Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 28 July 2017

Seasonal Recipe: Garlic Powder

Garlic powder and bits
The finished product: there are always some larger pieces which refuse to grind down to a fine dust
Garlic is one of my favourite crops to grow because it's so simple and you can easily save some cloves for next year. We use quite a lot of it every week, which makes garlic a must-have for my plot.

However, last year I was rather puzzled to find my harvest wasn't disappearing quite as quickly as expected. Some time later I found the solution to the mystery in our spice cupboard: a jar of garlic powder stood proudly in prime position on the top shelf.

It turns out NAH prefers using the powdered form because it's less fiddly and so quick to use. To say I was a bit cross when I tackled him about it is putting it mildly as I felt all my hard work up at the allotment was being rejected. Later when I'd calmed down and could put myself in 'my customer's shoes' I resolved to have a go at making my own garlic powder.

We both use the green garlic I grow which uses up the smaller cloves from a cropping garlic bulb. It starts the home grown garlic season much earlier and still fits NAH's easy to use criteria. These always yield a small bulb at the end of the green garlic season, so I used these to experiment with last week. My bulk harvest is still a few weeks away yet.

The amount you need isn't fixed, so make as much or as little as you want according to what you have. Make sure the cloves are well dried first, then we'll go straight to the Method...

Garlic pieces being cooked in the oven
My garlic pieces after a couple of hours in the oven

  1. Peel the garlic cloves and compost the peelings
  2. Crush the cloves in a food mixer or blender until you have the smallest pieces possible. Do this in small batches if you have a lot of garlic to process
  3. Spread the small garlic pieces out evenly on oven-proof nonstick trays and place in an cool oven (90°C for a fan assisted oven, 110°C conventional, or Gas Mark ¼). Alternatively use a dehydrator if you have one - cover the trays with greaseproof paper or parchment so the garlic doesn't stick to them
  4. Open all outside doors and windows and close the kitchen door to minimise the garlic smell entering the house and lingering for several days - though NAH liked the smell and it does subside after a couple of hours or so (optional)
  5. Heat the garlic through until fully dried - approx 6-8 hours. Give the trays a shake every hour or so to check on progress and help the process along
  6. Once cooled, grind the garlic (in batches if needed) using a food processor or stick blender until a fine powder is formed for around half the garlic
  7. Taking care not to breathe in any of the fine dust (I didn't and had a quite a coughing session as a result), carefully transfer to jar(s) - a funnel helps to prevent spillage
  8. Make sure each jar lid is screwed on tightly and store in a cupboard 
You'll find the powder is much stronger in taste than shop bought and can be stored for a couple of years.

NAH pointed out this is quite a fiddly and expensive way to make garlic powder. I'd say making a huge batch and the better taste of the final result just about makes it worthwhile.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Summer Showcase

Tower planters at Ball Colegrave
A cheeky welcome awaits visitors from Begonia 'Dragon Wing'  

Regular readers know I'm a sucker for plant trials - my own and other people's - so won't be surprised that at last I've managed to get over to Ball Colegrave's Summer Showcase. This event is aimed at professional horticulturists and the retail trade and shows off more than 50,000 plants at its grounds in Oxfordshire every July. Even on a dull grey day after last week's thunderstorms they made for an eye popping display.

Part of the huge Ball Colegrave site

As well as the chance to see hundreds of annuals and perennials - some completely new to the market - I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to horticulturists from a wide variety of backgrounds, from nurserymen and local authority gardeners through to fellow garden writers and university gardeners, as well as Ball Colegrave's staff.

The trials beds
Some of the trials beds

One of my most interesting discussions was with a couple of gardeners from South Gloucestershire council who were seriously considering the merits of the Phygelius plants in one of the experimental beds. I'd dismissed these as thugs from my experience of growing them in the early days of VP Gardens, but it was that quality plus their long season of colour which made them an attractive proposition for public planting.

Even on a dull, coolish day these flower beds were alive with bees
Whether dwarf cultivars of usually tall plants like Monarda are OK was a cause for debate on the day

We discussed the need to transition to a perennial 'plant and forget if possible' approach to municipal planting in these budget constrained times, though they also admitted the public still like and react most positively to the more traditional colourful annual bedding schemes.

They were also enjoying the 'kids in a sweetshop' effect of the Showcase, and were keen to home in their choices on 'multi-purpose' plants like the pictured Coreopsis 'Uptick', dwarf Monarda 'Balmy' and Salvia 'Lyrical'™ combinations. These were a riot of colour and were being dive bombed by a multitude of honey and bumble bees.

The dahlia section in one of the greenhouses

There was plenty of space undercover and I was happy to look in the greenhouses during a brief shower.

Retail display and pot planter ideas

There were lots of colour themed retail display ideas and suggestions for planting combinations using striking pots. It's worth arriving in time for the daily talk at 11am, where marketing manager Stuart Lowen highlights some of the new introductions for coming year.

Note that in this case 'new' can mean:

  • Completely new
  • An improved version of an old favourite
  • New colour options for an old favourite
  • Ball Colegrave has acquired the licence to grow and supply an established variety (possibly with improved genetics as well)

Here's one of the new introductions highlighted, a pink version of Petunia 'Night Sky' called 'BabyDoll'®. Somehow it doesn't do it for me like 'Night Sky' did last year, though I do tend to go more for blues and purples. It was clear from the people I spoke to there's a much wider variety of tastes and requirements to be catered for in addition to my own. From a retail perspective this variety apparently behaves better for growing on for sales.

A selection of flowers and foliage: spot the coleus, coreopsis, osteospermum, diascia, petunia, ipomoea and begonias
A small selection of the flowers and foliage that caught my eye

We were also invited to select one plant we thought particularly of note. The results of this vote are collated over the Summer Showcase season and announced once the show closes. This was quite hard to do as there were so many plants I liked. In the end I plumped for one of the 700 yet-to-be-named experimental varieties on show. I thought it was more worthwhile to highlight something in earlier development rather than a plant already deemed successful enough to be named ready for market.

Can you guess what I went for?

My selected favourite of the day, a single-bloomed, dark leaved dahlia

Yes, for me a single bloomed, dark-leafed dahlia is always going to be hard to beat. Let me introduce you to Dahlia Experimental (V2224).

I also found plenty of scope for my Great Green Wall Hunt in the shape of Ball Colegrave's VertiGarden product, but that's a story for another day...

Alpaca arrival
The arrival of several inquisitive alpacas ready for the one public open evening last Wednesday
"That spotted one is just like an IKEA carpet" has to be the overheard quote of the day ;)

Saturday, 22 July 2017

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #36

Tweet showing Chippenham in the Antiques Roadshow opening credits

  1. Decide to revamp the opening titles to Antiques Roadshow
  2. Use some of the artifacts owned by one of the show's experts
  3. Film close to said expert's home and in the surrounding area
  4. Wait for a blogger with a PrntScr key on their computer to notice a tweet about it
  5. Et voila!
I'd wondered for ages why the opening credits to the Antiques Roadshow looked familiar and finally twigged why on a recent WI treasure hunt around the town. NAH and I watched the opening credits closely the other day and we reckon one of the other locations used (when the garage door is opened) is either on our own estate, or our old one over at Pewsham.

As well as his involvement with the Antiques Roadshow, expert Marc Allum is trying to find the actual location of King Alfred's hunting lodge by hosting a regular archaeological dig in St Mary's Street. He got a little more than he bargained for recently when Roman remains were found in his garden instead. It even made some of the national newspapers, which is another great advert for the town.

Back to the Roadshow, here are the opening credits in full - we need to find out where the other locations are.

If the embedded video doesn't work try this link instead.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Simple Summer Pots

A huge blue pot and Heuchera
A huge pot plus a large-leaved Heuchera makes a striking statement in Linda Hostetler's Viginian garden

I've always been struck by the bold use of pots at the gardens visited on previous Garden Bloggers' Flings and this year was another visual feast. The planting combinations are varied and exceptional, often using plants - such as coleus - I've dismissed previously as not my 'thing'.

Unlike some Fling bloggers*, I have only a few photos to show what I've liked and learned from this year's trip. Instead, I've realised sights like the one above have influenced the simple summer pots I've put together since I got back.

Large trough with three coleus

I've started on a makeover of my front garden and one of the tiny baby steps along that path is to replace the multitude of small pots on the ugly telephone junction box at the very front. I don't usually go for plastic with my pots, but I found this one more attractive to usual. Besides, I need to keep things relatively light in case the telephone engineers need access.

I've planted 3 coleus plectranthus which will fill out and engulf the pot in a few weeks time. I thought about using just one colourway, but I liked the contrast of the middle plant when I put it with the others at the garden centre. I hope these will flower like those I saw in the States, as the spikes also look attractive.

Alpine planter filled with around 100 allium seed heads

This arrangement came together by accident when I was tidying up the garden at the weekend. I was cutting back some of my spent alliums ready for shredding and needed to put the flower heads into something as I worked so they didn't seed themselves everywhere. The pictured pot was to hand, and I liked the look of the few heads in there so much, I decided to put in the whole lot to make a temporary display. There are around 100 of them in there.

I love the way the individual stalks of the flower heads tremble in the breeze a bit like some deely boppers do, which adds another dimension to this pot. What do you think?

My final example is the hanging basket by the front door. I usually stuff this with scented petunias like the striking 'Night Sky' I trialled last year. Sadly, my seedlings got some kind of rot and then I couldn't resist the pictured trailing begonia instead when I went to buy their replacements (full name = Begonia boliviensis 'Bossa Nova White').

This is another planter which has still to reach its full potential. Watch this space for a progress report...

I'm sure huge pots with lots of bold plants - even an obelisk or two - like these I found in downtown Charlottesville - will feature in my garden's future in some way. Until then, I'm enjoying the simple summer pots I've put together for this year.

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Disclosure: I was given the two planters featured in this post by Stewart. They're not being used in the way I'd originally envisaged, but I'm glad they're doing the job I eventually gave them.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Photography on tour - a cautionary tale

The Japanese Garden at Hillwood - my favourite spot
Just to prove I really was there - a lovely photo of Hillwood with me for scale taken by my friend Barbara 

It's taken me a while to get round to writing about the wonders of this year's Garden Bloggers' Fling, primarily because I don't have photos for most of it. It means lots of the coverage I'd planned from all but the last day won't be blogged, or I'll use post-Fling photos instead.

I got home from a wonderful holiday all fired up to tell you all about it, loaded up my SD Cards in readiness... then found all my photos from the first 5 days of our holiday were missing. I know they were there originally because I showed some of them to NAH, but even his prowess with SD recovery programs failed to find even a ghost of an original photo.

This is what I think happened...

On Fling Day 2 I arrived at our first garden (this wonderful one, full of neat little touches and that bench in Pam's blog post was a shoe-in for a Friday Bench on't other blog) only to find my camera battery died after taking the first photo. Luckily Teri had a spare camera, so I was able to load my SD card into it and click happily away. I then recharged my camera's battery that evening and returned to using my own camera for the rest of our holiday.

It looks like either changing cameras or recharging the battery led to my original photos being wiped. Of course I'm kicking myself for making such a basic mistake, especially as I took a spare camera, batteries and SD cards with me to the States. BUT it was so hot in DC, I decided not to take any spares with me, I even left my phone in the hotel, so keen was I to travel light that day.

Garden Bloggers' Fling 2017: Group photo in the Lunar Garden at Hillwood
Spot me in the Fling group photo - photo credit: Wendy Niemi Kremer

So what should I have done?

I should have taken my phone, or my spare lightweight camera, or a spare battery with me that day, despite the heat. Like Helen does when she's on tour, I should have used a fresh SD card too. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In an ideal world I would have taken a laptop with me to the States and backed up my photos onto it each evening. That's what I did in France earlier this year, and I got extremely grumpy lugging it around with me as it was so heavy. I knew that was a no-no for the States, besides I've never lost any photos before. That smugness was my downfall.

What else could I have done?

I did take my tablet with me, plus an SD card designed to fit in both my camera and the smaller slot of my tablet. I could have used these to backup my photos onto my Google Drive each evening. I have 21 GB of free space there, which is plenty. Why didn't I think of that before?

Tammy Schmitt at Casa Mariposa
At last, one of my photos: Tammy welcomes us to Casa Mariposa on #GBFling2017 Day 3 

Luckily I still have my memories and NAH took some photos when we were together in Washington DC. Plus there are all the blog posts from my Fling friends to make up for the lack of my own photos and posts.

In some ways my photo woes are a blessing as I have far fewer stories to blog about, when the garden and allotment are still calling me for attention.

How do you prevent photo mishaps when you're on the move?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Hemerocallis 'Corky'

'Hemerocallis Corky' daylily

This plant is the sole survivor of the ones I bought home from Tatton Show in 2012. I don't usually go for daylilies but there was something about the clear yellow flower and relatively short stature of this one which caught my eye. When I found out they don't mind clay soils like mine, that clinched the deal.

This year 'Corky' welcomed me home from the States with a much larger display than usual. Either it's decided the front of my lower terrace bed is truly home, or it's enjoying the drier and hotter summer we're having... perhaps both?

Sue asked recently whether the large numbers pollen beetles she's seeing currently are prevalent elsewhere this summer. As you can see a couple of them have strayed into the above photo. It's not surprising as these tiny beetles love the colour yellow, and there's certainly enough pollen for them on my plant.

Germany Valley in the Allegheny Mountains, West Virginia
Roadside ditch lilies overlooking scenic and historic Germany Valley in West Virginia

Corky's abundant daily blooms are helping me keep holiday memories at the front of my mind, as at last I understand why these blooms are commonly called 'ditch lilies' in the States. I spotted them everywhere we went and I naturally assumed I must be looking at a native plant, they were so abundant. Wikipedia has served to put me right since I returned home: not only are they not native, their abundance in some of the relatively remote places we visited now worries me. Sure enough, they're considered invasive in some States, who've banned them from being planted.

My daylily is proving to be much better behaved so far. Besides, if it does start to get out of hand, I can always start adding the spicy tasting flowers to our salads.

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

Thursday, 13 July 2017


My shed at the bottom of the garden
What horrors lie behind those doors? Read on to find out... 

A little while ago Beryl 'fessed up about the sorry state of a corner of her allotment and challenged others to do the same. I told her I would soon reveal the horror that is my garden shed instead. As you can see, now's the time to do so.

My shed stuffed to the gills with all sorts
BEFORE: the view inside - I could only just about squeeze in to start sorting things out

How did my beloved shed get into this sorry state of affairs? Well, it's been too easy just to dump and store stuff in there when we've had any major clearing up to do. After a while it got so bad, I felt too overwhelmed to go down there and sort it out.

This spring I found the constant bending over pots for seed sowing and potting up wasn't a comfortable way of doing things any more. At this point the potting bench in the corner of my shed started to send out subliminal messages reminding me I have the solution ready and waiting.

Time to get cracking with that clearout now the weather's decent enough to do so...

The garden strewn with items unearthed from my shed
Starting to sort out what lies within

As well as providing a major appartment block for spiders, I was amazed at how much I'd managed to cram inside the TARDIS-like interior of my shed AND forget it was there...

  • Not one, but two tub trugs. NAH bought another two earlier this year because he thought I needed them
  • A compost bin - now added to the collection up at the allotment
  • A bag of citrus compost for the kaffir lime I had (RIP, probably because I never repotted it with said special compost), I hope it'll prove of good service to a friend's moribund citrus tree instead
  • Four cheap ready to assemble garden arches - now proven to be too cheap as they've rusted through
  • A whole mini-greenhouse - bought originally for use at peak sowing time, but that idea was abandoned when I realised the proposed location was too shady from the trees nearby. Now I'm working out how to use it up at the allotment without it blowing away
  • Lots of garden ornaments brought in for the winter
  • Enough protective fleece to cover the entire garden
  • The geological hammer I thought I'd lost
  • The usual flotsam of pots, trays, baskets, empty compost bags, supports and bits of 'useful wood for later'
  • A carload of various items for recycling or dumping - broken garden ornaments, those garden arches, empty cardboard boxes, rotted through garden bench covers, some of that 'useful wood' etc etc

The shed after its tidy up - part one
AFTER: It's not perfect, a repair to that shelf and some more storage boxes will help improve things further

A quick day's work and now I know where everything is and my potting bench can be used again. It's just as well as I potted up 180 box cuttings earlier this week. It was lovely not to have an aching back after dealing with that little lot.

Now to decide just how many 'useful pots and trays' I need to keep for later, then recycle the rest at my local garden centre.

Do you have a horror corner somewhere in your garden or allotment? Beryl and I are eager to hear your confessions...

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The Big Yellow Self Storage Company.

Note that sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words and pictures are mine. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Postcard from Washington DC

I'm back from an amazing couple of weeks in the USA and the Garden Bloggers Fling, which this year was based in the Washington DC area, taking in gardens in Maryland and Virginia along the way. NAH came with me, so we spent a few days exploring the States' capital before I headed off for the Fling.

I'd always wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial, and it was an emotional time for me there, despite the hordes of tourists all vying to take their photographs and selfies. To the side of Lincoln's statue are some of his iconic speeches, which give great cause for thought.

Post-Fling we had a week exploring what Virginia and West Virginia have to offer, particularly in the mountains of Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington/Monongahela National Forests. We discovered some early US national history too, including sites from the Civil War.

A visit to Monticello - Thomas Jefferson's Virginia plantation home - was especially timely as we were there on the 241st anniversary of his presentation of the Declaration of Independence on 28th June. It was only later the 4th of July was declared the nation's birthday.

There are more posts to follow...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

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