Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Book Review: A summer crop for your reading pleasure

The summer holidays are beckoning and thoughts turn to reading matter. Here are five review books and other discoveries I've enjoyed over the past couple of months...

The Little Book of Bonsai

This RHS book tackles a less well-known aspect of gardening. It's a jargon-free introduction, written by two of the UK's bonsai experts. Packed with lots of information and top tips, it's illustrated with plenty of photographs and clear drawings.

There are step-by-step instructions for you to look after an established tree or to grow your own. A guide to the most commonly used ones towards the end of the book, will allow you to select the tree of your choice.

I didn't know each shape has its own name, nor that wiring is an important step in the process of growing a bonsai tree.

There's a comprehensive list of other resources at the back of the book to help take you beyond this introductory text.

This is a thoughtful gift for a keen gardener, or for someone who'd like to make their life a little greener, especially if they are short of gardening space.

Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers

You may find this concept surprising, but I know two people who've successfully grown the flowers for their own wedding, or for a family member in the past year.

This review is too late for this summer's weddings, but is just right if you're contemplating this task (for a wedding, or another big occasion) for next year. It'll help you decide whether this is a challenge to relish or relinquish.

Georgie's relaxed style and practical approach at Common Farm Flowers shines through in this book. Her
inspirational ideas could be scaled down for home arrangements, and there's plenty to work from for those nervous about creating their own for the big occasion.

The useful spreadsheets ensure vital details and the number of stems needed aren't overlooked. Seasonal chapters provide plenty of inspiration and there's lots of advice on what and how much to grow, harvesting and flower conditioning. Don't ignore the details in the plentiful pictures as these have informative gems crammed into the captions.

Separate pictures of each flower featured in the arrangements would be helpful for less experienced gardeners, though maybe it was assumed they weren't needed as some expertise is needed to tackle growing for such a big occasion.

The Miniature Garden Grower

Don't judge this book by the cover image, it's about more than just terrariums. Whether you'd like one of those, or to make a miniature landscape, or to grow something vertically, play with water or attract wildlife, or grow your own food, there is a chapter to help you do so.

There are lots of great ideas suitable for indoor and outdoor growing. I'm particularly pleased to see there are instructions for moss graffiti, as I've researched this topic as part of my Great Green Wall Hunt.

If you as a child entered a garden on a tray at your local garden show, then you'll recognise the thinking behind some of the miniature garden ideas. The 'grown up' version is themed. such as a meadow in a pot.

If you make your own terrarium or kokedama, then you'll also save quite a bit of cash, if the ones I saw on sale in London recently are anything to go by. They're more fun to create from scratch too.

There are plenty of clear diagrams and drawings, though in some instances photos are lacking. There's a lot of enthusiasm, easy to follow instructions, and kit lists to give you the confidence to tackle a project for yourself.

This is a great book for anyone - young or old - seeking ideas for a gardening project that doesn't take up much space.

Wonderful Weeds

This is a welcome change from the usual gardeners approach to weeds as it celebrates them as plants in their own right, rather than something which must be destroyed. It includes lots of ecological notes and stories about each of the 200 plants featured.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and devoured it from cover to cover in a single sitting. It works very well, when read as a straight text, but I found a distinct flaw when I returned later to identify an unknown weed which popped up in my garden.

Not knowing its name (common or Latin) or plant family, meant I had to work my way through the book, until I found a picture of the right entry - Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum). An introductory key would have be useful in this instance, though I acknowledge this would be quite difficult to achieve across the breadth of plant material and lifecycles covered.

Then I checked the index with a couple of names I did know - chickweed and speedwell - and unfortunately they weren't listed, even though I knew I'd seen their entries. They are there, but I'd omitted the common from chickweed, and the various expanded common names given for the different speedwell species (e.g. wall speedwell for Veronica arvenis). 

It's a pity, as this is the first book I've seen which shows the featured plants from seedlings through to fruit, with plentiful photographs. That level of detail makes it a commendable work, and I hope it can be expanded for a subsequent edition to help readers like me who have some knowledge, but not enough to make the index or general structure work for them.

Lessons from Great Gardeners

This is a great dippable book, which I devoured at bedtime, one gardener at a time. 40 gardeners are featured in chronological order, starting with Somai in Japan in the 15th century, and finishing with Dan Hinkley in the 20th.

Some like Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto are familiar names; others like Carl Ferris Miller are not so well-known, though in the case of Carl many of us will have examples of his work with hollies and magnolias in our gardens.

Each chapter starts with a profile of the gardener featured, which explains their importance in gardening history. Then follows a lessons section, packed with hints and tips intended for the reader to use in their own gardening.

Where applicable (and with some woeful omissions, such as no view of iconic Bodnant for either McLaren entry), the chapter finishes with a view and explanation of a garden associated with the person profiled. There are delightful botanical illustrations throughout, of plants each gardener was interested in, wrote about, or introduced. Fascinating quotes are also scatterd liberally, where applicable.

The profiles and garden views work well, but I sensed some of the lessons sections were padded out with general hints and tips, perhaps in the absence of concrete examples to draw on from the gardener's own work, or writing. I would have preferred the focus to remain with telling the story of each gardener and the plants and gardens they worked with, rather than the resultant hybrid between this and a general book on gardening.

I now want to find out more about each gardener profiled, so my next step is to plunder the author's extensive bibliography via my local library.

Taking a break away from gardening books?

If the summer holidays turn your thoughts away from gardening books, then I can thoroughly recommend the following reads from my recent stay in Yorkshire...

  • I Bought a Mountain - Canadian and complete beginner farmer Thomas Firbank's compelling story about buying a remote sheep farm in Snowdonia in the 1930s.
  • Cause Celeb - readers will find echoes of Bridget Jones in Helen Fielding's debut novel. I found this witty story based on the author's own experiences more thought provoking, as it looks at third world poverty and the role of celebrity fund raising. 
  • The Return - Victoria Hislop's tale of a family torn apart by the Spanish Civil War is a little clunky in its structure, but I found the well researched details of this less well-known war and the art of flamenco dance fascinating. There are worrying echoes to be found in the current migrant crisis. 
... and for a random selection not chosen by me, I'm just about to start The Paying Guests ready for my first book club experience next month.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Great Green Wall Hunt: The story so far

Part of the green wall at Edgware Road station (Bakerloo Line)
My favourite find so far - part of Edgware Road station (Bakerloo line) on Marylebone Road.
The wall was installed to help reduce PM10 air pollution and is being monitored by Imperial College.  

It's a while since I announced I was embarking on a Great Green Wall Hunt. It's been great fun and is still a work in progress.

When I started I thought I'd just look at living walls, i.e. the stop-you-in-your-tracks installations like the one I saw at the Athenaeum Hotel last year. However, I soon realised that would ignore numerous other examples of green walls that are of value - look out for a post on the types of green wall coming soon.

I've uncovered a whole host of benefits attributed to green walls along the way, worthy of a post to itself too. Meanwhile, here's a brief summary of my findings thus far...

Green walls inside and out in London
Main picture: Inside Anthropologie on Regent Street.
Top to Bottom: Double Tree by Hilton Hotel; Mermaid Theatre, Blackfriars; and St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. 

There are a lot more of them than I thought

A quick Google of Green Walls returns a lot of websites, which include the two main providers of living walls in the UK. They show dozens of examples in their online portfolios, and they're not just confined to London. Oswestry, Birmingham, Surbiton, Leicester, Leeds, Slough and Bristol are just a few of the other locations where they can be found.

I've confined my hunt to London so far, as I can combine it with other reasons for visiting the big smoke. Therefore, all my examples are from there, though I hope to see the one in Bristol soon. Their increased presence in London is partly due to the City of London actively encouraging their installation, plus there is some funding available via the Mayor's £20 million Air Quality Fund.

I've also found indoor examples aren't confined to Canada, and living walls aren't the preserve of public spaces. However, the latter tend to be in private houses, so I haven't had the opportunity to view any of these yet. The link takes you to an example installed in a dental practice in Exeter.

Some of the green wall surprises I found in London
Some of the green wall surprises. Main picture: At the back of the public loos at St. Luke's Gardens, Chelsea.
From top to bottom right: Royal Vauxhall Tavern, on the site of the former Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens;
artificial green wall at the Wellness Centre, St James Court Hotel; a green wall photo at a Crossrail construction site.
Bottom left and centre: temporary green walls at Crossrail construction at Finsbury Circus; and outside Vauxhall station. 

There are plenty of other surprises (to me anyway)

It's good to have my pre-conceptions overturned by the reality. Living walls aren't just the preserve of high-end properties, such as hotels, boutique shops, or showrooms for upmarket cars. Some are in quite humble places, such as at the back of a public loo in a park, and on a pub in Vauxhall.

I've found examples of temporary green walls, such as those at the Crossrail construction site at Finsbury Circus and some portable ones in Vauxhall. Both Vauxhall examples were totally unexpected as I hadn't seen anything about them online before I saw them.

Sadly some of the temporary green walls escaped my hunt. I would have loved to have seen the representation of Van Gogh's 'A Wheatfield, with Cypresses' at the National Gallery, and those installed for Wimbledon fortnight. However I did manage to catch the showstopper one at Sloane Square a couple of years ago, those set up for the 2012 Olympics, plus a host of those used in various show gardens (particularly this thought provoking one).

There are plenty of artificial green walls to be found, either using plastic plants (see my Separated at Birth? post from Piccadilly), or hoardings using huge photographs of green wall installations. Most of these are a wasted opportunity in my view, but understandable when I found out some of the costs involved (e.g. Edgware Road is reported to have cost £120,000 for 200m2). However, I really liked the one I found in the Wellness Centre at St James Court Hotel. The use of floral aromatherapy oils there meant nothing was missing in terms of scent!

Another selection of London's green walls
Main picture: 20 Fenchurch Street; Top left: student accommodation at The Minories, both in late April
Top right: Rubens by the Palace Hotel; Bottom left, then right: St James Court Hotel and Puddle Dock - all in early July

It's early days yet

Not all living walls have survived in the UK and the first official one - installed in Islington in 2006 and reported dead in 2009 - was controversial because public money was used to fund it. Since then, construction techniques have improved, and most of the the walls I've seen are in a better condition.

I was quite worried about the health of quite a few of them when I first visited at the end of April. A return to view some of them earlier this month (Rubens at the Palace Hotel, Edgware Road, St James Court Hotel, and Puddle Dock) showed they were in much better heart.

I still need to return to the one at The Minories, which I was most concerned about. I anticipate it will have improved like the others, but quite a lot of the horizontal planting below the windows looked like it'll require replanting. I've also heard that the wall at 20 Fenchurch Street is facing issues caused by the strong downdraughts found in the area.

Dozens of different plant species are used for green and living walls and to my inexpert eye some fare much better than others. Heucheras, Sarcococca and Vinca were doing well in April, and I could see ferns unfurling after their winter sleep. The grasses I saw also looked to be good doers, and we all know how well ivy thrives in all kinds of conditions.

I'm sure some plants will need more maintenance than others, such as the lavender and geraniums I saw at Edgware Road. This need for maintenance needs to be balanced against other benefits these plants may bring to the walls in which they're used. And if plants die... well, I saw evidence of these not being replaced earlier this month (too difficult or costly perhaps?), despite online assurances that regular maintenance is in place.

Since the first living wall's demise, their design and irrigation has improved, and the knowledge of which plants are suitable has increased. Planting techniques and growing media have also changed. Despite these changes, I sense there is room for improvement for growing walls consistently and well, which in turn should bring down their costs.

Whether these walls can deliver on their promise (year-round or otherwise) and supposed benefits, is still to be assessed. Research is in hand at various institutions, and that's a topic I'll return to another day. There are some DIY options to explore too, should you fancy having a green wall to call your own.

Green walls at the Olympic Park during the Paralympics in 2012
Two of the green walls I found at the Olympic Park during the Paralympics in 2012

If you know of any green walls I've not mentioned, please leave details in the comments below, or feel free to tell me about them in a blog post of your own.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Monday, 18 July 2016

Herbs, deluges, and the need for sharp tools

Jekka McVicar takes us through the many herbs that make up the Herbetum

I spent a fascinating study morning at Jekka McVicar's Herb Farm last week, where at last I had the chance to see what's changed since she converted her nursery to a Herbetum in 2013. The presence of herbs with their stories and uses was as strong as ever, with some unexpected additions.

It was a showery day, which turned Jekka's attention to our changeable weather. "We no longer have showers, we have deluges", she said as a particularly sharp one forced us to shelter for a little longer (and eat more delicious cake) before going outside. Jekka's husband, Mac cheerfully fetched a bundle of large umbrellas, so we could continue on our way.

Once outside, "How many of you sharpen your secateurs every week?", was our first and most unexpected question. We shuffled our feet guiltily, and most of us admitted we didn't. "How many of you sharpen your kitchen knives every week?" Now on a surer footing, most of us admitted that we did.

"Hmm, so you sharpen your tools to cut dead things, but you don't to cut living plants. Using blunt tools creates cracks in the plants when you cut, and our deluge-weather means there's an increased chance they'll rot, or succumb to disease". Thus, suitably chastised and chastened, we continued on our tour.

A colourful part of the nursery
The Herbetum is focused around the Lamiaceae family, an aromatic part of the plant kingdom which contains many of the herbs we use for cooking and other purposes.

This family contains nearly 300 genera and thousands of species, and the Herbetum has around 300 culinary herbs in its raised beds.

It's here we find various basil ("isn't it a dreadful year for growing basil?"), mint ("keep the roots of your mints separate, else they'll all taste the same"), rosemary ("it really is for remembrance"), fennel, savory ("cook it with beans and you won't get any wind"),  oregano, marjoram (a particular species within oregano - Origanum majorana), thyme, lemon verbena, lemon balm ("a great stress reliever"), lavender ("the changing weather means we've had to alter our pruning routine - cut back an eighth in August, plus a further cut the next spring"), and many more.

The anecdotes and top tips came thick and fast as we frantically scribbled them down in our notebooks.

As many of you know, the nursery is organic (though no longer registered with the Soil Association), which means the bees Jekka keeps are very happy. They were particularly enjoying the thymes and lavender as soon as the warm sunshine returned.

Perky thymes in the sunshine

The thymes were looking particularly perky in the sunshine as many of them were in peak flower. Jekka has around 60 of these (including her own, Thymus 'Jekka') and told us a little about her continued breeding work with this genera. She's focusing on the more mat forming and lower flowering ones, as these are particularly vulnerable to the deluges we discussed earlier. Large amounts of heavy rain means these can easily suffer from crown rot, and her work involves breeding cultivars with more upright flowers so they can set seed.

Of course they can also be propagated and saved via cuttings, but then we hit on the huge subject of the lack of people going into horticulture. Many of the smaller nurseries - like Jekka's - are having problems with staff recruitment, or else they move on quickly once they've acquired the propagating skills that make them attractive to larger employers.

It was a sobering note to end our visit, which was cheered up by the purchase of herbs and lunch in a nearby pub. Now I'm back home, I'm sure Jekka will be delighted I've sought out my garden file and oil, and I now have a set of fully sharpened secateurs*.

* = though in view of the risks to plants Jekka outlined, I'm considering keeping a blunt pair especially for cutting back bramble ;)

The nursery's sales area - note that there's no longer mail order at the nursery

Note that Jekka's Herb Farm no longer operates mail order, and only offers direct sales on open days, organised visits, or workshops. Full details of open days and courses are found on the nursery's website.

You may also like: My VP's VIPs interview with Jekka in 2011.

Friday, 15 July 2016

GBBD: Sleep, Creep, Leap

Anemone 'White Swan'

I'm delighted how my Anemone 'White Swan' plants have taken off in the garden this year. They've proved a real tonic in a shady part of the garden and positively shine out, even during the gloomy weather we're having.

At the time when instant makeovers and results are king, it's good to be reminded not all plants are at their best when planted initially. This anemone is in its third year here at VP Gardens, and really looked to be a poor doer for the first two years.

Luckily I was reminded of the garden adage sleep, creep, leap before I ripped them out in disgust. This saying refers to the way some plants prefer to establish themselves. The first year is the sleep phase, when the plant is settling down and letting its roots establish themselves. Then in the second year the roots and the leaves creep outwards - often imperceptibly - to create a place for themselves in the border. Finally, in the third year, the plant leaps to its full glory, just like my anemones above.

I first noticed this phenomenon with most of the clematis I planted when I initially laid out this garden. You can imagine my disappointment at how one of my favourite plants didn't want to grow for me. Some instinct made me leave them be - I was yet to know about sleep, creep, leap - and eventually my patience paid off.

I've noticed the same with the Hakonechloa grasses I have in pots, plus the Geranium psilostemon and Astrantia major in the top terrace bed. How about you?

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. My thanks to Benjamin Vogt at The Deep Middle who alerted me to the sleep, creep, leap phenomenon.

Update: I found this interesting article which lists quite a few plants which exhibit sleep, creep, leap. It confirms my clematis and hakonechloa experiences, but none of the others I've mentioned.

Rear view of Anemone 'White Swan'
Proof that a plant can look just as gorgeous from the back

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Plant Profiles: Dahlias

Dahlia 'Bonita' who's returned to my patio this year

There's been a switch thrown in my garden this week with this season's first dahlia blooms making their appearance. My beloved D. 'Moonfire' has returned right on cue, joined by a surprise reappearance of the pictured D. 'Bonita' above.

Why the surprise? Well, it's in a terracotta pot and had no winter protection, not even my famous Dahlia Duvet. It was so much of a surprise, its stems had been nibbled down to soil level by slugs and snails before I found it. Now it's looking good, and set to be a star of my patio all over again.

D. 'Arabian Night' and D. 'XXX' (as named by Thompson & Morgan when they sent it me to trial) are set fair to join them soon as I can see lots of buds forming. That's the great thing about leaving dahlias in the ground (if you can, and it's always a bit of a gamble, even this far south), the tubers get bigger with each year, and in turn bear ever increasing numbers of blooms.

I'll also be keeping an eye out to see if my Daffy Dahlia returns. This was where one of the bright yellow D. 'XXX' developed a red stripe on some of its petals. It's happened for 2 years now, and after taking the RHS's advice, I now believe it's a chimera.

Dahlia 'Fascination' - a new-to-me dahlia I'm growing this year

I've always been a huge fan of dahlias, even when they were out of fashion. I always grow at least one new-to-me variety each year... and for 2016 it's the turn of D. 'Fascination' to take a bow. It's taking pride of place in the terracotta pots on the plinths either side of the central patio steps.

I've only just potted them up, so you'll have to make do with the pictured zingy single bloom for now, until all the buds reveal their promise. I've just realised my garden's taking on a rather striking neon-coloured look this year, as a couple of magenta Geranium psilostemon plants have made giant strides in the double terrace bed. Perhaps they're making up for the dull and damp weather we've been having lately.

What's your favourite dahlia? And do you have a striking new colour theme in your garden this year? I really should issue sunglasses with the above photo!

Cultivation notes

My absolute favourite - Dahlia 'Moonfire'
D. 'Moonfire'
Dahlias are easy to grow and come in a range of sizes from between one foot and five feet high, making them suitable from the front to back of the border, or in pots depending on the variety selected.

They're mainly bought as tubers, though they can be grown from seed, or cuttings can be taken from sprouted tubers.

They thrive in all soil types and aren't that fussy on soil pH. They flower from around now to the first frosts, as long as the spent flowers are deadheaded.

An unknown cactus type dahlia
An unknown cactus type
Dahlias hail from South America, particularly Mexico where it's the national flower. They first arrived in Europe as possible alternative crop for the potato - note that some tubers are more edible than others! Today, they're more widely known for their ornamental value after a wider, more successful introduction as such during the late 18th century.

They're a great plant for bees, as long as single flowered varieties are grown. However, I've found plenty of other insect life - such as grasshoppers and harvestmen - sheltering in the double and cactus flowered varieties I've grown. Don't forget that earwigs love them too; I tend to tolerate these, rather than do anything about them, unlike that other pest that loves dahlias... slugs!

If you live south of a line drawn between the rivers Severn and Humber, you can try overwintering them in the ground like I do. Note that tubers don't like the winter wet, so you'll have less success with clay soils, or if your garden's not sheltered.

Further reading

  • The RHS's general guide to growing dahlias - there's much more on cultivation, propagation, pests and diseases etc.
  • Wikipedia's dahlia entry - which has lots more on the history and introduction of this plant
  • The National Collection of Dahlias is based at Varfell Farm near Penzance, under the stewardship of Winchester Growers. They have a 2 acre garden with 1,600+ varieties on display, and you may have seen their fantastic exhibits at Chelsea Flower Show etc.
  • James Wong's guide to edible dahlia tubers, including a recipe for rosti. I've also seen Sarah Raven using the petals as a salad decoration.
  • Wikipedia's list of RHS AGM dahlias*, which includes a brief guide to the classification of dahlias into 10 different groups (single, cactus, ball etc.)
  • List of RHS AGM dahlia trials with links to each one, which in turn link to trial reports, where applicable
  • List of Dahlia species, which currently stands at 42... and over 50,000 varieties. D. coccinea and D. merkii are the two species commonly grown in the UK
  • Andy Vernon's award-winning book  The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias is fabulous :)

* = for some reason I can't find a definitive list on the RHS website

Latin without tears

Dahlia 'XXX' showing its red chimera
My 'Daffy Dahlia'
Dahlia is named after Anders Dahl, one of Carl Linnaeus's students. Whilst the naming isn't disputed, who did it is; it's often attributed to Linnaeus, who died in 1778, some 11 years before the acknowledged date of introduction. 

According to Wikipedia it's more likely to have been Abbe Antonio Jose Cavanilles, the director of the Royal Gardens in Madrid, who received the first plants from Mexico in 1789, and did much of the scientific work in defining the genus.

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Monday, 11 July 2016


Joyce aka Sentinel 7109 looking as smart as paint
NAH adding the final touches ready for the big day

Saturday was a big day for NAH as it was the official launch of his beloved steam engine, Sentinel 7109. You may remember I featured her back in March, when she steamed for the first time. Since then, she's had a smart new coat of paint, had the all-important numbers and letters added, plus her nameplate fixed to the side.

Paul Atterbury, NAH and Nigel (the other joint owner) pose for the cameras

Official launches require a guest of honour, and NAH was delighted Paul Atterbury from Antiques Roadshow agreed to perform the ceremony. Paul has written several books on railways, so he was the ideal choice for the occasion, especially as NAH has one of his books (and got him to sign it!)

Cloth covering the nameplate ready for the naming ceremony

As you can see, no expense was spared for the naming part of the proceedings.

Paul Atterbury officially names Joyce

After a short speech and a quick flick of the pillowcase/peg combo, Joyce's name was revealed and Paul encouraged us to ReJoyce - trust NAH to coin the pun ;)

Joyce is doused in local cider to complete her launch

Then as befits her location, Joyce was doused in the finest Somerset cider to complete her launch and naming ceremony.

Paul spoke about her rarity, and how it's important to celebrate and preserve the workhorse engines for posterity alongside the 'glamour' engines like the Flying Scotsman. He started his speech with "I've not seen one of these before, and I'm sure most of you here haven't either...", just like he does on Antiques Roadshow.

NAH didn't get a valuation though!

Joyce heads off into the sunshine with her special guest on board
Joyce heads off in the sunshine with her special guest on board

Update: Callum has produced a great video of the event, including the full speech from Paul Atterbury. He also told one of the other volunteers at the railway, 'You have a gem of an engine there'.

Here's the link if the embedded version doesn't work:

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Product Review: Solar Lights

A selection of daylight photos of the lights I'm reviewing
Review lights in the daytime 

On the whole I'm very happy with my garden's layout, but sometimes I regret there's no lighting in the design. When Festive Lights contacted me with the offer to select some solar lights for review, here was an ideal opportunity to rectify my mistake.

As you can see I chose two quite different designs to review...

Glass Brick Garden Path Lights

Glass brick solar lights lighting the steps from my patio

It just so happened I was tempted by these glass brick garden path lights when I saw them on another website recently. They looked a good potential solution to brighten our garden steps or along our gravel path, so that was one choice sorted straight away.

No assembly is required for these robust lights, and there's a simple on/off switch on the base. They're about three inches square and the solar panel, single LED light and battery are well encased inside the glass. I simply left these on top of my garden wall by the central patio steps to see how they performed.

I had a problem with one of the lights which was solved after I switched it off and on again. After that they all lit the way well.

Black Solar Lamp Post

Solar Lamp Post in our back garden

We don't have any street lighting right by us, so I selected a black solar lamp post as a potential solution to try. I sometimes feel a bit vulnerable when walking up the shared drive to our house at night, so some lighting to get me from there to the safety of our outside lights is a good thing. The design is quite similar to the Narnia-like lamp posts we have nearby on the estate, which is an added bonus.

I was sent the 2.1 metre height lamp, which was easy to assemble and as the pole came in three pieces, there's actually a choice of heights to suit your situation. There's also a stake for in-ground placement, or a base mount if you'd prefer to fix your lamp onto a solid surface. I don't have a suitable surface, so it was the stake option for me. This worked well and seems pretty secure, though how it'll fare in a winter storm remains to be seen.

The light has two brightness settings, so I chose High... after I'd assembled the whole thing and then realised the next day I'd left the switch in the Off position. Thank goodness that was easy to rectify! Then I found there was a fault with the lamp itself, as there was no light for the second night either. NAH being the engineer that he is came to my rescue and fixed it, though to be fair Festive Lights did offer to replace it straight away (NB they have a 12 month warranty on their lights).

This lamp provided a nice welcome home once I'd turned the corner into our drive. It gives out a pool of light about 15 feet across, helped by the lamp's 6 LEDs, plus reflective mirror at the base.

Further notes

All the lights came on promptly at dusk, and were still going strong at 4.30am as we're currently in the height of summer. Winter will be a much sterner test, especially for the lamp as this will be the time it'll really come into its own. Note there is a PIR security version, which only switches on for 30 seconds when it detects movement. On reflection, I think this would be a much better option for year-round use.

Solar lights and LEDs have come a long way in the last 10 years, where the early versions definitely fell into the class of 'ambient lighting'. I grouped these lights in the back garden at one point and they were bright enough to be seen through the curtains and cast a stripe of light on the bedroom ceiling! They're still not as bright as a full electrical installation though.

It goes without saying that the tops of these lights need to be kept clean to get the best out of them. I found plant debris and spiders webs started to cover them in just a couple of weeks, so it's best to site these lights where they can be accessed easily for cleaning.

Solar lights are environmentally friendly-ish; it's too early to say how these will perform in the longer-term. The ones I've had previously lasted 3-4 years before I had to throw the whole thing away. I'd like to see designs where the LEDs or battery can be replaced if and when needed, so they're an even greener option.

Overall I'm pleased with my choices and I'd be willing to pay for them

If these particular lights don't take your fancy, I see several bloggers had some solar lights to review from the same company, and we've all chosen completely different ones. Alison reviewed some stake lights and a string of party lights, June had a smart looking PIR security light for her shed, plus a string of blue LEDs, and Mark and Gaz went for some warm globe lights for their pergola.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

On Richmond Hill

View over London from Richmond Hill

The great thing about my travels this year has been the surprises found along the way. Most of these have resulted in posts on Sign of the Times, so I was pleased to find something more fitting for Veg Plotting this week.

This is the delightful view I found on Tuesday morning. It's from Richmond Hill looking over the River Thames and London towards Hampton Court and beyond, as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day. I was standing on Terrace Walk at the time, a broad traffic-free walkway which is Grade II* listed.

There are some fantastic interpretation boards at the spot, where I learned this view is protected by an Act of Parliament. It was under threat from development at the turn of the 19th century, so parliament was lobbied and eventually the Richmond Petersham and Ham Open Spaces Act was passed in 1902.

The land you can see in the photo's foreground is Terrace Field, a steep meadow which is cut for hay in September to allow the six spot burnet moth to complete its life cycle.

I like the message at the end of the first interpretation board I found:

Their example should inspire us to fight for
what is worth saving for future generations

Benches and terrace beds at Richmond's Terrace Gardens

Further along (when walking towards the centre of Richmond) are the Terrace Gardens which are filled with long flower borders at the top and lined with plenty of benches to stay and admire the view.

The scene from those benches includes plenty of sloping lawn with large beds of seasonal bedding in the Victorian style, plus specimen trees. I missed the rockery, rose garden and conservatory filled with tropical plants, but I saw enough to agree with myself that this was indeed a most pleasant spot.

Aphrodite aka 'Bulbous Betty'

However, I DID find the pond complete with its statue of Aphrodite by Allan Howe. She replaced the cast iron fountain in 1952, which was removed as part of the WWII war effort. She was launched to much furore at the time as she was considered to be in bad taste. She has the affectionate nickname 'Bulbous Betty', which reminds me of two famous statues I've seen in Dublin, 'The Floozy in the Jacuzzi' (Anna Livia monument) and the 'Tart with the Cart' (Molly Mallone).

She ensured I continued along my way to Richmond station with a smile on my face.

What surprises have you met on your travels this year?

A final look through the trees towards the river
A pause for a final look before going on my way

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Wordless Wednesday: It's a Dog's Life

A Dogs Life Garden for the Dogs Trust
Paul Hervey-Brookes's 'A Dogs Life Garden' for the Dogs Trust at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

In the Footsteps of the Plant Hunters: Fuchsias Part II

Kristopher Harper with his display of National Plant Collection of fuchsia cultivars introduced by James Lye

I had a great time at Hampton Court Flower Show yesterday, particularly as I finally had the chance to meet Kristopher Harper in my favourite spot in the show, the Plant Heritage section of the Floral Marquee.

I first wrote about Kristopher's search for some of James Lye's missing fuchsia cultivars - 'Nellie' and 'James Welch' three years ago. His quest particularly interests me as these cultivars hail from Wiltshire and it's always good to hear about horticultural excellence from my home county. My original post has quite a lot of the background detail, so how has Kristopher fared in the meantime?

Sadly his quest still continues and has expanded with various leads presenting themselves for further exploration, even as I was speaking to him. It's obvious that Kristopher relishes this painstaking work and is quietly amassing enough material to write a monograph, even if his search for missing cultivars to add to his collection hasn't been as fruitful.

It was great to see some of the cultivars in his collection at last. I'm drawn to the more elegant forms of fuchsia, and as you can see from the above photo, James Lye specialised in these too. Their delicate looks belies the fact he was reknowned for displaying fuchsias in the style of pyramids, reported to have been 9 or 10 feet tall.

You may have spotted there's an exception to the rule in the display, in the form of F. 'Charming' at the bottom left of the picture. Kristopher believes Lye may have used this cultivar to help introduce some of the more robust characteristics he was looking for in his breeding work.

We had a fascinating chat and I wish Kristopher well with his ongoing quest. If you think you can help in any way, he can be contacted via his webpage, or Facebook,  or Twitter.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A Sweet Pea Summer at Easton Walled Gardens

Let's face it, summer's been a bit pants so far hasn't it? Now, what can I do to help improve the mood a little...

Overview of Easton Walled Gardens

This view over the gardens at Easton Walled Gardens always lifts the spirits. My previous two visits were at snowdrop time, so it was great go there again last week to see how the garden's progressed since I was there in the summer of 2012.

A multitude of sweet peas... if that's the collective term!

Easton's making a name for itself for its sweet peas, including the sales of packets of its own saved seeds, so it's no wonder Sweet Pea Week has just got underway at the garden. I was privileged to have a sneak preview, and let me tell you, the scent wafting over from these flowers was sensational (or should that be scentsational? - Ed). The humid air served to trap the scent and the prevailing wind wafted it over to us for an extra special welcome.

Some of the sweet peas which caught my eye

I usually go for the deep purple, richly scented varieties, but for some reason I was drawn to the pastel and red cultivars this time. 'Patricia Anne' is the sweet pea in the large photo, and 'Henry Thomas' is the red one. For some reason I didn't record the white one, despite remarking smugly to Barbara how much easier it is to keep a record with the advent of digital cameras. I'm such a numpty!

The Persian everlasting sweet pea, Lathyrus rotondifolius

I was also drawn to this perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus rotondifolius, aka the Persian everlasting sweet pea. It's a much deeper colour than the perennial sweet pea I've grown before, with a shorter, tidier habit. I can see this growing on the short trellis fence which leads down to our shed. If you like the idea of growing perennial sweet peas, this article from The Telegraph gives you some further options to explore.

Garden owner Ursula Cholmeley's top tip is to grow a green manure crop of rye in the autumn, then dig it in the following spring prior to planting out sweet peas. 

A stroll around the rest of the gardens

Of course, Easton has more than just sweet peas, so a stroll around was in order to see how the gardens have progressed since my last summer visit. The meadow areas are much more diverse, so the yellow rattle Ursula told me about is doing its job well. The borders have filled out pleasingly and there were plenty of planting combinations to admire - and perhaps 'steal' one or two. The roses were beginning to come into their own, with the pictured Constance looking most Spry ;)

Sweet Pea Week continues until July 10th 2016, and then the garden opens weekly from Wednesday to Friday, plus Sundays (and August Bank Holiday Monday) until 30th October.

Which special place has lifted your spirits this summer?

Friday, 1 July 2016

GBMD: What are we doing?

I loved the blackboard we saw on our recent visit to Helmsley Walled Garden. It's a neat, humourous version of the usual "what's looking good at the moment?" often seen at the entrance of various National Trust properties. I like that it acknowledges the hard work needed to keep a garden looking good, for now and the future.

What are you doing in your garden this week? I'm still catching up with the post-holiday weeding!

And what are you wondering or swooning over?
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