Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Frosted rose bloom in my garden
Rosa 'The Fairy' kissed by last night's first hard frost of the season - at least I know she'll bloom again 

Dee told a story recently on her blog about meeting a stranger from Persia, which has stayed with me ever since. It's good to be reminded that simple acts of kindness are much more powerful on a personal level than anything the news can throw at us. Thanks Dee.

It sparked a memory of something that happened to me many years ago, so here's my story...

Graduation during a recession means even the best laid plans can go off track. So in the early 1980's I found myself back at home with my parents instead of forging the glittering career I'd anticipated by being the first in my family to study at university.

The work ethic is strong in our family, so I took whatever temporary jobs I could find to tide things over until my dozens of permanent job applications bore fruit. I never doubted that would happen, and finally it did, even though the result isn't quite the path I originally thought I'd take.

One of my temporary jobs was as a census officer, taking round and collecting in the questionnaire UK households are required to complete every 10 years. My allocated patch was a 10 minute bus ride away and consisted of a council estate of maisonettes and high-rise flats, plus some university accommodation allocated to postgraduate students. It turned out to be quite a cross-section of humanity.

I quickly learned the role of a census officer is a lonely and thankless task. You never meet any of your colleagues and the majority of people I met regarded me with suspicion and open hostility. I was a 'government snooper', rather than a young woman trying to make her way in life.

Towards the end of my stint, I was going around the remaining addresses left on my round where I'd had no contact with the people living there. Many of these were in the university accommodation and as it was now the Easter holidays I was not expecting to collect many more of the outstanding questionnaires. I was not finding it the most rewarding of tasks, and I quickly became tired and grumpy.

To my surprise, one of my last rings on the doorbell was answered by a young man dressed in flowing robes. Whilst his English was good, it was clear he would need help to complete my alien-sounding form. I was invited in and greeted by his smiling wife, who offered me some orange juice as I sat down.

It turned out to be freshly squeezed orange juice, something not readily available in England at that time. My spirits were lifted instantly and I stumbled out my thanks at being offered something so delicious.

"It is the tradition of my country to offer guests something refreshing when they enter the house", was the young man's reply. We soon turned our attention to the information I needed, and I duly entered 'Syria' in the appropriate place on the form.

I can still remember clearly that couple from Syria and their brief kindness some 30+ years later. I cannot remember any of the hundreds of people I met in those six or so weeks who greeted me with hostility and suspicion.

I read somewhere recently about a survey where people who'd been treated kindly said they were more likely to perform an act of kindness themselves, and to do it more than once. Perhaps the solution to many of the world's problems is in our own hands after all.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #35

Screen grab from Chippenham's 2015 John Lewis-style Christmas advert

  1. Set up a Business Improvement District (BID) to promote your town
  2. Install wi-fi in the centre of town and promotional flags at key entry points
  3. Create a John Lewis-style video to promote local businesses for Christmas 2015
  4. Wait for a blogger to spot she can't embed the good news into her blog
  5. Et voila!

I wanted to make this a good news story, I really did. There's much to applaud in an organisation dedicated to show the good things Chippenham has to offer. However, I can only give you a screen grab plus a link to our local paper's article about Chippenham's Christmas advert, rather than sharing it directly with you. NB it's worth a scroll down the article then a click on the video to have a look at the town at its best.

There isn't quite enough time at the end to see all the local businesses involved (unless you freeze the frame), so here they are:

  • Amelia Classics (bridal wear)
  • Butlers Butchers
  • Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre (say hello to our friend Chris who volunteers there)
  • Sarah Jane's Cafe
  • Floral Culture (florist)
  • Humbugs Sweet Shop
  • La Passione (Italian restaurant)
  • Phase Patch (craft and haberdashery)
  • Rivo Lounge (NB go elsewhere if you're after Real Ale, as NAH found out they don't serve it)
  • St Andrew's Church
  • The Brunel (pub)
  • The Buttercross Inn
  • The Craft Company
  • The Garden Restaurant *
  • Thyme (deli and cafe) *

It's good to realise this isn't a full list of the local businesses nestled amongst the national chains found on our High Street.

* = as a garden blogger I feel duty bound to check on these establishments ASAP.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Things in Unusual Places #18: Salad

Picture of salad images used in the latest captcha development

Trying to outwit the spammers led to some amusing happenings in the past, but I didn't expect it to involve salad.

After puzzling over word verification, sums over at Karen's, proving I'm not a robot etc etc., the latest innovation I found over at Happy Mouffetard's was possibly the trickiest yet. How many images with salad do you see in the picture above?

I labelled this image 'Good Grief Google' at the time. Since then, I've seen its presence isn't confined to Google, but seems to be the latest CAPTCHA development on offer to anyone needing a spam prevention or similar service.

My inner imp still giggles at the notion this might be a development in context-driven provision. For example, craft blogs could get pictures of knitting to sort out from other fabrics.

Update 18/11/2015: I've since found out this CAPTCHA is a compulsory step for preventing spammers if you're allowing Anonymous comments. Note that mobile users are having particular trouble with this step, so you may wish to consider disabling anonymous comments instead. Also note that anything involving CAPTCHA et al. is a moveable feast and is subject to change!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

GBBD: Alstroemeria

I've grown Alstroemeria aka Peruvian lily for the first time, inspired by a bunch Victoria gave me around this time last year. They lasted for weeks in the vase and helped to brighten the dull days of autumn.

In the spring I planted a bag of mixed tubers on my allotment to edge part of the big Woodblocx bed NAH installed for me last year. I'm pleased my mixed bag morphed into solely deep red flowers which are gracing my kitchen windowsill. Just four stems more than adequately fills a large vase.

They came into flower in late June and by pulling the flowering stems when needed, they've continued to flower well into November. They're such good-value plants. Sarah Raven experimented with hers and managed to extend their flowering even more, though I don't know if that exhausted her tubers in the process.

I've grown mine separately as for once I'm growing flowers for cutting. However, they'd also look quite at home in my mixed borders, so my bulb order this year sees some earmarked to grace VP Gardens.

What excitement and plans do you have in your bulb order?

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

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Plant Profiles: Hellebores

Potted hellebore, 'Anna's Red'
Gorgeous Helleborus 'Anna's Red', whose tale you'll find in January's Blooms Day

Do you have plants that wax and wane in your affections? That's how I've been with hellebores. They're one of the first plants I ever bought; some Christmas roses whose crisp white blooms brought winter cheer to my first garden.

They were fine for a while, but then they came down with the dreaded 'black spot', the bane of most hellebore growers. I briefly considered replacing them with some of the larger hellebores, but I was put off by their downward facing blooms and tendency to self-seed everywhere.

Then a few years ago, I was smitten by H. x ericksmithii 'Winter Moonbeam' at an RHS London show. These have more upright blooms, - so much better for viewing them - with fantastic marbled foliage for year-round interest. They're also fabulous in pots.

Since then I've not looked back. H. 'Anna's Red' has joined my potted plants, placed on the patio to maximise winter viewing and cheer. I've even learned to embrace the qualities of the self-seeders, thanks to a gift from J from choir. I now have a much better spot for them than when I treated them with disdain and they're merrily spreading themselves around my woodland garden.

Over the years I've learned my gardening prejudices aren't necessarily to do with the plants. Sometimes it's because I don't have the right garden or spot for them.

Cultivation Notes

Fantastic marbled leaves of H. 'Winter Moonbeam'
Hellebores are the ideal woodland plant because they thrive in moist, sheltered, dappled shade which gets well mulched with leaves in the autumn.

Pot-grown is a more unusual way of keeping them, and I chose to do so because of my garden's heavy clay. Mine are in the shadier parts of the garden, though some like my H. 'Winter Moonbeam' don't mind sunshine. I ensure they're kept moist and I snuggle them down for the winter with a topping of leaves in the autumn.

I almost didn't buy my 'Winter Moonbeam' because of the 'black spot' problem (more properly known as hellebore leaf spot, a fungus) but I'm glad I ignored my doubts as I haven't had a problem so far (touches wood). If I do in the future, then I'll simply remove and destroy the infected leaves.

Clump of hellebores gifted by J from choir
Most hellebore species are well-know for their self-seeding tendencies. Large clumps can also be divided in the autumn or spring, like my friend J did.

H. x ericsmithii cultivars are sterile and slow to make clumps large enough for division. Thankfully micro-propagation techniques have served to provide good, healthy plants which are more affordable.

The National Collection of hellebore species is held by Mike Byford of Hazels Cross Farm Nursery in Staffordshire.

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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, 9 November 2015

Separated at Birth? Piccadilly's Green Walls

A lush green wall and an artificial one as seen on Piccadilly in August 2015

Back in the summer on a trip to London, I at last found some time to gawp at the Athenaeum Hotel's green wall. Designed and executed by that master of vertical gardens Patrick Blanc, it's a fantastic showstopper on Piccadilly.

Imagine my surprise to find another green wall just a few doors down the road, using plastic greenery this time. You can decide which one's which in the above photo.

It looked like the artificial one was being used to screen the building work being carried out on the former In and Out club aka Cambridge House. This was a private members club for officers and gentlemen of the armed forces which relocated to nearby St James's Square in 1999. The building lay empty for many years, which is surprising for a Grade I listed building in such a prime location.

Earlier sources said the building is set to be the nation's most expensive home once renovation work is complete, though judging by the the latest reports it's unclear whether the site will be a home, a new watering hole, or a combination of the two.

Sadly it doesn't look like £214 to £300 million [depending on which source you read - Ed] will buy you a proper green wall when it's finished.

Update: Here's another showstopper I found in Sloane Square last year.

Previous blog posts from the same trip:

  • The Art of Swimming - a chilly dip in King's Cross Pond
  • Living Wall - a different view of the Athenaeum Hotel's green wall
  • A Royal Welcome - a look inside Buckingham Palace with a sneak view of some of the garden
  • A Malaysian Feast - a mouthwatering meal (with links to recipes) which also had this amazing view of Nelson's Column
Nelson's column as seen from the 5th floor of Tourism Malaysia's offices on Trafalgar Square

Monday, 2 November 2015

A Million Words

A blog I look after reached 100,000 Page Views recently, which was deemed worthy of a celebratory snippet in their company magazine. That blog has about 800 posts, each with an average of 200 words. After some light googling, I worked out that amounts to the equivalent of a couple of fiction novels, or around one weekday edition of the New York Times.

That got me pondering.

Veg Plotting turns 8 today and I've published 2011 posts including this one. I'm twice as wordy here as I am on there, and if I take a few extras like Pages and captions into account, then we're looking at around one million words written so far. Phew.

However, according to this blog post, I'm at the start of becoming a writer. I've enjoyed the ride so far and I hope you've enjoyed the read too.

As my Irish ex-colleagues are fond of saying, "Thanks a million" for reading and all your comments so far. I couldn't have done it without you!

Update: By a spooky coincidence Sally published this thought provoking piece about the so-called death of blogging on the same day as this post. I've commented over there about the splintering of the virtual world since I started 8 years ago.

Since then I've been pondering on who exactly says blogging is dead and I believe it's mainly those who are seeking to make money from it. I think that's an over-simplification; people blog for a whole host of other reasons. I believe it's still the best platform for anyone who wants to experiment with all kinds of self-expression, or say anything deeper than what other social media platforms have to offer.

What do you think?
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