Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Changing Chippenham: A Dent on the Horizon

It's been a while since I've written something about Chippenham, so I'm delighted that the lovely NAH (I'm biased, of course) has written a guest post for me. Sadly it's about today's closure of Dentons, a major Chippenham landmark. It's the kind of place where both four candles AND fork handles can be found ;)

(NB NAH always likes his own headlines!)

A Dent on Chippenham's Horizon

Whenever a new shopping centre opens, I'm generally eager to see what it has to offer. Usually I find the anticipation better than the actual first visit.

When a shopping centre closes, I'm much more concerned about what will not be on offer any more.

Over the years, Chippenham has seen fit to allow some of its cultural icons to disappear, seemingly without any real thought about the meaning of the loss to the town. Remember these: Richard Branson's first night club, Golddiggers (formerly a Gaumont cinema); the 50 metre outdoor swimming pool below the Olympiad centre; the subway near the railway arches (built to help pedestrians cross the busy road!).

Now another one is to go and be replaced with more town centre residential properties.

Dentons 27th June 2013
Dentons, the Iron Mongers on the corner of Park Lane and St Paul Street, closes its doors finally on Saturday June 29th 2013.

I've lived in the Chippenham area since 1984 and Dentons has always been there. Listening to shoppers looking for a closing-down bargain at 50% off, the comment "we don't have it but try Dentons" was the frequent story quoted from other stores. Personally, this happened to me a while ago when I wanted to buy some paraffin as nobody else stocked it any more.

If you've ever had a look around Dentons, it's easy to see why they have always been recommended.

It's here somewhere...
...or perhaps here!
But if you're really stuck, there's the little room out-the-back with the rest of the treasures.

Hidden treasure trove
My imagination tells me that somewhere around here is a senior gentleman in a brown warehouse coat carrying a small brown paper bag with just what you want!

My paraffin search led me to discover Dentons' prize icon, the paraffin dispensing machine.

One gallon or two sir?
This really caught my eye as a complete anachronism doing the job it was always designed for, day in, day out. Who knows how long it has been there!

I did make a small enquiry about what was to happen to the machine when the shop closed. I was informed that it would be going into Chippenham's museum. Thank goodness for that; it's just one of those treasures that needs preserving - and using if possible.

Dentons, soon to be a Dent on Chippenham's horizon
So farewell Dentons. You've served Chippenham proudly for 60 years. Rest in peace, a Chippenham icon to be fondly remembered.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Salad Days: A Lettuce Line-Up

Now cropping. From top right to bottom left we have: Amaze, Antarctica, Black Seeded Simpson, Dazzle, Freckles, Marveille de Quatre Saisons and Relic. The large picture is Dazzle again.

So after my marathon sow-a-thon earlier in the year, we now have quite a variety of lettuce to choose from for our dinner. Having lined up a selection of leaves for their individual mug shots, I've started to really appreciate their differences in form, colour and size.

And soon I shall need a selection of glutbuster lettuce recipes ;)

How's your salad coming along? Leave a comment below or the full URL of your Salad Days blog post via Mr Linky. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Thanks for Reading :)

An example of the blog reader I see when I log onto my blog's dashboard

Many thanks to all of you who've decided to continue to subscribe to Veg Plotting in the lead up to Google Reader's demise early next week (1st July). From my stats I see Bloglovin', Feedly and The Old Reader are the most popular options you've chosen going forward.

In addition to these, anyone who blogs using Blogger or WordPress and just wants a simple reader would do well to consider their provider's Follow facility. Both WordPress and Blogger allow the URLs from other blog providers to be copied into their Follow function, so it isn't solely for blogs registered with the same provider. I've decided that this is the way forward for me and I've consolidated the various readers I've been using into one humongous list.

I've also taken a copy of my Google Reader subscriptions just in case I want to move to something more sophisticated, or if the rumour re the demise of Google Friend Connect (used for Blogger's in-blog reader facility) actually happens. This can be done easily and quickly via Google Takeout. Even if you've moved to another reader already, it's worth taking a copy of your Google Reader subscription just in case you find you don't like your new reader's home.

I've also added the feed registration links for most of the popular reader services towards the top of my left sidebar so that there's a wide range of reader options for everyone going forward. As well as Bloglovin', Feedly and The Old Reader, the RSS option gives access to other popular services such as Netvibes, Bloglines and MyYahoo. There's also the email subscription option if that's how you prefer Veg Plotting served to you.

The only option I haven't got to grips with is one(s) suitable for Mac users. I hear Reeder is a good option, though I'm not certain how it's going to work going forward (it is/was dependent on a Google Reader subscription). Oh and Google+ continues to be a mystery to me, so I'd love to see any advice you have on how blog subscriptions works with this.

If you haven't moved elsewhere already, it may seem like there's still plenty of time to migrate away from Google Reader. However, I'm sure there'll be a major panic at the weekend when many people try to do it right at the last minute. Perhaps the time to do yours is now?

Related post:

Google Reader: The Hunt for an Alternative

Monday, 24 June 2013

Wassup Wasabi?

Whenever I've seen a plant droop and its leaves start to go yellow, it's always been because I've either over or under watered it. Wasabi is the first plant I've seen which has reacted to light in the same way.

I'd been keeping my plant on our sunny kitchen windowsill whilst deciding on where to plant it out, when I noticed its leaves were drooping alarmingly. A quick move to our much duller bathroom windowsill and you can see most of the leaves are much perkier now, with just the yellowing one showing how the rest of the plant looked previously. That leaf is past saving, but luckily a new one has started to emerge to replace it.

I'm glad I've had this early warning because the place I'd earmarked on the allotment won't be suitable. Instead, I've decided that the space underneath the apple trees is just what it needs. This is doubly good as I'll be making use of an area I was regarding as 'dead' space.

When we met on Wednesday, Matron told me the commercially grown wasabi in Hampshire utilises a similar gravel bed and running spring-fed water system as used for watercress. She's devised an ingenious solution and the perfect growing conditions for her wasabi as a result. I don't have the same option for mine, so I'm going to improvise a bog garden instead. There won't be running water, but it should be suitably damp and shady. I'll keep you posted on whether my plant likes its new home.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Taste of the Good Life

There's an episode of The Good Life where Barbara hankers after a treat from their former executive days in the shape of their 'Pagan Rites': an excellent dinner followed by an overnight stay in a comfortable hotel.

I believe The Pig tucked away in the New Forest is just the kind of place Tom and Barbara Good would choose. It's a former hunting lodge of the Bowes-Lyon family and it oozes graceful charm and good living. Here, all the cares of the world are easily tossed to one side and forgotten for the day.

On arrival, the wall of the car park is a clue that things might be done just that little bit differently. Inside the hotel it's all squashy, comfortable sofas and a laid back vibe. A welcoming glass of champagne was the perfect start and I relaxed instantly.

To accompany our champagne, we had a platter of 'Piggy bits' as our appetiser (top right in the collage). Absolutely delicious!

Chef James Golding has devised a '25 mile menu', sourcing as many of the ingredients as possible from within that radius. A substantial part has zero miles at this time of the year as there's a large kitchen garden, plus pigs, quails and chickens to select from. Seasonal foraged foods from the forest and the nearby seashore also feature. As befits the hotel's name, the menu we tried was biased towards pork products, but a separate vegetarian menu is also available.

James smokes his own fish and charcuterie on the premises, so I had to sample the smoked salmon for my starter. Despite its deliciousness, I was envious I hadn't chosen the pictured beetroot tinted soup though. I chose an adventurous bath chap for my main course with the freshest of garden salads to accompany it. A shot of forager's sorbet rounded off my meal (orange and gorse flower), together with a pot of delicious nettle and lemon tea. It was a memorable meal :)

After lunch we were treated to a garden tour with James taking time out from the heat of the kitchen to show us around. We saw (and smelt - yum) the smokehouse and then were led into a walled kitchen garden plus greenhouse to die for. Here we were met by Ollie, the Head Gardener and it was fantastic to hear him and James enthusiastically bouncing ideas off each other on how the garden's produce and flavours could be combined in the kitchen. After a while we joined in with ideas of our own, inspired by everything around us.

The best varieties for growing and flavour are chosen, but Ollie isn't afraid of trying new things for James to experiment with. Earth chestnuts (aka pig nuts) was one such crop we spotted and we were all given some edible chrysanthemum to try. Flowers loom large in the garden too, both to encourage pollinators (much in evidence, hurrah) and as an ingredient in their own right.

It was reassuring to find the pig I'd sampled earlier had had as happy a life as this Tamworth was enjoying.

It was great to share this absolute treat with blogging pals Helen and Matron - not forgetting Lottie, Naomi and Nick who'd gone by the time we got round to having a group photo.

Disclosure: I was invited to The Pig as their guest for the afternoon. NAH has a big birthday this year and I'm thinking this is a perfect spot for us to celebrate. Perhaps we can adopt The Good Life's Pagan Rites as our own :)

Friday, 21 June 2013

Making a Garlic Spray

Take that! Making sure the aphids don't get my chillis

Various projects on the go plus the cold spring means our windowsills have been groaning under the weight of plants for much longer than usual. Most have moved outside now, but one of the permanent plants earmarked for the indoor life is my chilli 'Basket of Fire'*.

I haven't had much success with chillis in the past and that's because I've moved them outside onto the patio for the summer. It wasn't until last year that I realised they like it really warm and so I need to continue windowsill growing with mine.

I've had loads of problems with aphids** on my indoor grown plants, especially the chillis. That's probably a sign of stress, so I'm ensuring everything is kept well fed and watered. I was getting a bit fed up with the regular squishing sessions needed to keep on top of the problem, so I was pleased to read in Homegrown Revolution last week that using a home-made garlic spray can be effective.

I've used this spray as a fungicide before, but didn't realise it can be used as an insecticide too (and as a slug/snail deterrent apparently). I have quite a few garlic cloves left from last year's crop which are a little bit shrivelled now, so their usefulness for cooking isn't good. A quick check showed they still packed a garlic punch smell-wise, so I guess they're OK for this use.

I'm trying the recipe from Homegrown Revolution, using my shrivelled cloves mashed up into a litre of cold water, then strained into a misting bottle after leaving overnight. A quick googling of garlic spray insecticide gives a whole host of variations on the theme including varying amounts of garlic, boiling not cold water and the addition of drops of washing-up liquid or vegetable oil. Pick the one you like the look of and get making! I thought Garden Organic's pdf looked particularly useful as it has a lot of information plus different recipes for a number of problems.

A few days after using the spray and I can report my chilli plants are clear of aphids :)

Sadly, I can't use the spray outside as it's not a selective pest killer. The likes of bees have had a hard time over the winter, so I'm not  going to do anything which might harm them and the other beneficial insects I have in the garden. Squishing duties look set to continue there for the foreseeable future...

Which pests are being particularly pesky in your garden this year?

* = I guess that makes it another of my Edible House Plants ;)

** = I've spotted loads outdoors and no ladybirds to hoover them up. I wonder if this is due to the harsh late winter/cold spring?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Edible House Plants

Cardamom and kaffir lime enjoying the view from the computer room window

When I visited the Edible Garden Show in March, I was inspired by James Wong's talk to bring home a cardamom (the green one i.e. true cardamom, not the black) and a kaffir lime plant. NAH and I use both of these extensively in our cooking, so it made sense to have a go at growing them for myself.

I hadn't set out with the intention of extending my GYO activities to embrace edible houseplants, but reading the cultivation notes, I soon realised I'd inadvertently branched out. They're both relatively tender plants (OK with temperatures down to around -2 to -5 oC), so most places in the UK will have to keep these indoors for the winter at least. I might let them out for a holiday out in the garden sometime, if the weather ever warms up again.

My track record with house plants isn't that good, so the fact I still have these a few months further on is encouraging. I've also spotted a new flower spike forming on one of my orchids this week, so things are definitely improving. As a result, I'm very tempted to get a vanilla grass plant and I've started looking speculatively at the root ginger in our fridge to see if I can spot any shoots...

Do you grow any edible house plants? Any hints and tips for a newbie?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

GBBD: Sunshine After Rain

Early June mornings are made for dew and bare feet. I got a little more than I'd bargained for today as it rained overnight, but to be up early with the sunshine slicing through the garden made everything seem fresh and clean. The chores can wait. It's time to enjoy the moment.

One of my favourite moments in the garden is when the Allium christophii start to flower. They have an other-world quality about them; the kind of flower I imagine would be quite at home in a John Wyndham novel. Luckily they're quite at home in my garden too and I have a self-sown 'river' of them in the large terrace border. I really should think about editing them soon.

The chores can wait. It's time to enjoy the moment :)

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

Friday, 14 June 2013

A Year of Salad Flowers

The silver lining from a bolting salad: oriental mustard and mizuna flowers

Since starting the Salad Challenge last year, I've expanded the range of flowers we eat in our salads. Like many people, I started off with peppery nasturtiums and was surprised to find ultra-conservative NAH enjoyed them too. Now he happily munches away at any flowery offerings in our salads, rather than shooting me a look of deep suspicion. Remember, here is a guy who only liked peas when I first met him ;)

Marigold alerted me to the virtues of Mizuna flowers last year and it's just as well she did, because my salad mixes this year have been quick to bolt. I've been flinging handfuls of their flowers into our salads over the past few weeks in a desperate attempt to keep leaf production going to give my later sowings a chance to catch up. The above picture shows that mustards and mizuna are close botanical cousins, despite their variety in the leaf department.

As well as these and the aforementioned nasturtiums, NAH and I have tried violas, the odd tulip petal and primroses. Tulips were the surprise discovery last year but one we take in moderation, not because they don't taste good, but because we'd quickly use up our garden display. I've also tried daylily flowers and on one memorable occasion demonstrated their edibile qualities to my fellow choirmakers on holiday in the Czech Republic. They kindly waited 24 hours to make sure I didn't drop dead from the experience and then joined in with my flower grazings.

Petra once commented she couldn't see the value in eating flowers - we were discussing the merits of Dahlias if I remember correctly. Agreed not all edible flowers are tasty - indeed some are flavourless -  but I recalled the wise words of Taffy Tatty when I met him at a potato day a few years ago. We taste first with our eyes, then with our tongue, he told me, and whilst his remark was nothing to do with edible flowers, I believe it still applies.

At Sarah Raven's Grow, Cook, Eat study day at Yeo Valley* in March, she provided a list of floral suggestions to scatter over the top of salads throughout the year as follows:
  • November to February - Violas, particularly the heartsease variety. NB some are awful (like the red one I grew a couple of years ago), so it's good to have a pointer to a tasty variety
  • March to April - Polyanthus (all of the family are edible) and Rocket
  • April - Gold/silver laced Polyanthus
  • May/June to first frosts - Calendula, borage (a prolific self-seeder, so eat the flowers!), courgette, Dahlias, Nasturtiums (her favourite) and Anchusa
And repeat. Looking back at my notes from the Alys Fowler* study day I went to last year she adds:
  • Viola 'Rebecca'
  • Sun lovers - Nasturtiums, marigolds (= 'poor man's saffron' - petals only), cornflowers (petals only), sage, pinks, pelargoniums, primulas, roses, daylilies (a cornflower substitute), sweet williams, chives, mallow, rocket
  • Dappled shade - Campanulas, violets, mouse garlic and golden garlic (Allium moly)
There's plenty of flowers to add an attractive decoration and taste to your salad! Which ones have you tried?

Related Post

Edible Flowers for Your Salad - includes a recipe for primrose salad and the surprise discovery that tulips are edible

* = both in support of Horatio's Garden
The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Bloggers' Cut: Garden and Cake Finder

A HUGE thank you to everyone who took part in the Bloggers' Cut for this year's Chelsea Fringe. 22 of you showed us various home gardens, allotments, a holiday cottage, lots of garden discoveries plus a whole host of other goodies involving gardens and cake. From the various activities I've seen, we've had around 150 active participants*, plus many hundreds of individuals who've simply read what we've been up to. Therefore this virtual Fringe event is a massive success, thanks to you :)

The Bloggers' Cut featured visits to three other Chelsea Fringe events: Naomi's Cake Sunday and Sarah Salway's virtual garden tour - both of which inspired this offering; plus a visit to London's Open Squares event where Colleen had the massive responsibility of judging the Victoria sponge competition.

As well as the Fringe events featured, your activities included get togethers with friends, family or fellow allotmenteers (which I'd hoped for), garden makeovers, garden visits and revising for exams. We also had hints for what to do with the eggshells left over from all that baking.

The cakes featured varied from the simplest to the most intricately decorated. They also included seasonal rhubarb in various forms; cheesecakes (including a non-dairy first timer); cream teas; the unusual taste of lavender; ginger - either as the main flavouring or as an accompaniment; gooey strawberries; lemon; and coffee and walnut. This surprised me as I thought more people would go for my favourite, chocolate. Last but not least, Anna B's Herman friendship cake sums up the spirit of what I'd intended when I dreamt up this event.

NAH tucks in!

I've devised a Cake Finder Map - shown at the top of this post - which pinpoints everyone's contributions. From that you can see our event covered a distance of around 400 miles from north to south and over 200 from east to west. Thus we have the widest and most geographically diverse Fringe event for 2013! As well as the individual locations featured on the map, there are an additional 6 to explore courtesy of The Clockwork Dodo, who provided her own visitor's guide to favourite gardens and cake. The map is clickable if you take this link, so you can zoom in and visit any of the blog posts which take your fancy - it's a much friendlier and informative version of the Mr Linky I used to capture everyone's contributions.

And if all that garden and cake visiting leaves you feeling hungry, then there are recipes to hand via some of the posts for you to solve the problem of lack of cake. It's been great to visit everyone, discover some new blogs and add a number of gardens and cakes to my 'To Visit' and 'Must Make' lists. I hope you've enjoyed it too :)

Will I do something for the Fringe next year? I've already had an idea, so watch this space...

* = based on all the bloggers who've posted, plus people who've taken the trouble to leave a comment on at least one blog, tweet about the event or Like it on Facebook.

Related Posts:

Update 13th June: the map now stretches up into Scotland and over 550 miles north to south, thanks to Shirl :)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

I Knew You Were Coming So I Baked a Cake

A very warm welcome to VP Gardens to all garden bloggers & Chelsea Fringe goers.

Hello and welcome to The Bloggers' Cut for the Chelsea Fringe 2013! The cake is ready, the coffee brewed and thank goodness the weather's brightened up for you to join me in my garden today :)

When I set up The Bloggers' Cut, I wanted my contribution to reflect a previous post or two from Veg Plotting. Rhubarb and ginger jam is one of my top posts of all time, so it's fitting I've baked a scrummy Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble Cake for today. I'm pleased this is a blogged recipe I found via Not Just Greenfingers - keeps it in the family so to speak.

Fresh out of the oven...
I discussed the recipe with NAH and agreed we wanted more ginger than is given, so I've used some chopped fresh ginger to replace the powdered used for the sponge layer. I've also added some to the crumble mix to keep that gingery 'bite' throughout. I also needed to add a little milk to the sponge mixture to get the right consistency and I haven't dusted any icing sugar on top of the cake. NAH and I prefer the browned look!

I've been very fortunate to meet up with a number of bloggers over the years and have some memorable cake moments in various gardens. Here are a few of my highlights:
  • Taking shelter from the rain with Helen when we visited Hergest Croft. The cake was most welcome and we were still able to sit outside on the porch with a wonderful view over the garden.
  • Lazy Trollop bakes exceedingly good cakes. So good, one photographed at Highgrove has become her avatar.
  • Visiting Karen last year, with the added drama of an impending cake crisis for her NGS opening. Luckily the possibility of no cake was averted in time. Phew.
  • Great Dixter not only gave us a wonderful day when we met up for a Bloggers' get together earlier this year, they also baked a delicious cake just for us!
  • Garden visiting and cake can be a life changing event - as happened to Victoria last year.

Now without further ado it's time for me to cut the cake, offer it round you all and come visit your contributions for today. Thanks so much for joining me - let our garden and cake tour begin!

Add the full URL of your blogged contribution to Mr Linky below. It'd be great if you could also leave a comment telling us your favourite cake for gardening or garden visiting. I'd like to do a follow-up post after June 9th (the closing date for your contributions) revealing The Bloggers' Cut best cake for garden activities. Forget the RHS Chelsea People's Choice, this is THE vote which counts ;)

Thanks so much for joining in and helping to create a fantastic garden tour for the Chelsea Fringe!

And at Naomi's Cake Sunday event via Twitter (there's more - so these deserve a post of their own - now provided by Veronica via Mr Linky):

Saturday, 1 June 2013

GBMD: Light is the Task...

Light is the task where many share the toil

Not only was I impressed with the skills of the 2 young lads who built this show garden for this year's Malvern Spring Show, I also loved their choice of a quotation attributed to Homer. It's meaningful for life in general, not just for the making of a garden.
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