Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 29 July 2011

Unusual Front Gardens #11: Wellies

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?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Seasonal Recipe: Tomato and Pepper Soup

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 :)

2 litres vegetable stock
1kg tomatoes, whole
2 red peppers, chopped (preferably the ones with the pointy ends)
Salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Place all the ingredients except the seasoning in a large saucepan
  2. Bring to the boil
  3. Ensure the tomatoes are well mashed into the stock
  4. Add seasoning to taste
  5. Simmer for 25 minutes
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary
  7. Whizz 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
  1. Ham stock makes a great substitute if you've had boiled ham and the resulting stock isn't salty. I find it works well if I've soaked the ham overnight and changed the water before boiling.
  2. If you don't have ham or vegetable stock, then store cupboard vegetable stock cubes make a handy substitute
  3. Peeling the tomatoes is optional - you'll see from the above photo I didn't bother. If you want to use skinless tomatoes, you'll need to put them in a bowl with some boiling water to release the skins from the tomato flesh before adding them to the stock
  4. Any kind of pepper can be used, though if you use green peppers you may also want to add a chopped onion to the recipe. I use pointy ended peppers because they tend to have a better flavour. I also find the tomatoes and red pepper alone have a sweetness and depth of flavour which doesn't need the addition of an onion or herbs for that matter
  5. I used ham stock for the pictured soup and added two heaped handfuls of puy lentils and some finely chopped ham to the soup after the whizzing it with a hand blender stage. Then I simmered it for a further 20 minutes until the lentils were soft. The lentils add a rich earthiness to the flavour and this variation makes a very comforting soup
  6. Petra has kindly reminded me in the comments of this variation I'd forgotten to include: Roasting the tomatoes and pepper in the oven prior to making the soup makes it even more delicious!

Monday, 25 July 2011

VP's Guide to Wind Strength

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 scale as follows...

VP Number: 0
Description: Calm
Garden Conditions: Perfect gardening weather, especially when accompanied with sunshine

VP Number: 1
Description: Breezy
Garden Conditions: Particularly needed on a hot day on the patio

VP Number: 2
Description: Windy
Garden Conditions: May need to consider weighting down light items or taking cover

VP Number: 3
Description: Blowing a hoolie
Garden Conditions: Time to put the kettle on!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Jack Go To Bed At Noon

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 used in salads or lightly steamed. The root is harvested come the autumn and cooked with garlic, cream and butter. Yum.

I must remember to harvest the seeds, to guarantee its return to my plot next year.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Designing With Grasses: Book Review

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 communities both in the wild and in cultivation, so is the ideal person to showcase exactly what they can do for a garden. He's very much an advocate of 'right plant right place' and as there are species found in every area of the world, he's confident they have an important role to play in all kinds of situations.

Neil shows us both natural and planted grassland communities which provide structure for just as long as the more familiar woody plants with the added bonus of movement to boot. They're also low-maintenance, tough and provide food and shelter for wildlife. There's lots of well chosen photographs illustrating their versatility and just how diverse this plant group is. I felt my prejudices beginning to crumble.

On top of all this, Neil describes the making of the Decennium border at Knoll, designed to show-off grasses in a naturalistic style, which is a marked departure from our more traditional looking flowerbeds. Instead of the border being at its best for just one season, it's designed to provide interest for a much longer period without the need for staking or dead heading. The resulting combination of grasses with perennials photographed over the growing season well into winter opened my eyes to the possibilities.

There then follows a multitude of recommendations for particular situations such as pots; sun-baked, gravel and drought; woodland and shade; or wet and waterside. Then everything is brought bang up to date by considering particular 'jobs' grasses are good for: erosion control, habitat restoration and green roofs to name but three. Whilst I was reading these chapters and drooling over the photographs, I suddenly found myself looking out the window at our front lawn and thinking hmmm Hakonechloa would look rather good there.

A massive chunk of the second half of the book is the Directory of Grasses and Grass-Like Plants which describe hundreds of possibilities and where they will do best. Notes on their maintenance and a handy guide to planting densities means I will be able to start growing my grasses with confidence once I take the plunge.

I met Neil in May at Malvern where I confessed my problems with liking this group of plants. He smiled and wrote in my review copy:

Hope you enjoy the grasses and become a full convert!

I'm enjoying the conversion very much indeed :)

Monday, 18 July 2011

RHS Hyde Hall: Garden Visit

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 lower lying land. One of their key approaches is to make the garden blend in more with its surrounding landscape, hence the major changes envisaged.

Around the original traditional farmhouse is the more conventional 'English country garden' which the previous owners the Robinsons had made. It has probably the lushest of lawns I've ever seen. Here, visitors are encouraged to take a picnic and generally make the garden their own.

There's a rose garden with strong structures and outlines...

... and yew buttresses enclosing the planting at the side - we were told the scooped shape to soften the structure was one of Matthew Wilson's alterations to the garden.

Another reworked part of the garden is a lower, damper garden with its walls constructed from gabions devised by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Ian told us people either love or loathe this part of the garden. I loved it - my tastes must be changing again!

Hyde Hall is well known for pushing the barriers regarding what can be grown in this country. Sadly last year's harsh winter has devastated the Australian and New Zealand Garden, which was roped off for redevelopment when I was there. Probably the most famous feature in this line is the Dry Garden, which was still going strong. This was my favourite part of the garden, because it was looking really good and provided an opportunity to learn exactly which plants will thrive under dry conditions.

Ian told us that the underlying clay at Hyde Hall provides quite a challenge to having a dry garden as the kind of plants which thrive there in the summer absolutely hate getting their feet wet in the winter. As ever soil preparation is key, with lots of gravel added to help with drainage. The dry garden is also on a slope, which helps. It'll be interesting to see how the large extension to the dry garden fares as the slope for this part is much gentler. As you can see from the photo, this was in its early stages of being built.

Then came a piece of unplanned planting. Last year a wildflower mix was sown in the dry garden extension area. The temporary clearance of the soil to make the new dry garden meant a bank of self-sown wildflowers is the serendipitous result this year.

Over the summer there's also a display of African sculpture throughout the garden (plus workshops on selected dates), which gives the viewer a different perspective on some of the garden's features.

Overall it was a great day, thanks to the RHS' hospitality (special thanks go to Laura Tibbs, Hayley Monckton and Ian Bull) and the lively company of Amanda (Eight by Six) Claire (Plant Passion) and Kevin (Nature/Nurture). I haven't shown you all of the garden so there's plenty more for you to explore and discover for yourselves and with the changes envisaged in the garden's 10 year plan, it looks like it'll be worth many a repeat visit over the coming years :)

* NB the entrance has been moved this year, so it's best to use the directions on the RHS website. Google maps hadn't caught up with the times when I visited in June and would have sent me to the wrong place had I followed its directions. It feels terribly wrong driving through what seems miles of relatively empty farmland, but you will get there eventually I promise.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Big Butterfly Count

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 fantastic bee-a-thon instead?

Friday, 15 July 2011

GBBD: Daucus carota

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.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Zumba

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 letter C, which once served the estate but now lies outside the school grounds. I believe my allotment was also part of the estate and is bordered by one of its ancient hedgerows.

The house is lit up at night and if I peer very carefully through our bedroom window, I can just see it looking rather ghostly in the distance. It seems rather weird to be able to see such an old building (it dates from around 1773-4, though the Manor of Hardenhuish itself dates back to Domesday Book times at least) when we're surrounded by houses on a relatively newly built housing estate.

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the last of my themed posts about Chippenham. I've enjoyed putting these posts together and I hope you've enjoyed reading them. I'll make a summary list at some point to go into my Chippenham links in the right sidebar.

Monday, 11 July 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Yelde Hall

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 large hall to the side possibly as a storage barn when it wasn't being used as a meeting place or courtroom. Beneath the council chamber was the Blind House aka the town's gaol.

Over the years the hall has had many other uses. A 16th century petition to Elizabeth I shows it was also the local community centre and church hall (St Andrew's church is just over the road); when the town council moved out in 1841 it served as an armoury for the Chippenham Company of Volunteers. Then the town's fire brigade used it as its headquarters from 1910/11 until it moved to a new premises in Dallas Road in 1945/6 (the sources I've used give slightly different dates for when these last two events happened).

In 1963 it re-opened as the town's museum and even today the upstairs room shows a representation of the council chamber as it might have been in 1816. The rest of the museum is now housed in larger premises in the Market Place nearby and the Yelde Hall's current incarnation (since 2003) is to serve as Chippenham's Tourist Information Centre.

This is for ABC Wednesday (post delayed owing to Hampton Court coverage last week) and forms my penultimate post about Chippenham in this themed series.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Twilight Garden: Book Review

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 senses. Practical tips for wildlife gardening and organising space then follow. Finally there's ideas for entertaining geared towards the fun kind of events I like to have or remember with fondness from my childhood.

The bulk of the book is geared towards the plants to use, with around 60 selected for you to choose from. If you thought a spot of Nicotiana, scented jasmine and evening primrose are the only plants you can use for this time of the day, then you'll find plenty of extra inspiration from the star plants, supporting cast and backstage beauties suggested here. How about adding a Moonflower (Ipomoea alba - star), Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis - supporting cast), or a Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii - backstage beauty) to your mix?

I'll add a further suggestion of my own. In March I was often woken by owls hooting in the middle of the night and because of the unseasonally warm weather at the time, I was able to throw the windows open wide to listen to them. An added surprise was the fantastic scent of the 'Thalia' daffodils wafting up to me from the pots of them I had on the patio :)

There's lots of information on the conditions needed to make each plant thrive, so you can easily find the ones best suited to your garden. The inclusion of plants such as Hellebores and plums shows Lia is intending us to enjoy our twilight garden in all seasons. She also has lots of practical tips to ensure success and things to watch out for, making this one of the best described plant list sections I've seen in a gardening book so far.

If you're thinking this book is a bit too niche or doesn't suit your lifestyle, then remember many of the suggestions are also suitable for that classic English garden style many people would like to have: the white garden.

Having realised twilight is my favourite time in the garden, I'll be adding some of Lia's suggestions to make my time there even more pleasurable.

Update from yesterday's post: I now have the i-player details for my first slot on BBC Wiltshire Radio. It's 1 hour and 29 minutes in, available until next Saturday and features apples and gardening on a slope :)

If you're a BBC Wiltshire radio listener and acted on Laura's information at the end of the piece, then welcome!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

VP Goes Multi Media

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. This book argues that we have an inbuilt 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 some interesting people to talk to.

On Thursday the editor tweeted to say the magazine had been reviewed on BBC Radio Wiltshire that afternoon. Imagine my surprise to find my piece was not only mentioned but also deemed to be excellent. I was most chuffed. You can hear for yourself in the next few days as the above link takes you the programme on the BBC's i-player: it's 46 minutes in :)

Today sees the first snippet recorded in my garden last week when Laura Rawlings from BBC Wiltshire Radio came to record some slots for her Saturday afternoon programme. I've wittered on about apples, ants, powdery mildew, gardening on a slope and rose blackspot. Laura will be broadcasting some of these subjects this afternoon and saving some of them for next Saturday. I'll put the link up as soon as I have it. I'm cringing about them really as there's loads more I wish I'd said at the time. Hopefully, the dodgy bits will come out in the editing!

NAH is now sorting out how to record these pieces for posterity, so I can put them in my nice things that have happened drawer to be treasured at a later date :)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Why I Care About Chalk Streams

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 very well and distilled it into a very clear story within her show garden. A rammed earth wall and the Portland stone entrance depict the aquifer which captures and filters the rain water until it emerges as a clear, sparkling stream. Chalk streams are one of the rarest riverine habitats we have, with a rich meadow flora of species adapted to the alkaline conditions. Jewel-like bright blue azure damselflies were already settling into the garden and giving it their seal of approval when I took this picture.

The 50 spheres are a nod to WWF's anniversary and represent exaggerated raindrops showing us the problem of lack of water is so much larger than the garden holding them. The stream runs through these until it nears the side closest to where I took the picture: then a giant plughole drains the water away and a zone of dead vegetation warns us that this is the consequence should over abstraction be allowed to continue.

Here in the UK, we each use 150 litres of water a day on average, so we are firmly part of this problem. Fiona tells me there is now agreement to provide a 'top up' facility when needed is the solution for the two rivers which were her inspiration: the Itchen and Kennet, but who actually funds this is in dispute. So in the meantime I've attached my pledge to the side of the garden to help address the problem in my own small way.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Show's Surprising Theme

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 Paradiso small 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 of technology told in a garden form. In the show gardens The Eye of the Internet Maze looked at the impact of IT on the older generation, whilst the Virtual Reality Garden...? (so virtual it doesn't appear to be listed on the show's website in the show garden index!) asked questions about what might be real or virtual in our world.

To me, the pictured My Life in the Cloud (conceptual garden) has a particular resonance because I'm operating 'in the cloud' every time I write a blog post. Its designer Nigel Jones, worked for Google before turning to garden design, so it's doubly interesting as my chosen platform (Blogger) is a Google owned product.

Nigel's garden considers the data we place online (particularly personal information) and how well it is protected from view by others. The stairs represent an invitation to view some of Nigel's information placed in the box at the top with only certain people allowed to do so (assuming everything is secure!) and as you can see, Victoria successfully gained access :)

I was surprised to see so many gardens devoted to a technological theme and whilst there were varying levels of success in execution, I for one am glad they were there because they've provided much food for thought and discussion.

What do you think - does new technology have a place in our gardens? Do you blog from there for instance?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Showing the Sheds

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 the right were converted into garden sheds.

As you can see green roofs are becoming a de rigeur feature in the show gardens and I particularly like the more 'wild and woolly' one seen here.

Finally, we have The Stockman's Retreat, though really it's a small cottage rather than a shed...

... this is by Chris Beardshaw for the WorldSkills London 2011 Team UK.

There are loads more sheds to see at this year's show, but now it's up to you to go and find them for yourselves...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Picturesque Hampton Court

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 Picturesque by 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 face.

Elsewhere there was much to stimulate further thought in this category and Arabella Sock has shared hers and shown you lots more (both Conceptual and Show Gardens) in her latest post.

Finally, I'll leave you with part of Excuse Me Whilst I Touch the Sky - you may also like to look at this more general picture of the garden whilst the designer was having her photo taken. Many purists will hate this one for its use of upside down plants, but I loved it for its simplicity and sense of playfulness (especially all the garden tools around the central structure) as well as its reference to one of my favourite songs by Jimi Hendrix. It also reminds me of the song Downside Up* by Peter Gabriel, which is all about lying on the ground staring upwards for so long, you believe that the sky is now below you.

There's also been some speculation this picture might become my new Avatar...

* = especially when you see what happens after about three minutes...

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Buzz at Heddington Steam Rally

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, instead he just left the box on top of the post so that the bees could quietly go about getting themselves into their temporary home. I saw the swarm at about 2pm and the beekeeper said they'd all be safely tucked up in there by the evening. The bees swarm in order to find a new home when the colony gets too large, so they think the box is an empty nest for them.

As the rally is also a country show, quite a few people thought the swarm had been arranged as part of the events. The beekeeper smiled when I told him this. It would be great if I could do that, he said. It'd show lots of people that bee swarms aren't something to be feared.

Well, no-one was fearing them on Saturday - they were fascinated :)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

You Have Your Blog, Now Get the T-Shirt

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 resizing, positioning on front and back, plus adding some text and I was soon done. You can preview what you're doing very easily, but I found it best to have a t-shirt with me to do some final visualisation of the positioning and size of both my images and text.

Once I'd saved my design, it was time to set up my account and place my order. This was soon done and my t-shirt was quickly on its way to be modelled by yours truly :)

Now here's a tasty offer for you...
  • If you want have a go yourself, do get cracking by the end of September 2011 and use the code DESIGN20 at the checkout to get a 20% discount. NB make sure you click on the arrow key to the right of the discount code box, otherwise your discount won't get applied. I didn't manage this (doh!) and had to get things sorted by email. I can report that the response by Printed Wardrobe was prompt and friendly :)
  • If you choose to make your design public, then you can earn commission whenever someone buys your design. Who knows, there may even be a Veg Plotting t-shirt available sometime...
  • So you have your blog, now get the t-shirt!
Before you start, here's some more hints, tips and other points to note...
  • You will need a Paypal account as this is the only payment method accepted (despite the payment logo including credit cards shown at the bottom of the webpage). This also means your goods can only be sent to the address you have on your Paypal account
  • T-shirts start from £11.99 (June 2011). I chose a heavier weight (and therefore more expensive) cotton so it'll last for ages. Adding a second image to my chosen design added £5 to the base cost
  • Postage and packing is £2.15 irrespective of order size
  • There's also hoodies, sweatshirts, vests, sweatpants, polo shirts, rugby shirts and various accessories (bags and suchlike) to choose from
  • There's a wide variety of colours available: actual choice varies with the item and style chosen
  • Don't worry if you haven't got a suitable photo or artwork, there's plenty you can choose from on the website which you can then personalise
  • There's quite a few different fonts available for your lettering and you can also curve it into e.g. an arch or circle
  • It's probably best to get the image the way you want it before you upload it as there are only very basic edit functions available - cropping, resizing, image tilting, colours and a few colour effects if you add graphics from those available
  • If you choose to use a photo, make sure it's one with a good resolution. This will give you more flexibility with cropping and resizing. It also gives Printed Wardrobe a better chance to provide you with an item of good print quality
  • You don't need to purchase straight away - you can save your design for later
  • Do make sure you have something you really want and that it'll be the right size - as it's a one-off item, refund options are restricted (check the website Delivery and Returns policy for more information)
  • Do shop around. This website is good for personalised, one-off items but there's plenty more out there. If you're wanting e.g. 4 or more of a design, there are loads with much lower prices (though I can't vouch for quality or service of any of them apart from this one!)
Some ideas for Printed Wardrobe to make the buyer experience even better
  • I would have liked to know exactly what size images and lettering I was applying to my design
  • A guide to cloth weights would be useful - how meaningful is e.g. 145 gsm to most people? How does that compare to what's available on the high street?
  • I couldn't find an Undo option - would have been most useful, especially when playing with the tilt image functionality as I wanted to make sure I returned my image to the horizontal. Instead I deleted the image from the t-shirt and added it again which is a bit clunky
  • The upload image seemed to freeze at one stage (or was happening very slowly - probably my browser's fault) and doesn't have a cancel option for trying again. At least I could use the backbutton to get out of trouble...
  • Include credit/debit card payment options - lots of people don't have a Paypal account or would prefer not to use it
  • An option to send goods to another address would be useful e.g. so delivery can be made to a work address or neighbour
  • Include an option to buy without needing to set up an account - you'd attract buyers who are put off by having to set up yet another user-id and password. If they like your product and service, they'll soon come back to set one up for their subsequent purchases
  • NAH (my husband) would love to make a polo shirt of his blog, but with an embroidered logo. I suspect he'll be looking elsewhere now you've given him the idea!
  • Any chance of adding fleeces to the range? I suspect their material's not compatible with the temperature required for printing?
  • There was a mistake in the despatch notice email I received in the order details: £21.99 + £2.15 does not = £26.29 (I can forward what I received to you if that helps)

Friday, 1 July 2011

GBMD: A Period of Leisure?

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.
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