Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Unusual Front Gardens #15: Halloween

The Lle Hari restaurant in Llanrwst has had a lot of fun decorating its windowboxes along seasonal lines. They've also made a haunted hotel video to really get you in the mood!

Across the road they've continued with the Halloween theme by creating a pumpkin graveyard. I particularly like the wellies. It would be great to go back to see if the pumpkins are lit up at night - spooky.

Karen, Dobby and I had a lot of fun exploring all the features of these unusual front gardens on our way back from Bodnant a couple of weeks ago. But the biggest smile of all was on the face of the elderly lady we saw in a wheelchair, who was totally captivated by the scene.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Bird Feeder Make for Wild About Gardens Week

Inspired by my recent foray into the world of Sugru and to celebrate Wild About Gardens week, I made a couple of simple bird feeders on Sunday. This used up my second little packet of yellow, plus a couple of left over posh pudding glass dishes and some spare tapestry wool.

The above pictures should give you an idea of how I went about it. I used a metal skewer to make the holes through which I threaded the tapestry wool - allowing a day for the sugru to harden before the threading.

These feeders won't withstand the kind of weather we had over the weekend and yesterday, but they make an attractive addition to the garden on calmer days like today. I'm considering replacing the wool with some garden wire to make a more robust feeder.

The apples you can see in the top picture are Herefordshire russet, a variety with a superb flavour. They're late to pick this year and I'll be leaving those on the hard-to-reach branches as a tithe for the birds. They seem to like their flavour too.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Giveaway Time: Socks Appeal

The outdoor footwear of the season is boots or wellies, so today's giveaway complements them perfectly.

I have 4 pairs each of Heat Holders wellie socks and Workforce Ultimate Comfort socks available. The wellie socks are for women (boot size 4-8) and Workforce for men (boot size 9-11), but those of you with small or large feet may like to choose accordingly. I could have done with a pair of these to keep my toes all toasty up at the allotment today!

All you need to do to enter is to leave a comment below saying which socks you'd prefer. Please make sure I can contact you, should you be a winner. You can also make extra entries if you tweet a link to this blog post (please mention @malvernmeet so I can pick up your entry), or write on my facebook wall.

I'll draw the winners next Monday morning (November 4th), so good luck!

Giveaway T&Cs

  1. Sorry, this prize draw is only available in the UK.
  2. Entries close at midnight GMT on Sunday, November 3rd.
  3. Up to three entries are allowed, 1 each via this blog, twitter and facebook. Update: There are extra bonus entries available if you Like Workforce on facebook, or Follow them via twitter. You will also need to tweet or leave a message on their facebook wall, so your entry can be identified.
  4. Entrants who aren't contactable will invalidate their entry. If you cannot leave a link to an online presence via blog comments, you are welcome to make your blog entry via the contact form available at the foot of this page instead. I will add a comment to this post to acknowledge any entries made in this way.
  5. The prize is one pair of socks per winner. No cash alternative is on offer.
NB - 4th  Nov 2013: This competition is now closed

Friday, 25 October 2013

Salad Days: Lattughino verde

As my salad challenge is Mastering Lettuce this year, I was surprised to find a completely new form (to me anyway) at the Yeo Valley Organic Garden recently. This is 'Lattughino verde', which looks more like a giant wild rocket than a lettuce. Its flavour is mild, so it's one for adding bulk and visual appeal to a salad.

Most of the online information - unsurprisingly - is in Italian, but I have managed to find it in the Organic Gardening catalogue. They've put it in the loose leaf category and describe it as 'an Italian finger lettuce'. They have another of this type which looks tempting called 'Catalogna'. It's described as 'slow to bolt, hardy and quick regrowing' - sounds like an excellent candidate for the picking method.

I've added both varieties to my list of new leaves to try for next year along with the 'easy watercress' (aka Cardamine raphanifoliaEmma Cooper found at the Edulis nursery last weekend. She says it's a good alternative to the American land cress I usually grow. It's a shade loving perennial which starts back into leaf around now - I have just the spot in my garden calling out for this. Let's not forget the Siberian purslane Mark Diacono also mentioned in his talk recently.

It's reassuring to find there's still lots to learn and try after nearly two years of my 52 Week Salad Challenge. What salad plans are you making for next year?

If you've written a salad-related post this month, then add the URL of your post (not your blog) to Mr Linky below.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Breaking the Rules: Apple Pruning

Back in Waterperry's orchard with Horticultural Manager Rob Jacobs - a very fine place to be

In honour of today's Apple Day, I'm returning to last month's study day at Waterperry Gardens, where we learnt lots about the summer pruning of trained apple trees such as cordons and espaliers. Note this pruning does not apply to apples grown as bush or standard trees; their pruning is confined to the winter period.

Summer pruning is carried out on the shoots growing out from the main branches. This is to increase the number of fruiting spurs on the tree for the following year and to let the sunlight through to ripen the current year's crop. The RHS guidance says that this pruning is best carried out in the third week in August in the south and around 10 days later in the north.

This guidance also says the pruning should be done when the bottom third of the new shoot is firm and woody. This timing is judged according to the tree's vigour, its location and the weather conditions at the time.

We found out this latter guidance is more important, rather than the August timing. If pruning is carried out too early, then the pruned shoot will continue to grow, rather than forming the stubby fruiting spur required. Therefore if the tree is pruned too early, there will be little or no fruit next year.

Thus, it's better to watch out for the tree itself to tell you when it's ready to be pruned. The key is to look at the tip of the shoot. If there's a tight bud as shown above, then it's time to prune.

Here's the same picture with a large purple arrow helpfully pointing to the tightly formed bud. This shows the tree has started to hunker down ready for winter and the pruning of this shoot will produce the desired fruiting spur for next year.

At Waterperry they've found this is usually mid September, rather than the August mentioned in the RHS guidance. This year it was even later - we were there late September and the tighter buds were only just beginning to form.

The pictured shoot is usually pruned down to 'three leaves'. This involves finding where the shoot joins the main branch, ignoring the basal rosette of leaves found at this join, then counting up past three leaves along the branch.

At Waterperry they've found counting along four leaves works better for their soil conditions and aspect. The pruning cut is angled so that the minimum of rainwater hits the wound whilst it's healing.

I was concerned this later pruning wouldn't give the fruit enough sunlight to ripen, but as you can see from the above photo, it isn't a problem.

So by ignoring the guidance re timing and paying attention to what the tree is telling you instead, your apple tree has a much better chance of fruiting well next year.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

In the Footsteps of Plant Hunters: Evolution Plants

Yesterday was extraordinary. A new plant nursery was launched right here in Wiltshire and after a tough couple of years for the garden industry, it's great to have some unexpectedly good news to tell you. On a personal note, I'm pleased to have another quality specialist nursery so close to home.

Evolution Plants is owned by Tom Mitchell. He's a plant biologist by training, who like me languished in the world of banking until he woke up and saw sense. Well, he did admit his 'waking up' was whilst suffering from clinical depression, and all the people he consulted along the way to help make his business work said 'DON'T'.

But when a passion takes hold and no matter what the head may tell you, sometimes you have to follow your heart.

So, Tom became a plant hunter and travelled the world for 5 years collecting seeds from 3,000 plant species, some of which - including at least one new Genus - have yet to be named. Those precious seeds are now being grown on, ready for customers to place their first orders.

Tom's aim is to discover and introduce the widest possible range of plants, so if you want to grow something unusual, then Evolution Plants is for you. Tom's interest is more in the species line rather than hybrids, though he admitted he will be conducting some hybridisation work with the Hellebores he's so passionate about.

The nursery is open by appointment, with the bulk of business conducted over the internet. The aim is to embrace new media and the website is a treasure trove, not just for the plants on offer. Tom writes extensively about the plants and his travels (he wants to evangelise and inspire, and there's also evidence of a dry sense of humour at play), so it's a place to ponder and learn as well as to buy.

There are currently 500 species on the website, with a high proportion of them unique to Evolution Plants. Plans are in place to increase this number substantially, with part of the nursery dedicated to growing the 'pipeline' plants earmarked for introduction over the next year or two.

There's also a fine supporting blog called A Tangled Bank, which is a rather neat quotation from Charles Darwin connecting the new nursery with Tom's former professional life. Here tales of the nursery rub shoulders with musings about taxonomy and traveller's tales about the plants he's found.

So on a blustery, unpromising day in October, a new evolution in plants was launched. I hope the sunshine we saw after the rain bodes well for this bold new venture.

Other plant hunters' footsteps:

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

GBBD: A Purple Patch

I've been really pleased with how my new Salvia 'Amistad' (well, bought at RHS Tatton show in 2012) has settled into the garden this year.

It's stood up strongly to the autumnal storms which lashed their way over the garden the past couple of weeks. Seeing the stems swaying in the wind reminds me of the pictures of prayer flags I've seen fluttering over the Himalayas. You might think I'm being a bit fanciful, but I at least can see a link between the two.

It's a most dramatic plant, with its dark almost black stems holding court in my large terrace bed. They're quite a contrast to the pinks and reds you can see dotted around in the background above. It's quite tall for a Salvia, so I'm glad I've placed it in a corner, where it leans over conversationally as I make my way down the steps towards the shed.

I've been thinking quite a bit about this 'purple patch' lately. Most of my purple happens earlier in the year, though I do currently have a softer echo with my Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' in the double terrace bed opposite. Some of the sights I saw whilst on holiday in Ireland have brought about this musing; I'll have more to show you on that score another day.

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

Monday, 14 October 2013

New Product Decisions - Your Help is Needed

Last week I was asked for my opinions about a new product Greenhouse Sensation are developing as shown above.

I've replied already, and they're keen to hear what you have to say too!

Here's what was said in the accompanying email:

We are very close to releasing a new product, we just need to confirm the colour and I would be very grateful for your thoughts on the product idea, colours etc 

The product is a more attractive and compact version of the Quadgrow, with 2x 12litre (30cm) pots and a 17 litre reservoir. It’s approximately 60cms long and 30cms wide. 

We may also create a black one which would have a slightly lower price, but a less lovely finish too and we might or might not have the option to link two units together to make a 4-pot version – though I would be grateful if you would let me have your thoughts on the usefulness of such a feature. 

If you think it would be appropriate I would be happy for you to ask your readers which of the options they prefer too. 

So now's your chance - just leave a comment below with your thoughts. I'll pass them on if they're left before October 23rd.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Welcome Grow Your Own!

A very warm welcome to Grow Your Own readers. I'm chuckling at being called an Allotment Guru in the magazine as there's always something new to learn, but then that's why I write this blog.

I hope you enjoy your visit to Veg Plotting. If you're intrigued by the mention of my biochar experiment in the magazine, then here are the results of my trial with alliums this year.

If you fancy my 52 Week Salad Challenge instead, then the link takes you to a page which summarises all my posts on the subject. You can start growing right now too!

Otherwise, you can dive straight in and read my latest posts by simply scrolling down your screen, or have a look through my Pages section to the right to see what takes your fancy.

It was great to see so many of my blogging pals featured in the Grow Your Own article - you'll find I've linked to many of them a bit further down on the right too. The links open up into new windows, so it's a bit like being able to read a number of your favourite magazines all at once.

I hope you enjoy your trip into the blogosphere :)

Friday, 11 October 2013

First Rate Gardens and Friday Cocktails

Mark Diacono demonstrates his cocktail making skills to Annie Maw at last Friday's
fundraiser for Horatio's Garden. Picture courtesy of the Yeo Valley Organic Garden
Q What does an ABBA tribute band, Arnold Schwarzaneggar and a cobbler have in common?
A They were all mentioned in the latest talk given by Mark Diacono

This was the last in the series in support of Horatio's Garden hosted by the Yeo Valley Organic Garden. It was an inspirational finale to see how Mark's ideas outlined in A Taste of the Unexpected have developed since publication a couple of years ago. Expect to see much more in his next book, New Kitchen Garden, where from this sneak preview I'm anticipating lots more unusual fruit and vegetables, a hat tip to techniques such as forest gardening and plenty of edible perennials.

I also came away with a new salad leaf to try for The 52 Week Salad Challenge: Siberian purslane (Claytonia sibirica). It's a short-lived perennial, which is suitable for shade and has a beetroot flavour. The stem, leaf and flower are all edible and it's one for the spring and summer months.

Mark is developing a bit of a reputation as far as cocktails are concerned as he's often the popular provider of such delights at various RHS shows. Last Friday was no exception and we got to try a couple before lunch.

Let's just say the conversation flowed rather well afterwards ;)

Mark has promised to blog the recipes soon, so I'll add the link when he's done so. In the meantime, here's a photo to tempt you.

We also learnt Horatio's Garden is now a charity in its own right. As well as looking after the original garden in Salisbury, the aim is to provide one for each of the other 11 spinal units around the country.

Now that's worth a celebratory cocktail or two.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Take One Bag of Windfalls...

My apple harvest seems to be about 3 weeks behind schedule this year and yesterday was the first time I've had a substantial bag of windfalls to pick up at the allotment. The above picture shows what 16 pounds  of apples (aka just over 7 kilos) looks like :)

So what did I do with them yesterday evening?

  • Used 5lbs to make a batch of Apple Jelly (NAH will be pleased as it's his favourite)
  • Used 1lb to make a Windfall Cake
  • The rest were washed, cored, chopped and microwaved in 4 huge batches, then spooned into various containers and stored in the freezer. These will be added to my daily bowl of porridge when my freshly chopped apples run out around December/January time

NB all my apples are dessert varieties - Falstaff, James Grieve, Kidd's Orange Red, Saturn, Scrumptious and Sunset in this instance - and I don't bother to peel them for these recipes.

Other options you could try:
  • Use approx 4.5lb to make some Easy Apple Juice. Or with all the apple day events coming up and if you choose the right one, you could take the whole lot and have your own freshly pressed apple juice made for you
  • I'm pretty sure Sarah Raven's Perch Hill Rhubarb Cordial could be adapted to make apple cordial instead (and use up approx 4.5lb in the process)

Do you have any of your own apple favourites to add to the list?

Update: Carl Legge has produced a list of his favourite apple recipes for Apple Day. I particularly like the look of his recipe for Apple Cider Vinegar.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Making My Watering Can Smile

I've been accumulating a list of little 'niggly' jobs to do around the house and garden lately, so last week I set out to get a few of them done.

Some of them involved using the assorted pack of sugru I've been given to try. This is a playdoh like substance which can be used to make small repairs, or added to objects to make them more usable. It can also be used to transform objects ready for another use, but that's something for another day.

Inside the pack of white
The pack I was given contains small portions of various colours - 1 each of white and black, plus two each of red, blue and yellow - hence why the colour keeps changing in the following pictures ;)

The tasks I had in mind were:

  • Repairing a small hole in my watering can
  • Making the corners of my coldframes less of a hazard to walk past
  • Repairing a saucepan lid
  • Making a new hook for our airing cupboard door to hang my swimming bag (not tried yet as I'm not sure it has the strength to take the weight)
Sugru is a rubber-like substance and has a limited shelf life at around six months. This can be extended by a further 8 months if the pack is kept in the fridge. Therefore it's probably best to keep a small supply in stock, or only buy some when there are a few small jobs lined up.

Before using the sugru, hands must be clean - particularly important when using the white or yellow colours as these can look quite mucky afterwards if not. The object(s) the sugru will be attached to must also be clean and free of dust to ensure success - for me this was mostly dusting off cobwebs.

Rolled and ready to use
Once out of the wrapper, there's the rather satisfying task of squeezing and rolling the sugru into a little ball ready for use. Tip: some of it tends to stay on the wrapper when you grab hold, so use the rest to extract the extra little bits as part of the ball rolling. It doesn't take long to get the sugru ready. 

That little ball is very pliable, so you can easily roll it into whatever shape's needed, or divide it into smaller pieces (not too many though!).

Repair one: stopping my saucepan lid becoming too hot to handle 

There's around 30 minutes 'play time' to attach and get the sugru into the shape wanted. For the repair shown above, this also involved taking the whole thing off and applying it again as I got the replacement shape too lop sided.

The coldframes I use for my 52 Week Salad Challenge are in quite a narrow space and I'm forever barging into the particularly sharp corners of the first frame I come to. It was only a matter of time before I gashed my leg, so a quick 'shot of blue' to round the corners of both the frame's lid and main body should prevent that from happening in future.

I used a small stone to wedge the frame open whilst the sugru cured - it takes around 24 hours to harden - so the two surfaces didn't stick together in the process.

Fixing a hole and making my watering can smile :)
I have to report that despite the scrupulous cleaning of my watering can and thoroughly pressing the sugru into the hole beneath the spout, it hasn't quite stopped it from leaking. However, the water's coming out more slowly and I do rather like my new-look can with its smile. It's a sufficient repair for my needs and seeing I was contemplating buying a new one, I've saved quite a few pounds in the process :)

The sugru website showcases plenty of other ideas for you to try. Think of something new and there's also the possibility of prizes! I was given a pack to try and extend the ideas for around the garden, but it has all kinds of uses around the home. Not bad for a product borne out of an MA in product design 10 years ago :)

Update: Sugru already have a guide to repairing a watering can on their website. Looks like I should have spread the sugru around a lot more to make a better seal.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

I Love October For...

Just a few of the apple varieties grafted onto the family apple tree at Waterperry Gardens.
Sally Nex has more to say about this tree here
... Apples

Many of you won't be surprised by this revelation as I've written about apples so many times, particularly in October. This post won't be the last one, I can assure you :)

October is the month when I harvest most of my apples; from the trees in my garden and those shoehorned into my allotment plot. There are enough at the latter for it to be classified as an orchard, even though it's nothing like the one I'd really like to have.

So it was a pleasure last week to find myself in the kind of orchard I'd like to call my own - lots of trees, many varieties and plenty of room to show them off at their healthy best.

Waterperry is famed for its herbaceous borders and asters, so our visit was well timed. It was
good to discover it has plenty of other strings to its bow, particularly trained apples and pears

Waterperry Gardens has been on my 'to see list' for a very long time, so attending the study day organised by the Garden Media Guild last Tuesday meant I'd get to see it, have the opportunity to learn something and be in some very fine company too.

Most of the afternoon was scheduled for a pruning masterclass in the orchard amongst the trained cordon and espalier apple trees. I must confess a little less pruning was done than perhaps was originally envisaged by the Waterperry team. We were meant to help them out, but had far too many questions to ask instead. I did pick up some very useful tips though, plus enough material for a Breaking the Rules post for you later this month :)

Horticultural Manager Rob Jacobs demonstrates the pruning cuts required
to train an apple tree into a cordon or espalier

Part of the reason for us failing in our pruning endeavours was my need to discuss the apple trees seen along our motorways. You see, I've been contemplating them quite a bit this year during my frequent travels along the M5 and I'm sure there must be an amazing pool of new varieties along there. After all, most apples aren't self-fertile, so the ones I've seen waving at me could all be awaiting discovery for anyone daring (or foolish?) enough to explore along the verges.

Gerry Edwards soon confirmed my thinking and told me there's a newly launched variety (in 2010) called 'Christmas Pippin' which was sourced from close to the M5 motorway in Somerset. It's so good, it will probably be awarded an RHS AGM very soon.

However, he disagreed with my observation that an apple which can germinate and grow strongly along a motorway - against the odds - must have the potential to be a great variety. Apparently the pollution from all those cars and lorries zooming along can protect the trees from many diseases, just like the sulphur from factory pollution did for e.g. roses until the Clean Air Act came along. It means any variety sourced in this way needs many years of trials in clean air before it can be declared commercially viable.

Despite the odds stacked against them - seed viability, sufficient cold for germination, competition from other plants, disease protection via pollution etc etc - I wonder how long it'll be before 'Christmas Pippin' is joined by other new varieties sourced via our motorways or railways?

Don't forget it's Apple Day on 21st October, so there's bound to be several events nearby for you to choose from. Waterperry's own Apple Weekend this year is 11th to 13th October from 10am to 4pm. As well as assuring you there's a fine orchard to wander in, I can also vouch for the quality of the apples and single variety apple juice they have on offer :)

The stock beds at Waterperry, laid out as a 'living catalogue'. Now I'll have one of those,
...and that one,  ...oh I do like the look of that, and...
Yes, I did bring a few plants home ;)

What do you love October for? Tell me in the comments below, or do join me in my new monthly meme on the 2nd of each month and post your response (in whatever way you fancy - writing, photos, poetry, artwork etc) on your blog...

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

GBMD: The Meeting of the Waters

There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet 
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet!
Oh the last rays of feeling and life must depart
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart

Thomas Moore (1779 - 1852)

Ireland is famed for its literature. The likes of Wilde, Joyce and Heaney are all celebrated world-wide, but the poet who has captured the heart of the Irish - in the way Robert Burns did for the Scottish - is 'the bard of Ireland', Thomas Moore.

We know him as the poet who penned The Minstrel Boy. In County Wicklow his more lauded work is The Meeting of the Waters, the place where the Avonmore and Avonbeg rivers come together to form the Avoca River.

I'd wanted to see this spot, but missed it the first time we went past as it's obscured by a large touristy pub and gift shop. But stepping beyond these trappings lies the above view and my first ever sighting of a Dipper.

NAH and I sat right at the end of a concrete platform above the river's boulders and filled our eyes with this view. The sun was warm on our backs and the tumbling waters stilled us. We watched the fish jumping (NAH saw many more than me as I had the knack of looking away at the last moment) and both of us saw the electric blue of a kingfisher flying downstream. A magical moment.

At first we sat in silence, but then started to talk our first real long talk of our holiday. It shows when you look beyond man's impact on a place, it's true heart can help restore your own.

This place held one final surprise. In the interpretation boards around the surrounding Thomas Moore memorial park, I found out he's buried here in Wiltshire; in Bromham. It was an unexpected link with home when our selves and thoughts were abroad.
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