Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 30 October 2015

Lantern Leftovers

Lantern leftovers: Moroccan Pumpkin Soup

I'm feeding our neighbours' cat this week, so I've had plenty of time to preview their pumpkin lanterns set out in the garden ready for Halloween. That got me thinking: if the nation's lantern innards were gathered together, they'd probably form a small mountain or three.

How timely. World Vision contacted me this week with news of their Carve a Heart campaign, designed to create a gentler, more caring side to this year's Halloween shenanigans. Their pack includes a recipe for Moroccan Pumpkin Soup - a delicious way of using up those lantern leftovers, or in my case the solitary pumpkin harvested from my plot this year.

As Julieanne wisely said on Twitter: "Pumpkins are for eating, not just for lanterns".

Moroccan Pumpkin Soup


These are tweaked slightly from the original recipe to fit with what I had to hand.

60ml olive oil
100g shallots, peeled and sliced thinly (or a small onion, or 1 leek)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small red chilli (from my Chilly Chilli Challenge), seeds removed and finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
2 carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
1.5 kg pumpkin flesh coarsely chopped
70g yellow split peas
1½ litres water
Juice of ½ a lemon (microwaved on High for 10 secs to release the juice)

The picture on the World Vision recipe card

To Serve (serves 6)

A large dollop of Greek yoghurt  
A sprinkle of pumpkin seeds

This topping was served by the Garden Museum cafe on their yummy butternut squash soup recently. The World Vision recipe card suggests a sprig of coriander instead, and strangely no yoghurt even though something similar is shown in the photograph.


  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the shallots and garlic until soft
  2. Add the chilli, cinnamon, ginger and cumin seeds, and stir until fragrant (around 1 minute)
  3. Add the carrots, pumpkin and split peas to the pan and stir to coat with the other ingredients
  4. Add the water to the pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 50 minutes, or until the split peas are soft
  5. Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon stick and add the lemon juice
  6. Process the soup with a stick blender until smooth
  7. Serve immediately whilst warm, with a large dollop of Greek yoghurt and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds added to each bowl

You may also like

If you're looking for a main dish instead or you have even more lantern leftovers, you could adapt my Butternut Squash Risotto recipe to suit your needs.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A Seaside Walk, Foraged Vegetables and Garden Interlopers

On the seashore at St Ouen's Bay, Jersey

The last day of our holiday saw us walking along St Ouen's Bay close to the site where Monday's Jersey Royals box is located. The tide was out, so there was plenty of beach to explore. I've added NAH to the scene to give a sense of scale.

View along the seashore at St Ouen's Bay

This view looks back towards the spot atop the cliffs where I took the picture postcard of the bay  shown previously. I was keen to have a closer look at the vegetation to the right of the photo, which stood next to the farmer's fields.

The foraged vegetable - sea beet

As I suspected, it's sea beet, an edible relative of chard and beetroot that's suitable for foraging. It was a new find for me and I saw plenty growing around the island during our stay. I wonder if it's ever harvested for the vegetable boxes? Young leaves can be used in salads, and it serves as a good substitute for spinach in any recipe.

Masses of sea beet

As you can see, it likes growing along the sea wall and in the shingle of St Ouen's Bay.

One of the slipways at St Ouen's Bay

However, when I reached the slipway at the end of our walk...

The first sign of a garden interloper on the slipway

... I found a garden interloper had gained a foothold between the cobbled stones and...

The garden interloper - alyssum - has gained a strong foothold

... a few yards away it was jostling with the sea beet for the best positions on the bank.

This is alyssum aka Lobularia maritima (syn. Alyssum maritimum). It's a popular annual bedding plant and a well-known garden escapee. The Wild Flower Finder website describes it as a 'mainly coastal naturalised garden plant growing to 30cm on walls and dry sandy shores especially at the foot of walls'.

My find was definitely growing true to type.

View of the alyssum looking towards the sea with the scent of warm honey

Sniff the air and there's a distinct scent of warm honey. No wonder its common names include sweet alyssum, sweet Alice and sweet Alison.

Whilst alyssum is well-known as a garden escapee (and I saw many large drifts of it on Jersey), it has yet to be listed on Plantlife's Plants of Concern for the UK.

Update: Janet's comment reminded me of an interesting talk Ken Thompson gave at the RHS on invasive plant species. He draws quite different conclusions (backed with evidence) to the usual information. It's well-worth 35 minutes of your time.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Jersey Royals

Honesty box vegetable stall at the side of the road in Jersey

One of my favourite sights on Jersey were these vegetable stalls at the side of the road. We found four of them, and this one was the first we discovered (at L'Etacq at dusk) and is also my favourite. It's the only one perched atop a wall (the rest relied solely on pallets) and I love how you can see the fields behind where the produce is grown, plus the clear light and the thin blue line which shows how close we are to the sea.

A head-on look at the Jersey Royals stall at L'Etacq

Now you can see how the system works. The produce is refreshed at least once a day and relies on an honesty box for payment. The island is famed for its potatoes and the Jersey Royal now has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which means only potatoes grown and harvested on the island can be named as such*. There were a few bags of them for sale, alongside cabbage, kale, spinach, sweetcorn, courgettes, green beans and tomatoes. All are grown organically.

A closer look at the Jersey Royals stall

The stalls belong to Le Feuvre Farms, a family concern that's been farming on Jersey for over 5 generations. I love the contrast of the sign saying the produce is dug by hand (a Jersey tradition) and the fact they have a Facebook page to promote themselves. Their page is well worth a look as it gives a wonderful insight into farming life on the island.

Fields at L'Etacq and St Ouen's Bay

Here's a slightly different view to the one I showed in my recent postcard. You can see the L'Etacq area and how small the fields are on Jersey. Many farmers still collect seaweed to fertilise their fields and there was plenty along the bay's seashore. There was a wonderful old photograph in our cottage of horses with huge baskets being loaded up with seaweed ready for transfer to the fields.

Later in the week I saw a tractor pulling a trailer loaded with pallets and many potatoes delicately balanced on them. I was reminded of eggs in their boxes and it showed just how precious the cargo was to the farmer concerned. Apart from the Channel Islands, mainland Britain is the only other place where Jersey Royals can be purchased and we hoover up around 99% of the crop. It forms about half of the island's agricultural income.

Jersey Farmers Union display at RHS Chelsea 2012
Spot the Jersey Royals - Jersey Farmers Union gold medal awarded exhibit, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012
I also saw some campaign banners saying 'Keep Jersey Farming' during our stay. It seems farming is under threat on the island, just like it is here in the UK. Around half of Jersey's land is in horticultural or agricultural use, so if there's a decline it will have a major impact on the island's look and feel.

It would be a shame if farming continued to decline and there were no more exhibits at RHS Chelsea, or roadside vegetable stalls, or Jersey Royals for tea.

* = which is why everyone else has to make do with the less romantic sounding International Kidney.

Friday, 23 October 2015

My Favourite Garden Benches of 2015

Some of you may be aware I have a photography blog called Sign of the Times, where I regularly publish photos of benches I've found on my travels.

Here's a selection of 17 my favourite garden-related finds for 2015; some of them have their debut here on the internet for the first time.


The slideshow has lots of extra information and links to websites where the benches reside. Here's a collage of 16 of the 17 benches if you'd prefer a quick look instead. Click on the picture to enlarge if needed.

Photo collage of my favourite garden benches of 2015

Matt kindly nominated his favourite in the Comments, what's yours?

Monday, 19 October 2015

VP's VIPs: Clive Nichols

Clive Nichols
I recently completed Clive Nichols' Masterclass in Flower Photography, so it was great to have the opportunity to nab him for a quick interview at the same time.

Over to you, Clive...


When did you take your first photo? What was it of? 

My first photo was of one of my mates at University – in black and white – that must have been in 1982.

Are you self-taught, or did you study photography in some way?

Totally self taught – I learnt about shutter speeds and things like depth of field from a little book in the 1980’s produced by Kodak called ‘Take better pictures’.

Now you're an acclaimed photographer, what advice would you give to your fledgling photographer self?

Get up early to catch the amazing light at dawn.

[NB Clive has been known to get up early and drive 200 miles to catch that light - Ed]

Who or what inspires you? 

I am inspired by everything and anything – art, landscape, photography, design, fashion, sport.

Clive Nichols
Getting technical 

How much of your work is indoors vs. outdoors?

These days about 70 per cent is exterior, 30 per cent indoors.

Do you use your own garden for your work?

I have just moved to a small house and it has a tiny front garden which I will make into a photogenic courtyard for photography – at my last house – which was a barn, I had a lovely garden that I photographed regularly.

The weather forecast is lousy for your next outdoor shoot. Do you go or rearrange? 

Re-arrange – if it’s windy and rainy then forget it.

Apart from your camera, what piece of equipment would you never be without?

My Manfrotto tripod.

You've completed your latest shoot, what happens next to the photos you've taken?

I process the raw files as quickly as possible and get them onto my photo library.

And finally... 

What's your favourite garden or location? 

This changes all the time- last week I was shooting at Painshill Park in Surrey and the crystal grotto there was just amazing, so for now that is my favourite garden! I especially love shooting at Gina Price's garden at Pettifers in Oxfordshire – it's near me and I know it so well.

Which yet-to-see garden is at the top of your list? 

The garden I would most like to see would be Hermannshof in Germany – it looks so beautiful in photos.

[NB the garden's website is in German. Your browser may or may not offer a translate button - Ed]

What's your proudest moment?

Being chosen by Country Life to photograph HRH The Prince of Wales’s private garden – Birkhall – on the Balmoral Estate in Scotland.

Thanks Clive for the insights, and to MyGardenSchool for setting up the interview and providing the photographs.

You can see more of Clive's work on his websiteFacebook Page and Twitter accounts where you'll find plenty more to inspire you.

Rona Wheeldon over at Flowerona interviewed Clive a while ago, and came up with a quite different set of questions to mine.

Coming soon

Lots more photography resources to help and inspire you, plus a look at cropping photographs with some examples Clive showed me using some of my photos.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

GBBD: Jersey Lilies and Latin Shenanigans

I couldn't return from holiday and not tell you about Jersey lilies for this month's Blooms Day. They were everywhere on the island, in virtually every garden and hedgerow. When I saw the hand-picked welcome from our cottage owner's garden, I suddenly remembered their common name. How appropriate to find them in profusion on their namesake island, even though they really hail from South Africa.

I've tried growing them before, but without much success. Their strap-like leaves appear every year, but no flowers. I planted them in a sun-baked gravel area which is what they like, but I thought I hadn't buried them deeply enough. Now I've seen how they were growing away in the gardens at Samares Manor with their bulbs exposed for everyone to see, I wonder if I've buried them too deeply.

They're rated as H3 hardiness, which is borderline for their survival in my garden. They're more suited to the gentler climate Jersey has to offer, though mine haven't been killed off yet. That's encouraging, so I'll try some winter protection first before I think about replanting them.

Are you having a re-think about the plants in your garden?

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

Latin with or without tears (you can choose which one you prefer this month)

The Latin name for the Jersey lily is Amaryllis belladonna. Amaryllis is named after a shepherdess from Greek mythology, Amarysso.  It also means 'to sparkle' and I thought the flowers did indeed do that in Jersey without knowing the name's meaning beforehand. Belladonna is 'beautiful lady' in Italian, thus adding to the apt description hidden in this bulb's Latin name.

Those of you considering buying your Hippeastrum bulbs ready for that event in December beginning with C*, may find them confusingly called Amaryllis in the shops. This harks back to a huge horticultural argument over Linnaeus's original naming. He'd put together the South African bulb plus another hailing from South America into the same genus, which were subsequently separated into two genera.

The naming debate raged on for nearly 50 years, and was finally resolved in 1987, with today's Blooms Day plant keeping the genus name. However, Hippeastrum is still referred by many as amaryillis (its common name). It seems our difficulty with Latin names is nothing new, particularly when the Latin genus name also becomes the common one**.

* = shhhh, I try not to mention the C-word until its proper time in December. We have Hallowe'en and bonfire night to get through yet.

** = I'm keeping quiet about my ongoing difficulties with Dicentra/Lamprocapnos and Aster/Symphyotrichum at this point, though you may like to sympathise along with me on this recent tweet from Rosemary Hardy.

Here are some lovely Michaelmas daisies, asters, Symphyotrichum from my garden. This one's Symphyotrichum novi-belgii 'Waterperry', as featured in last October's Blooms Day, where it appeared in its plain aster form. It looks like I've hit on a way of having 'new' plants in my garden without having to buy any or rely on the birds to bring them in.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Plant Profiles: Figs

Our fig tree - looking a bit autumnal in the garden
Our fig tree ('Brown Turkey') - it's starting to look a little autumnal in the garden. 

The weather's finally turned chilly this week, so we're facing proper autumn at last. It's a shame because I'd half-hoped my fig tree's second crop of the year would have time to ripen for once. In my heart I knew it's only a dream, but if I could move my ginormous tree inside for protection I'd increase my chances greatly.

As you can see that's not going to happen, would you believe that whole tree is housed in a pot two feet wide and three feet tall? It proves the guidance on root restriction really does help fig trees to thrive, but alas it's destroyed my chance of enjoying their main crop of the year. It's said they taste even better than the over-wintered breba crop.

The fruit form on the season's new growth, which means it's time to take my tree in hand as much of that was out of reach this year, much to the delight of the local squirrels. I also managed a superb crop of ground touching fruit, so somewhere in the garden there are some very happy slugs and snails who got to most of the hidden treasure before I did.

Despite that, it's been a bumper year for figs, which allowed me to play around with some different recipes for my produce for a change. I usually only have enough to indulge my late summer breakfast treat of fresh figs with organic Greek-style yoghurt. Here's what I've been having instead...

A quick recipe - fig jam

Yummy fig jam
I've adapted my recipe for rhubarb and ginger jam to make one of the most delicious jams I've ever tasted. As figs are sweet, I used half the weight of sugar to that of the fruit, just the fresh ginger to give the jam a gentle kick, plus the juice of 1 lemon to help with the set as figs are low in pectin. 

The result is fairly sloppy, so it should be eaten up within a couple of months. That shouldn't be a problem as this jam really is that good.

You may also like to try my recipe for Figgy Cheese Tart - another match made in heaven.

Cultivation notes

fig leaf
You may need some patience before your fig tree bears fruit. I bought mine in 2008 and it didn't really get going - growth and fruit-wise - until around 3 years ago. I'm growing mine by next door's west facing garage wall which provides plenty of the warmth needed for growing outside. You may prefer to grow yours in a conservatory or greenhouse and I really should cover my outdoor fig with fleece when severe frost threatens.

It's time to pick off this season's fruit as they won't ripen - watch out for the plant's milky sap when you do this, as it can irritate the skin. I can already see some pea-like embryonic fruit which will form next year's crop. I've found I need to ensure these get plenty of water if there's a dry spell in the spring/early summer, otherwise they fall off and I stand to lose around 50% of them.

Immature figs
Immature fruit
Figs are a fascinating plant - the flowers are never seen as they're encased within the fruit. You may have read that the flowers are fertilised by a wasp, which enters the fruit via the 'eye' at the base. This doesn't happen with UK-grown cultivars and the plants are said to be parthenocarpic i.e. producing fruit without the need for the fertilisation of the flowers first.

It's easy to tell when figs are ripe. They soften and change colour to brown or black, plus they start to droop via their 'neck' which attaches them to the stem. There may also be a droplet of sugar exuding from the fruit's eye. I've found this usually attracts the attention of the local ant population when it happens, and it's often helped me to find some fruit I might otherwise have missed. 

Scale insect on fig tree branch
My fig's been relatively pest-free so far, but I've noticed lately some of the branches have scale insects. I need to give my tree a renovation prune, so I'll inspect the remaining branches and squish any of them I find. This pruning means I stand to lose most - if not all - of next year's crop.

You may also like:
  • The RHS's guidance on growing figs and recommended cultivars for the UK. Note that figs only fruit reliably in southern England. However, they're still a wonderful plant to consider for elsewhere in the UK, particularly if you're looking for an exotic touch to your garden 
  • Reads Nursery's page on fig facts and lore
  • Steven Frank's scientific paper on the behaviour and morphology of fig wasps (NB pdf file)
  • Hortscience's overview - lots of history, biology, breeding and production information
  • The RHS's guide to fan trained pruning - great for growing a fig tree in a tighter spot. Thanks to Brian's comment for the reminder (BTW you should check out his great blog)

Latin without tears

The latin name for the edible fig is Ficus carica; Ficus is the actual ancient latin name for fig and carica refers to Caria, an ancient region of south-western Turkey, where it's a native plant. 

The edible fig hails from ancient Persia, where it formed one of the earliest (if not the earliest) cultivated plants. Evidence of cultivation dates back to 9400 BC, and it pre-dates the cultivation of wheat by around 1,000 years.

Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre

Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs, the words are my own. There are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Postcard From Jersey

An evening view over St Ouen's Bay Jersey
An evening walk overlooking St Ouen's Bay, Jersey. 
We've just come back from a last-minute and much needed break in Jersey, our first trip to the island. We stayed right on the north western tip, just a few minutes walk through heathland to find this glorious view. Jersey is a mere 9 by 5 miles, so you're never that far from the sea. We just about had a view of it from our bedroom window, and to my joy I realised the lighthouse winking at us was in France.

We took the ferry over which always feels like we're travelling abroad, and this was heightened by all the French road names and other references on the island. Many islanders - including the owners of our cottage - speak a local patois based on Norman French. William the Conqueror owned the Channel Islands as part of the Duchy of Normandy, hence the strong link with France.

We weren't in the UK either, but a Crown dependency, so it was interesting to see how the island's government works and how this makes daily life familiar, yet subtly different to ours. One example is the island's maximum speed limit, of a mere 40 miles an hour. It fits the narrower, winding lanes and the multitude of blind T junctions we encountered.

Highlights of our week included many cliff top walks and bay side strolls, plus the sighting of red squirrels and a dartford warbler. The heathland by our cottage is a Site of Special Interest which also hosts a ruined 14th century castle and lots of German WWII fortifications.

Evidence of WWII is everywhere, so a trip to the Jersey War Tunnels * was a must for our only wet day. It proved a thought provoking experience and an insight into how life would have changed for us if plans to invade the UK had come to fruition.

However, we learned later some people see a positive side to this darker part of the island's history. Our guide at the Durrell Wildlife Park told us her 95 year-old mother recounts how the occupation helped build a much stronger community amongst the islanders and regrets its gradual loss over the last 70 years. More food for thought for me to ponder upon.

Talking of food, our visit coincided with the annual Tennerfest - a marvellous excuse to eat out a lot. There's plenty here to delight foodies and ordinary diners such as NAH and I alike, especially if you like freshly grown local produce or seafood. There's also a host of beach cafes to explore, all offering sea views to die for, plus unpretentious yet great food which doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

I also have a couple of garden-related items to tell you about, which I've saved for later posts.

* = the link to the actual Jersey War Tunnels page has sound and I've not found a way to turn it off, which is annoying. Therefore, I've linked to the Wikipedia entry in the main part of the post and given you the option to go to the attraction's page down here if you'd prefer.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Raspberry Breeding at East Malling Research

Infographic showing the history and development of raspberry breeding at East Malling Research
NB the company's condition for freebie usage of their infographic application requires the display of their logo 
As you can see I've had some more fun playing around with infographics.
Lesson learned - images saved as png files are sharper than jpegs.

My thanks to everyone at East Malling Research, Lubera's Markus Kobelt and Fran Suermondt for making this day happen.

A visit to East Malling has been on my wishlist since I was a student. In my mind's eye I could see my 17 year-old self waving at me from my trip to the National Vegetable Research Station (now part of Warwick University) at Wellesbourne. Happy days.

Update: This is blog post number 2,000. It's  fitting it's one which highlights a great day where I crossed something off my wishlist, has lots of information, and where I've been fiddling around to bring something different to the blog.

Many thanks for reading and all your comments over the years. I wouldn't have got this far without you. Now, how shall we celebrate?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Our Wild and Woolly Lawn

Photo of our back lawn which looks rather wild and woolly
Skimble playing 'spot the pigeon' on our back lawn recently  
If you were an ecologist and placed a number of quadrats in a random fashion on our lawn, you'd consistently find much more than plain old grass. You see, I've been rather relaxed about having a perfect lawn the past few years, and I think we have something far more interesting as a result.

Until the ash tree's demise last year, we had a back lawn which went from deep shade to a positively Mediterranean climate in just a few yards. Now it's merely light shade where all was dark previously, and all kinds of plants are trying to get in amongst the moss. It's an area which really wants to revert back to being a field again, plus it regularly weathers a veritable snowstorm of dandelions and other passing seeds.

Realistically it's never going to win Britain's Best Lawn.

I've decided life's too short and the hard work needed to try and win BBL is best left to one of our neighbours, who seems to enjoy the hours he spends outdoors primping and perfecting his sward.

I tentatively raised the subject with NAH the other day as he's the regular wielder of The Beast. I wisely couched it in terms which would appeal: less time spent mowing. He's agreed as long as the lawn doesn't have foxgloves growing in it again.

I haven't admitted to the Eryngium I've found in there yet, nor the patches of  Alchemilla, Leucothoe, Stachys, Hesperis matronalis and Centaurea montana I can see - all are escapees from the central terrace and shady beds. There aren't any foxgloves, so all's well with the world.

The increase in wildlife in our garden's noticeable this year and I think much of that's down to our now wild and woolly lawn. As well as the aforementioned garden plants, there are some quite large patches of clover and Ajuga in flower which many bees and other insects love. I often see up to a dozen blackbirds and thrushes digging their beaks into the lawn, so they must like it too.

How's your lawn looking this year?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Things in Unusual Places #17: Peahen

Photo of a pea hen in the temporary ladies loos at Whitehall Garden Centre
Caption competition time. Your starter for ten - "Does my bum look big in this?" 

I was giggling at my local garden centre recently when I found the pictured peahen seemingly admiring herself in the mirror.

In Corsham, peafowl are a regular sight striding down the High Street, where they've walked over from nearby Corsham Court. Sometimes they venture further afield, up to a couple of miles away.

On one memorable occasion when we first moved to Corsham, a peacock took up residence and installed himself for several weeks over a velux window where we were staying. It made for rather a dim but pretty time in the kitchen as the window was the sole source of natural light.

Inspired by the residents of Corsham Court (and its environs), Whitehall Garden Centre - which is only a few miles away - decided to have its own resident population of the birds. I'd heard their eerie sounding calls on a previous visit, but never expected to find one in the ladies loos.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Back to School: Vision On

My attempt at creative flower photography

I've shown you lots of pictures over the past few weeks, hence my choice of title for today's post - I'm reminded of Vision On's Gallery section if you can remember back that far.

The final lesson of the photography course was about developing technique and vision, and Clive Nichols specifically talked about:
  • Looking at plants from different or unusual angles, especially an insect's viewpoint
  • The colour wheel and finding complementary backgrounds in nature
  • Use of wide and narrow lens apertures to achieve soft or pin-point subject focus respectively
  • Using movement creatively - either naturally (i.e. windy conditions) or man-made (via the camera)
  • Looking out for other creative opportunities, such as shadows, and finding good plant combinations to photograph

There was also a tiny section on simple post photoshoot processing; students looking for in-depth guidance on this topic, or the use of additional lighting should look elsewhere. This course focuses on plant forms and how to achieve naturalistic results ('scuse pun - purely intentional). There's very little discussion of general garden shots, but the techniques covered can be applied to those too.

I prefer my camera to do the work most of the time and I tend to shoot 'straight', so it was great to go and have a play with my camera's controls and do a little post shoot processing for a change. As usual I had to submit 3 photos for my final assignment, though I couldn't resist sneaking in a cheeky fourth this time.

How did I get on?

It was great to have the opportunity to stop and have a think about my photography, where it's heading, and have the excuse to go out and have a play. Before I started, Ronnie raised concerns about the long equipment list for this course. I've shown it can be done without all the bells and whistles as I managed with just my DSLR camera, an 18-55mm lens, plus a bit of improvisation.

The key thing is to have the courage to step away from your camera's Programme (P) button, be creative, and get to know your camera's controls. The Aperture (A) button in particular is your friend when it comes to flower and plant photography. 

How's your motivation for self-study? It needs to be high for you to get the most out of the course. Most of the time is taken up with thinking about photography, taking photographs, then the selection and self-critique of them. I had around 2 hours tuition (videos + reading Clive's critiques), but I took around 24 hours to complete everything, spread over the 4 weeks. 

Also be prepared for no-one taking the course at the same time. Much is made of the online classroom on My Garden School's website, but the course still goes ahead if there's only one student (the maximum is 20). If you need someone to constantly chivvy you along, or you like to chat with your fellow-students, then you may need to look at attending one of the photography workshops available at various gardens instead.

Note that if you can't complete the assignments within the time period, you cannot carry any of them over to a future running of the course.

As I've finished the course, it's time for my end of term report:

Full marks

  • Tuition and feedback from one of the world's top garden photographers and Clive is a good tutor
  • A detailed analysis and critique of Clive's own photographs - I'd say looking at photos is just as important for developing your photography as going out and taking them
  • It's an online course so students can choose the best time to study which suits them, and this can be varied from week to week
  • No travel costs involved - unless a student chooses to travel outside their neighbourhood to complete their assignments
  • The videos are available to replay for a year after the course is completed and there's a full set of course notes available to download for later consultation 

Could do better

  • Technical glitches with the website throughout the course - it should have been tested more thoroughly prior to its relaunch ahead of us starting our studies
  • There is still room for improvement with the website - some of the design is clunky and the 25 minute lessons can take a while to download even if you're on superfast broadband like me. I've already given more detailed feedback to My Garden School
  • My Garden School needs to think about how to improve the experience for lone students, or how interaction can be encouraged when students are reluctant to chat online
  • If I was a paying student, I'd like a couple of extra weeks tuition at current prices 

My thanks to My Garden School for the opportunity to review one of their wide range of courses on offer. I'm continuing with my photography posts for a little while longer as Clive has kindly agreed to be a VP VIP, so look out for my interview with him soon.

You may also like

Previous posts:

Other student reports:
  • Alison on Toby Musgrave's garden history course
  • Andrew's first thoughts on Harriet Rycroft's container course; plus Ronnie's first experience of the same course
  • Happy Mouffetard's first and second reports on Noel Kingsbury's planting design with perennials
  • New commenter Angela's review of Alex Mitchell's edible gardening made easy
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