Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

First Cut Comfrey


Comfrey is a new crop on my allotment for 2014, though I won't be eating any of it. Since I started to install raised beds on the plot last year, I now need to make lots more compost to keep them topped up. That's where the comfrey comes in as it acts as a great accelerator when added to the raw ingredients in a compost bin.

As you can see from the photo, my new comfrey bed is handily placed next to the compost bins in the middle of my plot. This is the variety Bocking14, the kind which isn't so much of a garden thug, unlike the comfrey I see growing right next to the River Avon in town, which is giving the invasive Himalayan balsam there a run for its money.

I'm growing it in a mini raised bed of its own made from some used car tyres I acquired ages ago. When I planted the comfrey out last year, I was a bit worried the couch grass nearby would invade the bed. The tyres plus an extra thick lining of cardboard and newspaper were my attempt to prevent this from happening whilst the plants were establishing themselves. It appears to have worked so far *crosses fingers*

I'm expecting the deep roots of the plants will soon break through the bed's lining to start bringing up the minerals and other nutrients from below. Once they start doing that - and the plants get a bit more established and bigger - I'll start making a comfrey feed for my plants as well as feeding my compost bin.

Home made comfrey feed is notoriously smelly. However, James in his famous compost chat at Yeo Valley Organic Garden showed me a different 'dry' method which doesn't pong. Emma Cooper also showed how to do this in her plan for Groundbreaking Food Gardens. Luckily for anyone reading this who wants to follow suit, she also blogged about it :)

Just like the salad leaves I'm growing, comfrey is a great 'cut and come again' addition to my plot.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Portland Fling - Preliminary Snippets

The all important group photo - in the International Rose Test Garden.
I'm a bit hard to spot because I don't have the rest of my avatar with me ;)

3 days, 80 bloggers, 90 degree heat, 15 gardens, 3 nurseries and hundreds of photographs. How do I begin to summarise the Fling? Like Victoria I tended to my own garden first, which helped to sooth the jetlag fug in my brain and let the sights, sounds and scents of my trip settle down more comfortably.

Portland is known as "The City of Roses", so a large test garden is appropriate -
the scent hits you smack in the face before you've entered the garden!

"What can you learn by coming to the Fling?", was the question I was asked most often at Portland. The implication being that by coming from England - the cradle of all that is good about gardening - I should find all I need right here.

Old Germantown Gardens - the only example we saw of the English style, which was
primped to perfection. The ant-like bloggers in the photo, give you an idea of its scale

My response is "Loads!" -  there is so much which can be learned from an intensive immersion in a different country simply by going, observing and talking to like minded people and experts. It helps that the hard-working Portland Fling committee provided us with a smorgasbord of the very best the city has to offer.

With my public planting hat on, it was interesting to see how the lush
wrap-around planting at McMenamins Kennedy School helped to soften
the building and give it new life as a lodging, dining and meeting space

I won't be reviewing every garden and nursery visited, but instead I'll draw out the main lessons I've learned over the coming weeks using examples drawn from all of them. It will form my very own mini design course which I hope will be of interest to you too.

English garden visits may be fueled by tea and cake, but in Portland
freshly baked cookies, iced water or juice and local wines are just the job!
All our hosts were most generous with their time and hospitality, thank you.

Not everything deserves a post to itself, so today contains a few snippets by way of a warm up. Where I've linked to a garden (apart from the rose test garden), this will take you that garden's entry on the Garden Bloggers Fling blog, where the Portland committee have introduced each garden and nursery, then provided a Linky for all the Fling attendees to link to their thoughts and observations.

There's also a miscellaneous, "kitchen sink" section, for blog posts like this one :)

Friday, 25 July 2014

Salad Days: The Food Programme

Screen grab taken from the Food Programme page on the BBC website

Whilst I was away, Radio 4's Food Programme broadcast a very interesting programme on Salad Leaves. The appropriately named Dan Saladino revealed that:

  • The UK's demand for salad leaves is worth £600 million annually and demand is rising steadily for leaf production throughout the year
  • Many of the salad leaves we buy are imported from Spain, particularly during the winter months
  • Chlorine is still used extensively by some firms as part of the bagged salad process as spring water supplies aren't sufficient for what's needed
  • A new indoor growing facility in Essex is the size of 10 football pitches. This is set to grow to 20 football pitches to meet increasing UK demand and to compete against imported leaves
  • Soil cleansing is practised at the Essex facility to reduce pests and diseases (but also eliminates the beneficials) and fertilisers are added to the soil before each crop cycle
  • Rose bay willow herb is edible and is being considered for inclusion in salads - a great way to b(eat) your weeds ;)
  • There's a major salad producer right here in Wiltshire (as well as me!)

It's well worth a listen (NB link is to a MP3 download) - the programme should be available for at least another year.

The programme's website page is packed with interesting information, including some new varieties to try and tasty recipes. There's also a link to Dave Bez's blog Salad Pride - Dave has produced a different salad for his lunch every day for four years. His blog is worth a good, long look, especially if you're stuck for ideas for your next salad.

The programme confirms why I started The 52 Week Salad Challenge over two and a half years ago - it's far better (and cheaper) to grow our own! 

If you're looking to start, you don't need a lot of space - a couple of pots or a windowbox will do. It's a bit hot to start growing lettuces right now (germination is suppressed when daytime soil temperatures go above 75 degrees Fahrenheit*), but you can start by sowing some mizuna, various mustards, rocket, pak choi and kale instead.

* = however, if you have a cooler, shadier spot then it should be OK to go right ahead :)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Postcard from the Pacific North West

Mount Rainier seemingly floats in the air - as seen from the Bainbridge Island to Seattle ferry
I've just got back from an amazing holiday in the Pacific North West aka the Washington and Oregon states in the USA.

The main purpose of the holiday was to join the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland, but a long journey across the pond deserves to be made into a road trip, which is precisely what Victoria, Charlotte and I did.

We flew into Seattle, where our friend Marty Wingate had arranged an amazing pre-fling garden tour for us, including another visit to the Bloedel Reserve, plus the company of Dan Hinkley to show us around the legendary Heronswood.

We then drove down the coast to Portland for the Fling. Here the organisers managed to squeeze us into an itinerary that included 15 gardens, 3 nurseries and one publisher (Timber Press) in a mere 3 days.

Our final stop was in the heart of Oregon, where Victoria found the wonderful Airlie Farm B&B for us to have some well deserved R&R. This included a couple more nurseries, a trip to the coast, plus horse riding Western style.

I'll be telling you more about our adventures over the coming weeks...

Friday, 18 July 2014

Impromptu Harvest


I've been hacking away at an enormous bramble up at the plot to try to get rid of it at long last.

An unexpected side effect was uncovering lots of ripe gooseberries which had yet to be discovered by the birds. Therefore it was important to harvest these straight away before the pesky critters realised what was there.

However, I hadn't expected to be harvesting anything and so hadn't bought any of my containers. My solution to the problem? An extra use for the gauntlets I did have with me. One gauntlet = half a kilo of berries, ready for making some delicious gooseberry fool later on.

I discovered the next day I should have checked the fingers for stray berries before putting them on again ;)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

GBBD: Off-Piste Plant Buying and Planting


My plant buying is governed currently by a wants list for the terrace borders and front garden makeovers planned for this year. It's interesting to see how my tastes have changed since I started this blog and now show up in the list.

The pictured Astrantia 'Star of Royals' wasn't on there, but I couldn't resist it when I went to my local garden centre to claim my half price plant offer. I'd decided Trachelospermum jasminoides was the plant of choice for my claim, but then found that was on special offer anyway.

I had planned to plant the Astrantia in the shady part of the terrace to replace the prickly Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Tricolor'*, where Victoria and I agreed the flowers would do a marvellous job of lighting up the gloom. However, it was so gloomy when I removed the Osmanthus, I didn't have the heart to plant it there.

Instead, I've given it a starring centre stage role in the top terrace bed, where I see it waving at me every time we sit down to eat in the kitchen. I'm happy with its new position and I'm now having a rethink of what will go in the deeply shaded part of the terrace beds.

Egglestone Hall Gardens - where it's often hard to separate gardens from nursery :)

On the whole I've been very disciplined with my plant buying list, but I was tempted to go off-piste again whilst on holiday. We visited Egglestone Hall Gardens in Teesdale on our last day and found a delightful nursery bursting with healthy plants and displayed to perfection.

I managed to restrict myself to a Helianthemum 'Fireball' and a Geranium 'Sandrine'. Both remind me of a delightful afternoon spent with Victoria at Iford Manor last month, where we saw a massive orange variety of the Helianthemum spilling over a wall. 'Fireball' fits in better with the other reds I've planted and is also poised to drape itself over a wall. Of course, these purchases also make a delightful holiday souvenir **.

The geranium is also to remind me to return to the delights of Downside Nurseries, a local nursery which we discovered after our Iford visit and has only taken me 30 years to realise it's there. They have a marvellous range of geraniums which I'm planning to use to knit the taller plants in my terrace beds together.

Whilst I'm enjoying having the discipline of a planting list, it's also a delicious feeling to go off-piste a little and buy a few extras to plant in unexpected places on my planting plan.

I'll return at a later date to tell you more about all the new plants in my terrace beds.

* = planted for year-round interest, but far too prickly for placing next to our garden steps!

** = well, that's what I'm telling myself ;)

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

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Sloane Square Showstoppers


Sloane Square has a fab new planting which was turning heads when I made my way to Chelsea Flower Show last month.

Plenty of people were crossing the road for a closer look and then taking photographs, just like I did.


It may have had a flashier, tropical themed cousin around the corner, but unlike this Chelsea in Bloom winner...


... it forms a longer lasting feature on the Square (at least until the store opens in September) and is designed to help save the bees :)


I hope it'll be a permanent feature - watch this space.


Monday, 7 July 2014

Tree Following With Lucy: July

Just a quick post for now as I haven't had time to do the project I'd planned for my tree following this month.

I was going to lay a white sheet on the ground and shake the branches that stretch over our garden to identify some of the smaller critters which inhabit my tree, but I ran out of time :(

Those branches are a constant source of irritation to NAH, who doesn't like them bending further over the garden under the weight of their now fully grown leaves.

He's convinced they'll crash through our fence and onto the garden one day, just like what happened last December.

I then remind him that those branches help to keep our privacy. It's a circular conversation we have at least once a month.

NAH also says he needs to be renamed as 'The Drastic Gardener' for the purposes of this blog as he tends to act on his irritations without consulting me just before he gets started. So we have another circular argument on how his help is welcome, but could he please talk to me first, so we both agree on what needs to be done.

You might just be able to make out a tree limb sticking upwards at about 45 degrees in the bottom third of the photo? That's evidence of The Drastic Gardener in action. In a fit of pique one afternoon NAH decided to saw off some of the lower limbs of the tree.

When I told him he shouldn't leave the remains sticking out like that - they should be sawn off flush with the tree trunk - he said he would have fallen off the tree if he'd done that. Words failed me at that point.

Whilst taking this photo I realised my tree is growing at an angle. I wonder if it'll straighten itself up over time...

Have a look at Lucy's blog over at Loose and Leafy to see what my fellow tree followers have been up to this month.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

I Love July For...

Work in progress on replanting the double terrace beds 

... the switch

There comes a point in July - or June if we're very lucky - when the heat of the day means gardening activities switch to early in the morning and the evening.

I love it when this happens as I'll happily spend a couple of hours up at the plot, then come home for breakfast and still feel there's plenty of time left in the rest of the day. Evening watering duties are also a pleasant way to keep cool and never a chore.

The switch is even more important this year as I'm remodelling part of the garden. July isn't usually the best time to do this, but a knee injury earlier in the year prevented me from doing the work in April/May as planned. I find digging at 8am is quite therapeutic!

If I'm up at the plot, then another glory of July is the golden last hour when harvesting activities take place. This week's stars are gooseberries and autumn - yes autumn - raspberries. I always forget how intensely flavoured gooseberries are, so it's good to have that summery reminder.

If there's time, then another pleasure is to go down to the shady patio at the bottom of the garden for an intensive study of the birch tree branches swaying gently in the breeze. I'm always amazed how much of this is conducted from the inside of my eyelids ;)

And then there's always a spot of Pimm's to enjoy later on in the evening whilst watching the bats circle above the garden.

What do you love about July?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

GBMD: The Greatest Gift of the Garden

A pause to take stock and refreshment after a long drive ~ in my brother-in-law's garden in Yorkshire
last month on our way to County Durham. The picture effect is called Key Line and was done in camera.

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