternative Chelsea Flower Show' displays, such as the above cottagey cum meadow I found outside a shoe shop...

... whilst its next door neighbour was sporting something 'quite refined'.

At Sloane Square Tube Station (the one closest to Chelsea), the greenery in the entrance area was sporting the name of this year's show sponsors. I don't know if they or the RHS provided this display. Meanwhile...

...the tiling at platform level and rather sad box ball forms a more permanent reminder of the station's horticultural connections.

I also poked my camera through the railings on Chelsea Embankment down Main Avenue. The grass at the front of the picture is close to where Diarmuid Gavin's garden was and the brown soil you can see in the middle of the left hand side was the site of the B&Q garden. As you can see preparations for the next event are already well under way and the 'spirit of Chelsea' there will soon be just a memory.

However, in reality the 'spirit of Chelsea' isn't really an echo or a memory. It's embodied in the form of the many Chelsea pensioners I saw on Chelsea Barrack Road on Friday. They'd cast aside their bright red dress uniforms we see at the Flower Show and were in their everyday navy blue with a thin red stripe down the trousers. I spotted them making their way to the local Tesco Express down the road from the The Royal Hospital Chelsea for their day's supplies.

What's your favourite memory from this year's show?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Westinghouse

Last week we saw how Brunel has left his mark on Chippenham in 1841 in the shape of a viaduct. The coming of the railway here led to a profitable railway supply industry springing up in the mid 1800s, which continues today. Various companies have come and gone (Rowland Brotherhood -->, Evans O'Donnell -->, Saxby and Farmer), but the main name connected with railways and Chippenham today is Westinghouse.

Those of you across the pond are probably more familiar with George Westinghouse than most people over here as he was an entrepreneur and pioneer of the electrical industry in the USA, whose development of the alternating current system eventually prevailed over Edison's direct current system. He also was the inventor of the air brake and had an interest in railway signalling amongst many other things.

This led him to make an alliance with a British signalling company in the late 19th century based in Worcester. This is turn merged with Saxby and Farmer to form the Westinghouse Air Brake and Saxby Signalling Company Ltd in 1920. Several iterations later and Westinghouse was a name dominating Chippenham in the form of several different companies, all with various fingers in the railway industry worldwide and employing thousands of people. Somewhere along the way the link between the American Westinghouse company and its English cousin was severed and they went their separate ways.

Further takeovers and mergers of the various companies from the late 1970s through to the 1990s mean that the name Westinghouse is no more and we today have Invensys Rail instead. However, this name is pretty meaningless to most people in Chippenham and so Westinghouse remains in the collective memory and consciousness. I'm constantly amazed at how such a small place like Chippenham can have such a global presence.

NAH was interviewed for an electronics engineering job at Westinghouse Signals in 1984, just before we married and moved down here. He didn't take that job, but after a couple of dalliances elsewhere joined Westinghouse Brakes instead in 1990. The project he was working on moved to Westinghouse Signals in 1992 and so NAH had a 'free transfer' over there too. He stayed there until three years ago.

I decided a while ago the Westinghouse symbol on Invensys' premises gates on Hawthorn Road was going to be my picture for today's post. However, NAH told me they've long gone: it's shame he didn't rescue them from the rubbish skip when they were thrown out. Instead, I'm showing you one of the ones on the gates of the Westinghouse Sports and Social Club on Bristol Road. These gates are endangered - as evidenced by their peeling paint - as there are proposals to build new houses on the land. The latest plans have just been rejected by the Town Council.

This is for ABC Wednesday and forms the 23rd of my themed posts about Chippenham.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Corsham Gardeners' Question Time

Look, we had our own swanky poster for Corsham Gardeners' Question Time!

Saturday dawned rainy and miserable and by 10am we were wondering if we'd last the whole day. Then the sun came out, Corsham High Street sparkled and people stopped by to ask questions instead of scurrying past to get to their next shopping destination cum shelter.

Loads of people from choir came and said hello and I saw plenty of others from census, creative writing, film club and swimming club days, so it was like a massive reunion as well as me posing as a gardening expert. I'd been a bit nervous about this as some people tend to label you as one simply because you've chosen to blog on the subject, even though it's clear you're working things out as you go along.

I needn't have worried: Tim and I made a great team and having blogged for so long, I found I had a wealth of learning to draw upon. My initial nervousness was soon replaced by enjoyment and I had an absolute blast. There was a steady stream of people rather than a crowd and this meant we had time to talk about lots of different things in addition to the original question. It was a conversation with like minded people of all ages who often approached our stall nervously, but always left with a smile. The six hours simply flew by.

We also met someone from BBC Radio Wiltshire, who asked if she could come to record a couple of pieces from VP Gardens. Errrr my garden's not looking that good at the moment, was my reply. That's OK she said, we'll be on the radio. Well quite, but I'll still be madly tidying things up over the next couple of weeks!

Most frequently asked questions: can I move xxxxx in my garden (substitute plant of your own choice), how to get rid of aphids and when is it going to stop raining? I believe there were more vegetable and fruit growing questions, but Tim might think differently.

Most unusual question: can you successfully grow apple and pear trees in Bangladesh? (sadly not)

Question which stumped us: What's my plant with the white flower? (no plant or photo available and sadly none of the books we had to hand had a plant which matched the description)

Unanticipated activity: Providing plant IDs for the free plants people had picked from the Transcoco stand, or had bought if they didn't join. Sadly we couldn't identify the tomato variety from plants without any fruit!

Judging from the thank you email I received yesterday, the first Corsham Food and Drink Festival won't be the last :D

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bish Bash Bosch

A few weeks a go I received an invitation to go to Chelsea Physic Garden for a pruning and topiary masterclass given by fellow garden blogger (amongst other things) Geoff Hodge plus Roger Toombs of QVC fame. A chance to revisit a garden I frequented a lot during the 1990s plus learn something useful in the process was most tempting indeed, especially as Bosch, the event's host were willing to pay my travel expenses to get there.

So after getting up at 5.15 on Friday morning to catch the 6.25 train to Paddington, I blearily presented myself at England's second oldest botanic garden for a most fascinating session. I also got the chance to join a tour of the garden as we were free to have a wander around afterwards. Both my garden visit and the hints and tips I gathered on the day will form later posts.

Of course any sponsored gathering will have a sales pitch and Friday's turned out be a demonstration of Bosch's range of cordless garden tools. I'd guessed this would be the case and had giggled to myself in anticipation on the train as NAH's father was an early adopter of the technology in the 1970s.

He bought one of the first battery powered lawnmowers which didn't look like a designer had been anywhere near it as it was an ugly beast. The car battery perched on top which was used to power it meant it was extremely heavy and unwieldy and took a long time to recharge after use. How different the range of tools we saw on Friday turned out to be! They were light, easy to hold and packed a host of features to make them easy to use. Recharging times are so much shorter and usage times much longer these days, thus adding to their convenience.

As it was a pruning/topiary masterclass, most of the session focused on the secateurs and mini trimmer (aka shrub shears) part of the range. After a brief demonstration and question/answer session, we were let loose to have a go ourselves. I have to say I was seriously impressed despite arming myself to resist all schmoozing before I went. I was particularly pleased with the results of my trimming a large topiary spiral on offer, after using the mini trimmer. I also liked the secateurs: I'd initially dismissed them as being a bit of a gimmick, but as the owner of a bad tempered elbow of the tennis variety, I could see how useful they are for anyone who has a lot of pruning to do, or finds the more physical side of gardening is becoming harder.

We also got to see the bigger, more robust tools in the range: lawn mower, strimmer, hedge trimmers and chainsaw. We had the chance to handle most of these, though the chainsaw was hastily put away - they must have seen the speculative gleam in my eye ;)

We got to choose the secateurs or a mini trimmer and edger set to take home in our goody bag. I chose the trimmer because I don't have anything like it in my toolset. I'm glad I did, because as well as the tasks we saw demonstrated and tried out on the day, I've already thought of a host of new uses for it in my garden and on the allotment and can't wait to get cracking :)

We also had the chance to make suggestions: I've asked for a cordless shredder so I don't have to lug all my trimmings such as old raspberry canes and apple tree prunings back from the allotment. This will please NAH no end if they do develop one as he's always complaining my car looks like a travelling compost bin. We all thought the pictured demonstration of how to change the different blades on the trimmer would make a good video (is that the right word these days?) to go up on YouTube as it was a little fiddly to get just right. An improvement which immediately sprung to my mind is to make the little hole on the blade and the 'button' on the handle much bigger, so there's a better chance of getting the two fitted together first time.

My thanks to Bosch for being such generous hosts, to Geoff and Roger for making tools demonstration such a giggle; to the catering team at Chelsea Physic Garden for a delicious breakfast plus the evilly gooey chocolate brownies later on (yum); and to my fellow bloggers Ben, Geoff and Jacq for being such good company on the day.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Corsham Food and Drink Festival

It's Corsham Festival time and tomorrow the Fringe events get underway with the first ever Corsham Food and Drink festival. There's the regular farmer's market plus plenty of other stalls, many of them offering delicious food or drink with a sprinkling of sustainable community related ones including Wiltshire Wildlife Trust plus others covering recycling and fair trade awareness. It's all been organised by the hard working Food Group which forms part of Transition Community Corsham.

This flyer has been delivered to most homes in Corsham to advertise the event. Turn it over and you'll find...

... not only lots more information, but a certain 'Gardeners' Question Time' style event is advertised in the third bullet point down. Click to enlarge the image if needed and you'll see I'm taking part! When I started this blog, I never dreamed this kind of thing would happen. Tomorrow, the organisers and the good folk of Corsham will realise I'm no expert and this blog is all about the things I'm learning along the way* ;)

Thankfully some of my Local Vocals featured in my right sidebar will be there. Tim is my fellow question answerer, who I'm sure will be brilliant. Regular commenter Lu is our compere for the bits where we're using a microphone and will be whipping the crowd into a frenzy to barrage us with all kinds of questions. Emma is planning to be there to heckle us, as might Steve - if he can get away from his bee stall.

I must thank several people for their virtual help in getting me prepared for tomorrow's marathon: Zoe, Karen and Anna have all plied me with random questions via Twitter. Some answers have been more successful than others.

In addition to all this food, drink and general mayhem, several of the artistes in the actual festival will be performing. I'm intrigued by The Hot Potato Syncopators (will potatoes actually feature? How apt if they do) and I'm hoping to get the chance to hear Plovi Barko sung by proper Klapa singers from Croatia**.

See you there?

Update: We're also mentioned in the local paper and Lu was interviewed on BBC Wiltshire radio yesterday.

* = the more I garden and write, the more I realise I don't know!

** = some of you may remember our choir performed this song at Stourhead 3 years ago and it also was chosen for that year's Sing for Water fundraiser. NB We'll be performing in the fringe festival on Monday evening and here's a link to Sing For Water West - this year's 1,000 voice fundraiser in Bristol next month. There's more on this latter event to come :)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Viaduct

With this stonking great Viaduct dominating its centre, there's no escaping that one of Chippenham's various identities is that of a railway town. Built by Brunel (the subject of the letter I in this series) in 1841, it's one of the architectural wonders of his Great Western Railway. The structure also sports a blue plaque similar to the one I showed you in the above link.

It's a listed building and as it forms the gateway to Chippenham, it was decided to illuminate it at night as the town's nod towards celebrating the Millennium. Seeing our local bypass is no longer lit from midnight until the early hours, I suspect the viaduct's lighting has been included in this cutback too.

Whilst it might be an architectural wonder, I believe it's too dominant of much of our town's central space. I've often wondered if some of the ideas at Kilver Court could be used to soften its edges. Of course this would need to be tempered with the requirement not to create some hidey holes for evil doers, but closer inspection reveals the non-road area under the arches is being used as a car park come barrel storage place for the local shops and pub.

It would be good if these were screened in some way as they're an eyesore. Perhaps some more trees and shrubs on the grassed areas shown in the picture plus on the other side of the viaduct would help to do this? I believe this could be achieved without compromising the lines of sight needed for the traffic and pedestrians.

This is the view towards town taken not far from the cinema. The following link shows you another view from New Road (the road leading off the left of this picture) when I wrote about Chippenham's web cam.

This is for ABC Wednesday (albeit a day late) and forms the 22nd of my themed posts about Chippenham. Sorry Mark, V wasn't about your blog after all, though it is a worthy contender ;)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

GBBD: I Need SmelloVision!

Oh how I wish you were here this Blooms Day! My hard work earlier this year in increasing the plants for scent has paid off and I need SmelloVision to convey to you how my garden is this month :)

I've told you all about the potted Nemesia and Lavender I've planted already. The big surprise which welcomed me home at the weekend was the pictured Philadelphus 'Virginal'. Until now it's been quietly skulking at the back of my side border without me noticing what it's been up to. My reward for this laissez-faire attitude? A shed load of nostril pleasing blooms brightening up this shaded part of the garden. Just along the fence from here, the musky scented 'Rambling Rector' rose has exploded into life and is not only enlivening my fence, the flowers are also making a skywards bid to take over the ash tree on the neighbouring public land.

As usual there are plenty on non-scented flowers in bloom, far too numerous to mention. I've noticed that many of them have smaller flowers this year, though their numbers aren't diminished. The same applies to all the wild flowers waving away on the roadside verges at the moment, particularly the luminous ox-eye daisies. I'm putting this down to the months of less than average rainfall we've had: though of course now an official drought has been declared for several counties in eastern England, it's started to rain.

This is a completely different post to the one I'd originally planned to bring you this month. Just over a week ago I had a case of 'four seasons in my garden' as there was Clematis cirrhosa var. 'balearica' (winter), Aquilegia 'Mckenna hybrids' (spring), Dahlia 'Dark star' (summer) and a white Cyclamen hederifolium (autumn) all in bloom at once. However, a week away has seen the cyclamen run to seed and the petals falling from the dahlia. It would have made such a pretty collage to show you, but is sadly not to be.

However, I'm still amazed at how nature constantly surprises us. We can usually come up with one example flowering out of season in our gardens, but to have representatives from each season at once is a new one for me. I put it down to the crazily crazy weather we're having ;)

Any surprises in your garden this month?

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

Monday, 13 June 2011

Postcard From Yorkshire

NAH and I have just returned from an invigorating week in the Yorkshire Dales. We stayed in a cosy "two up, two down" cottage in Embsay, a small village just outside the thriving market town of Skipton. Last Monday we ventured high into the Dales to the village of Hawes where we stuffed ourselves with deliciously authentic Wensleydale cheese from the local creamery.

The pictured scene is one we encountered about half way between Hawes and Kettlewell and is the kind of picture I've always wanted to capture of the Dales. We were only about an hour from the bustle of Leeds and Bradford, but this scene is from a completely different world: a place of sky, rock, hills and water. I love the distinctive shape and stone of the lone barn dwarfed by the hillside rising above it and the tiny cotton-wool like blobs of the grazing sheep.

What this picture doesn't show you are the sounds I was hearing whilst taking it. There was the bubbling cry of a curlew and the twittering song of the skylark as it crept ever higher into the sky. There were plentiful bleats from those tiny sheep too! It might look like a peaceful scene - which it was - but an insistent breeze was ever present. The sun may have been warm on my back, but the breeze held a sharpness which warned winter is never that far away in this place, even in the height of summer.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Pottering With Pots

I've just put the finishing touches to my summer pots and as you can see this velvety Mimulus aka monkey-flower is my plant choice for the season. I've not grown them before, which in itself is a recommendation to me as well as the red cheerfulness you see pictured. They're supposed to be edible, though with a reputation for saltiness as they concentrate salts from the soil, so I might have a little taste test later!

I have quite a selection of pots in clusters around the garden. This year's dry spring has made me have a think about water supplies and thus edit them quite drastically, so that only my largest of pots will contain annual bedding. This should reduce the amount of water I'm using this year (as does the clustering), and it'll also take me less time to look after them.

The smallest of pots have been removed altogether as I've got fed up of fiddling around with them, and the medium pots have been planted with perennials selected for their scent i.e. lavender (a plant which likes poor dry soils, another tick for reduced watering) and the vanilla scented Nemesia I got at Malvern.

I've bought my pots over a number of years and are quite variable in their design. However, by restricting myself to a general style (Mayan) and a limited palette of colours (greens, browns and blues), they look good in any combination I choose to group together. I also generally have at least 50% of the contents in any grouping the same, which helps to pull the look together. So does pairing planters of the same design and contents either side of doorways and steps. It's at these points, and around my garden benches where the scented plants are placed.

I add a small amount of water retaining gel to the compost - I've found this means I only have to water my pots every other day in the height of summer. A mulch of purple slate also helps to retain moisture.

As I've only just planted the pots up, the plants still need to knit together to achieve the look I want for the summer. So until they do, you'll just have to sit back and enjoy a single red bloom contrasting with the deep blue of the large pot in my front garden ;)

How's your garden looking this summer?

Note: This post has been brought to you courtesy of Reader's Digest Container Gardening. However, all the content is my own and I've been planning to write this piece for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Unity and Loyalty

Unity and Loyalty is Chippenham's motto and as you can see also appears on the town's coat of arms which was granted by charter in 1554 by Queen Mary.

Chippenham was a royal manor in Saxon times, with the important right to send a burgess to parliament (mentioned in 1295) and to hold a market on Wednesday, plus a fair on St Andrew's day granted during the reign of King John (1199-1216). However, by Tudor times the authority of the town's steward was being challenged by other local landlords and tenants because Chippenham's high status wasn't properly documented. This led to a petition to Queen Mary to clarify the steward's authority, which resulted in her granting the town's charter on the 2nd May 1554, together with 217 acres of land and the right to send 2 burgess to parliament.

The land is today called the Chippenham Borough Lands and some of the income from the remaining 70 acres is distributed to local charities, good causes and projects each year via the Chippenham Borough Lands Charity. Two members of parliament has long gone (reduced to one in 1866 via the Redistribution of Seats Act, then absorbed into the new North-West Wilts constituency by the 1884 Reform Act), but sending one was restored last year with the formation of the new Chippenham constituency and the election of Duncan Hames as MP.

The town's coat of arms is derived from those of two of the early land owning families: the Gascelyns of Sheldon (on the right, who gained the right for two fairs to be held in the town) and the Husees (Husseys) of Rowdon on the left (or Rowden as it is known today, as discussed in the letter R). The tree symbolises the forest (firstly called Chippenham Forest, then Pewsham as the town grew and the forest shrank during the middle ages) which was why Chippenham had a Saxon royal hunting lodge and was the start of the town's wealth and status.

This is for ABC Wednesday and forms my 21st themed post about Chippenham.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Smarter Growing

Now that Malvern and Chelsea are done and dusted my attention has turned to planting up my summer pots. However, the demise of the DIY chain Focus means I haven't been able to stock up on my usual brand of compost (aka growing medium if you hail from across the pond) beforehand, so I've been out seeking a good source from elsewhere.

There's been quite a bit of debate about peat in the press and in the blogosphere lately: I'm not going to add to it here, except to say I've yet to see the pro and anti peat lobbies set out their evidence side by side so that ordinary people like me can make an informed choice. And talking of informed choices, I was very pleased to see the above notice at my local garden centre last week (click to enlarge image if needed).

They've started a labelling system showing the peat content of the products they sell. Thus customers can clearly see exactly what they're buying: a tick in the green box means that the product is peat-free and one in the red means it has over 90%. The system will also serve to highlight a couple of common misconceptions:
  • John Innes compost isn't peat-free (it contains around 30% peat)
  • The term 'organic' when applied to commercially available compost doesn't necessarily mean it's peat-free either
I hope that this clear system, or something very similar will be adopted ASAP across the whole industry.

What informative labelling has your local garden centre adopted (not necessarily compost) which you like? What other information would you like to see to help you make informed choices about what you buy?

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Legacy of Chelsea: Ideas

I was originally going to show you The B&Q Garden as part of a joke: as part of a 'Separated at Birth' picture alongside my original Hanging Gardens of the Barbican.

But whilst I was thinking along those lines and planning what I'd say, I realised that this 'garden' wasn't really about our own plots at all. Instead it's an expression of ideas around the issues surrounding our need to grow more food in a world where land and the other resources required to do so are dwindling. Thus it isn't a joke at all, but something of importance.

The garden is a collaboration between a garden designer and architect and is their response to an estimate that London would run out of food in a mere four days if supplies ceased. It's meant to encourage us all to develop new growing spaces, either as individuals or part of a community initiative. It also encourages urban greening, which was the subject of my other Chelsea legacy post on Monday.

Issues of sustainability are also tackled with the incorporation of rainwater harvesting, a wind turbine and photovoltaic cells. The planting (especially with the lavish provision of herbs) was designed to encourage wildlife in addition to the massive insect hotel made by local schoolchildren.

It's also saying we've got to be more innovative in our growing spaces, perhaps needing to think vertically as well as gardening in more conventional ways. Of course having a green wall isn't a new concept (and there were plenty on show in other gardens at Chelsea), but in my view it has still to be translated successfully into a solution that's cheap, easy to install and maintain.

To me that's the true value of a show garden like this one. It may only be around for 6 days (and might not itself have been a truly sustainable solution), but I'm sure it'll inspire plenty of designers and companies to start thinking about the ideas encompassed in this garden and how they can be achieved as a year-round prospect. They will then come up with the more practical ways and provide the products to help us to do so. It's a bit like that scene in The Devil Wears Prada, when Meryl Streep explains to Anne Hathaway how something seen on the catwalk gets progressively filtered down to the high street shops.

In the meantime as much of this garden as possible will be recycled and used in London's Capital Growth initiative.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Tourism

The entrance to Chippenham Tourist Information
Chippenham is often described as a market town, but since the demise of the cattle market a few years ago, this seems a little out of date these days. It's also a town set to grow, so there's fears it may just become a dormitory town.

There's other claims to its classification (see W coming soon for one of them), but today I'm more concerned with looking at Chippenham as an ideal base for tourism. Doing this themed ABC has helped me to start to revise my feelings about the town: there's much to commend it, but I have to honestly say it's a place which has much greater riches surrounding it.

Within a 15 minute drive there's the National Trust village of Lacock to explore, not only a pretty village in its own right, but with links to both the Harry Potter films and early pioneering photography. There's also Castle Combe, the oft called 'prettiest village in England' and Corsham with its attendant stately home - Corsham Court - within a similar timeframe away.

Driving for half an hour brings you to the World Heritage sites of Bath and Avebury as well as the gardens at The Courts, the national arboretum at Westonbirt, or the pleasant historic towns of Bradford on Avon and Devizes.

An hour brings the cities of Bristol, Cardiff and Salisbury; plus the lure of The Cotswolds, Stonehenge, Longleat and Stourhead all within reach. A little longer and London can be visited by rail. An hour and half's drive will take you to Oxford or the delights of the World Heritage coastline of Dorset's Jurassic Coast, as well as a good look at many of Wiltshire's famous white horses carved in the chalk downland which crosses the county. At the right time of the year, there's mysterious crop circles to find too.

If the outdoors is more your thing, then walks up high in the chalkland, along The Ridgeway or Wansdyke - 2 ancient routes which cut through the county - are rewarding. Savernake Forest will show you how much of this area must have been when it was a royal hunting ground during Saxon times. The Kennet and Avon canal has possibilities of slowing life down to a calming 4 miles an hour or less if you hire a boat. There's also the Cotswold Water Park for all kinds of other watery activities.

All of these riches mean it's a pretty good place to live. Not only that, you may have 'visited' here yourselves already as Wiltshire's been the location for lots of films and TV programmes.

Crumbs, looks like I should start a B&B ;)

This is for ABC Wednesday and forms the 20th of my themed posts about Chippenham.
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