Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Blossom Time

My neighbour's magnolia tree, which she also shares with our garden
My neighbour's magnolia tree leans happily over our fence - it's a Magnolia x soulangeana of unknown variety

The past week has seen a transformation here in Chippenham. Green fuzziness is busting out all over, and gorgeous blossom is everywhere. It means from now until May, the trees take centre stage and proclaim spring is truly here.

I'm really lucky living where I am. As well as my neighbour's generosity with her magnolia, whoever chose the trees for our estate did a really good job. Most front gardens have a small tree with around a third of these currently sporting glorious blossom. They're mainly ornamental cherries of various white and pink hues.

Blackthorn blossom leaning over into my back garden

The planners also kept many of the old hedgerows threading through the estate, so whilst I probably wouldn't choose blackthorn as a garden tree, I'm more that happy to find it leaning over our other back garden fence. The blossom has a notorious warning - beware the blackthorn winter - but it is a pretty sight, and I also enjoy picking the fat sloes in the autumn.

Here's some more of our estate's blossom, ornamental cherry this time. Last year, on my Maytime walks I also discovered we have lots of native bird cherry in the more parkland like areas.



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

If your garden lacks blossom, there's just enough time left to find yourself a tree. With careful selection you'll have some flowers for now, and then plenty next year onwards.

The best time for planting is usually between November and March when trees are dormant, though container grown ones can usually be planted at any time. Planting now will possibly save you lots of extra watering during the summer to ensure your tree gets well established, though of course it depends on how much rain we actually get.



Some of my favourite blossom time trees


Red Windsor apple blossom
Bright 'Red Windsor' blossom
Apple - great for any garden no matter the size as the various root stocks available mean it can be small enough for a large pot through the full range of sizes to a large-ish stately tree. Blossom and fruit makes for a lot of seasonal interest.

Any fruit tree makes sense for a garden in my view. I also have a soft spot for pear and quince, though the latter has yet to set fruit. My neighbours out front have  a couple of plums and round the corner there's almonds. None of our gardens are particularly large, yet we've still managed to find the right medium sized tree to suit our tastes.

Magnolia stellata
My Magnolia stellata
Magnolia - a frost at the wrong time can lead to heartbreak, but when everything comes together, there's no finer sight in spring than a magnolia in full bloom.

We have to be more careful round here to select lime tolerant varieties like my neighbour's Magnolia x soulangeanaMagnolia stellata works well too and is great for a small garden or pot. I also like the look of Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel'.


The Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata 'Paul'sScarlet'
Hawthorn blossom needn't be white
Hawthorn - another hedgerow remnant that leans over my fence and drips with blooms during May. They also make an attractive small to medium tree for a garden with a wonderful gnarled appearance.

I've found it's this tree that's stripped of its berries first by the birds and it's host to a wide variety of insects. Definitely one to consider for a wildlife garden.


Prunus 'Kursar'
Ornamental cherry - an estate favourite here in Chippenham and a feature often seen in our parks and on our streets. There are plenty of beautiful small to medium sized trees to choose from in the catalogues, plus some varieties suitable for pots. It's a good choice for any garden.

A more unusual choice is Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis' which blooms from November until March. If you've ever thought you've seen a cherry blossoming out of season, it's probably this one.

Cercis siliquastrum and topiary
Others - I tried to guerrilla garden an Amelanchier, but then found it doesn't like limey soil. This small tree has it all: beautiful blossom, an elegant habit, good leaf colour, and deep red/black fruit which are liked by wildlife. A good doer on clay soil.

I'm also an admirer of the Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum) at West Green House.

What's your favourite tree for blossom?



Where to find inspiration


Brogdale in Kent is the place for fruit blossom as it has the National Fruit Collection with thousands of different varieties on show. Any garden open to the public near you which boasts a good fruit tree collection or orchard are good bets and may also home in on varieties which grow particularly well in your part of the country.

I particularly love the crab apple trees at Yeo Valley Organic Garden and the old orchard and potager apples at West Green House.

Caerhays Castle in Cornwall hosts the national collection of magnolias. They're quite a sight when you approach the castle via the beach side car park. Keele University has the national collection of flowering cherries. Drive along any country road in May and you'll be bowled over by the hawthorn blossom in the hedgerows.



Further reading




I love Naomi's book Orchard Odyssey, which has lots of inspiration for growing your own orchard in the smallest of spaces (did you know 5 fruit trees constitutes an orchard?). Here's Sally Nex's review.





This post is sponsored by Target Trees.

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

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Chippenham's Allotment History

My allotment entrance gate

Our local paper has a weekly From the Files feature and it's always interesting to see a snapshot of local life from 25, 50 and 100 years ago.

A Chippenham snippet from 1917 particularly caught my eye as it refers to the town's allotments:

"The Town Council are sparing no effort to provide allotments for all who require them. The total of applicants is about 120: of these 27 in the London Road district have already been provided with land and a portion of Harden's Farm has been secured for the remaining 27 applicants.

To meet the requirements of those in the Hawthorn and Tugela Road district, and those who had chosen land at the back of Marshfield Road, negotiations are practically completed for a portion of the arable land of Cocklebury Farm and Miss Dickson has consented to give her pasture field behind Hawthorn Road."

This has set up all kinds of questions in my brain...

  • Were these the first allotments in Chippenham? 
  • Who cultivated them? Who was Miss Dickson?
  • What and how did they grow? How does that differ to today?
  • Was the demand due to the food shortages of WW1?*
  • Which of the named sites actually happened, are they still there? The London Road site referred to might be Crickett's Lane? The Cocklebury Farm site might be Deansway? There's no allotment site near Hawthorn Road today
  • Where does my allotment site fit into the story?
  • What's the current waiting list like? Answer: 40
  • What are Harden's and Cocklebury Farms like today? 
  • Where does Chippenham's allotment story fit with England's first allotment site at nearby Great Somerford?
  • And more... there is a whole rabbit hole of possibilities

I feel a trip to our local history centre coming on...

* = which ties in neatly with a book I'm reading which Happy Mouffetard kindly sent me recently: How the Pershore plum won the Great War which details the social history of one community in Worcestershire during WW1. You can read her review here. NB it wasn't just WWII where rationing was introduced, it also happened in 1918.

Flowers on my allotment
Looking forward to much more of this to come later this year as I start my Flowers for Mum project

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Great gardens, great cake

NGS 90th birthday cake

I had the good fortune to attend the NGS launch in London last week, where the celebratory 90th birthday cake was most excellent. It had to be seeing the NGS's president is Mary Berry and their new strapline is Great gardens, great cake. It was a most uplifting day, with the chance to talk to people from the charities who benefit from the scheme, garden owners, and many of the volunteers who help make it happen.

There was the grand reveal of the fab friendly new branding, plus the record distribution of £3 million pounds to good causes from the money raised in 2016. I was particularly interested to hear about the opening of the NGS Macmillan Unit at Chesterfield Royal Hospital as my niece is studying medicine at Nottingham University, so may get the chance to have a placement there.

Alan Gardner made a most moving speech in recognition of the National Autistic Society's receipt of the Health and Wellbeing award for 2017. He talked about how Twitter had brought about a transformation in his world. He's a top garden designer who just happens to have Asperger's and he found as his tweeting went on that people with autism started to ask him questions about gardening, and in turn gardeners asked him questions about autism.

Then the two groups started to talk to each other and found a common bond through gardening. We hear so much how bad social media is for individuals and society as a whole. Here's one quiet example of how it can be for good - how two disparate groups found an understanding - common ground if you'll excuse the pun.

It shows how talking and listening to each other, plus the simple act of gardening (and NGS garden visiting!) can do much to make the world a better place.

There is a brand new NGS website to explore as well as the new Garden Visitor's Handbook - the ray of sunshine which landed on my doormat last week. Where will they take you this year?

NGS Garden Visitor's Handbook
The dog's name is Geoffrey, a lively dachshund 
Update: Victoria's written a great piece on her experiences of opening for the NGS and why it's an important charity to support. Her poignant comment about the lack of district nurses reminded me that George Plumptre (the NGS' Chief Executive) also made a moving speech about how important they are.

Support for the Queen's Nursing Institute (QNI) goes right back to when the NGS started 90 years ago. Community nursing in the shape of district nurses was important then, and they are needed even more now that the demands on care in the community are increasing.

George said that community nurses have more responsibility than their hospital counterparts and on lower pay, so it's no wonder their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate. The NGS is increasing their grant to the QNI this year to fund leadership training, which in turn should lead to more Queen's Nurses and a higher profile for the profession. The QNI website says:

"The title 'Queen's Nurse' is available to community nurses who have demonstrated a high commitment to patient care."

Doesn't every community deserve to have a Queen's Nurse? Let's visit some NGS gardens and help make it so.

NGS Garden opening at Awkward Hill Cottage, Bibury in 2016
At Victoria's NGS opening last year

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism

Some of the paintings in The Artist's Garden exhibition
Some of the paintings featured in the exhibition. Clockwise from top left we have:
Philip Leslie Hale, Crimson Rambler, 1909; Matilda Browne, Clark Vorhees House 1914;
Childe Hassam, Summer Evening 1886; and Edmund Greacen, The Old Garden c. 1912.
All images are cropped and courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum, except Crimson Rambler,
which is courtesy of Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. All images supplied by Flint-PR

I've enjoyed visits to major art exhibitions in London with strong links to gardening over the past couple of years and in the process I've decided this is a fine way to appreciate both over the long winter months.

Imagine my joy at the discovery of another major art exhibition -  The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism - which according to the blurb is about:

"...how the American public fell in love in with gardening, and how this burgeoning interest in horticulture influenced a generation of American artists. Inspired by the work of European Impressionists, brought to New York by dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, a group of painters began to forge their own style in order to capture their own rapidly changing surroundings."

Which sounds just the ticket... only it's not coming over to the UK.

Oh.

However, all is not lost. The advent of Event Cinema means a film of the exhibition is released this week, so we all have the chance to admire the paintings at our nearest screening. For me, that means a trip to The Pound Arts Centre in Corsham on Tuesday evening, a mere 5 miles away.

Here's the film's trailer:



If the above embedded link doesn't work, try here instead.

The film is produced by Exhibition on Screen, who also made the film of last year's incredible Painting the Modern Garden exhibition. That alone makes it worth a look in my view.

You can find out where the other screenings are on Tuesday here.



The Florence Griswold Museum, Connecticut
The Florence Griswold Museum today. Cropped Images courtesy & copyright Exhibition on Screen

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As part of their coverage of this event, The Guardian has an introduction to Florence Griswold's garden in Old Lyme, Connecticut where she played host to the artists who formed the Old Lyme art colony. As well as the garden's strong link to the American impressionists, it seems they were influenced by Giverny, thus forming a neat link with last year's Painting the Modern Garden exhibition.

They've also reviewed the film here.

The Eel Trap by Willard Metcalf
Willard Metcalf, The Eel Trap c. 1888, image courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum

Update: Here's the URL for USA screenings as requested by Carol in the Comments:

http://www.exhibitiononscreen.com/en-uk/find-a-screening?cmbCountry=United+States#

People from other countries can find screenings in their own country by taking the link, then clicking on the downward arrow to the right of where it says United States. You'll then get a dropdown list of countries where the film is due for release.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Pea pondering

New pea shoots on our windowsill

I've been pondering the peas on my windowsill - I'm sure those furthest away from the window germinate more quickly than those closest. Furthermore I'm sure the tray closer to the window that can be opened gets going more slowly than its companion.

It's only an anecdotal observation so far, but one that's worth looking into sometime. As you can see the peas closest to the camera are a little taller on the whole than those closest to the window. Will this difference remain until I harvest the shoots for my salad?

What you can't see is there's a small radiator on the wall below. Is it that making the difference? Or possibly there's a small draught at the window which affects germination and growth despite the double glazing? Or both? It's fascinating - to me at least - to think there could be small microclimate differences at work over just a few inches.

Enough pondering for now. I'm looking forward to these shoots gracing my salad in the next few days. It's a neat way of using up the peas from last year's opened packets.

What's growing on your windowsill?

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Weekend Wandering: Get thee to Lacock

The crocus meadow at Lacock Abbey
View from Lacock Abbey grounds towards Bowden Hill  
The warmer weather and afternoon sunshine tempted us out for a walk around the grounds of Lacock Abbey yesterday. I didn't know this extraordinary sight greets visitors in March, even though I've lived in Wiltshire for over 30 years.

In the Botanic Garden, Head Gardener Sue Carter writes:

"Our carpets of Cornus vernus have spread from a few corms planted by William Henry Fox Talbot*. We leave them to seed, so they are still colonising new areas, making the display bigger each spring. It means we can't cut the grass in our crocus meadows until late June or even early July, so there are a couple of months of scruffy grass, but we think it is worth it for one or two glorious days in March."

I quite agree.




In nearly 200 years Crocus vernus has spread itself out a bit
The display extends well beyond that gap  
* = William Henry Fox Talbot lived at Lacock Abbey in the early 19th Century, so we're looking at almost two centuries of naturalisation. It's a further legacy to Fox Talbot's more widely known pioneering work in early photography.

My favourite Cornus vernus cultivar is 'Pickwick'. There's an area called Pickwick in nearby Corsham, which is where we made our first home when we moved to Wiltshire. I spotted a fainter version of Pickwick's familiar stripeyness amongst the natural variation on display at Lacock.

Note to self: I must buy some C. 'Pickwick' when the bulb catalogues come out this summer.

Monday, 6 March 2017

A #mygardenrightnow thank you

Early nerine leaves poking through the gravel
A surprise I found yesterday - my nerine's been multiplying while I wasn't looking

Starting a new online gardening project always feels a bit of a shot in the dark, even when everyone gets all enthusiastic beforehand. Deciding to have one when the weekend forecast is a bit grim is quite a nerve jangler too.

Of course it helps that gardeners are a hardy bunch, who are used to being outdoors in all kinds of weather. It's been wonderful to see everyone's contributions roll in over the weekend, 90+ all told, with hundreds of photos and other goodies taken in the process. It's now one of the most successful projects I've launched into the virtual world.


Rose fasciation
A surprise I found out pruning on Saturday afternoon - I think stem damage might be the cause

There's been plenty of mud, water, even snow, with glimpses of sunshine and shots of brightness in the shape of gorgeous spring flowers. I think crocuses and rhubarb just about edged the impromptu 'flower or veg of the moment' polls, though daffodils and leeks possibly came close. It's been particularly good to see the first signs of spring blossom too.

Carefully prepared plots and late winter crops were much in evidence and following the demise of my allotment shed, I'm envious of everyone's garden buildings, no matter how well worn they are.

Spare a kind thought for Annabelle who happily went to her allotment to take her photos for #mygardenrightnow only to find she'd been burgled. It's something many of us have faced at some time on our plots and it's sickening when it happens. There was also evidence of storm damage on some contributions with people showing themselves getting on with their repairs. Others were starting on new projects where the weather was kinder.

Our front side garden and looking towards the guerrilla garden whilst a storm approaches
Our front side garden - taken just after a Twitter discussion re the merits of seeing overhead garden photos

Some took the opportunity to try out something new, such as filming a video of their plot, which was grand. There was even a spot of social media troubleshooting, when a long standing Twitter problem was finally solved with some help from John. It all makes a rich tapestry of gardening life and virtual friendship, not only here in the UK, but also from Ireland, Sweden, Canada, USA and Australia.

We all constantly write, photograph and share our gardens, so it's been wonderful to have a snapshot in time for once when everyone has come together to share what's theirs; whether it's a beautifully prepared plot or completely warts and all.

A huge thank you to everyone who took part. - your contributions are all entered in Saturday's Mr Linky. It's a great gardening feast to look over again on the next rainy day, and each link opens in a new window for ease of browsing. Here I've added a few extra surprise finds from my garden over the weekend as a supplement to my 'official' photo which started it all off.

Thanks to everyone who took part in #mygardenrightnow

Saturday, 4 March 2017

#mygardenrightnow - the garden's reality at winter's end

Summer and winter plot views at VP Gardens

It's time to reveal the reality of #mygardenrighgtnow and compare it with the photo at the top of the blog which was taken in the summer. You'll see I've not cut back much of my garden yet - that tiny dot of pink in my trug is the clue my secateurs are poised to start soon.

I used the trug originally to link my garden with my allotment and I've done the same this time around. I have the seeds I'm about to sow this weekend, some caliente mustard for green manure, plus my loppers and soft tie for finishing off my tree care.

There's quite a contrast between the two photos, but they also show I love my garden whatever the season.




#mygardenrightnow project badge
Now it's over to you ~ how's your garden right now? The weather is set to be quite wild this weekend, which potentially gives us some dramatic photos to look at. The wind was blowing a hooley before NAH took these photos, but for some reason it calmed down when he took them. I wanted my hair to be all over my face!

This challenge is designed to be easy to do, so you can be as quick as you like when taking your photo. Remember, selfies are great if you don't have your own personal photographer like I had, or you can show just a part of you in action in the garden instead. Be as inventive and quirky as you want.

My inaugural post has more information for those of you coming across #mygardenrightnow for the first time.



I've created a Mr Linky below for those of you with blogs to add the URL of your #mygardenrightnow post. Leave a comment with your URL if this isn't working - it's been a while since I set up one of these. I'm also going to see if the URLs from other social media can be added successfully - I'll let you know how I get on.

Update: Thanks for all your blog posts - they're a wonderful snapshot of our gardens at one point in time. I've also added lots of Twitter and Instagram contributions to Mr Linky and note you don't need an account with these applications to view them. I've also added a FB link from June, but I'm not sure if non-FB users can view her contribution - try it, it's worth a look as she's taken the trouble to make a video!

Note that you don't have to have a blog to take part, individual entries via whatever social media you choose are fine.

I'll keep an eye on the #mygardenrightnow hashtag on Twitter (via @malvernmeet) and Instagram (via @vegplotting) so I can respond to and promote your posts over the weekend. If you're posting on Facebook let me know via my Veg Plotting Page as these entries can be a little more tricky to spot.

Note that the Garden Bloggers Facebook Page and #gdnbloggers hashtag are also available for you to let everyone know what you've been up to.

It would be great if everyone participating can visit and Like/Comment/Share a couple of other people's photos to help share the love. NB posts which have nothing to do with #mygardenrightnow will be deleted from Mr Linky.

I'm looking forward to seeing what else you've come up with :)



Thursday, 2 March 2017

Going for gold

snowdrop 'Wendy's Gold'
Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's Gold' waves to the ivy. 

I've resisted having a snowdrop collection for ages. I've been perfectly happy with my garden's masses of single and double forms of good old Galanthus nivalis for many years.

The slippery slope began when I bought two 'Winter Moonbeam' hellebores at an RHS show in 2011 which came with 2 free G. 'Augustus'. I resolved to have just one special snowdrop and no more.

That soon changed of course, because I love snowdrops and snowdrop owners can be quite generous with their gifts when you show your enthusiasm. I still don't class myself as a galanthophile, nor even a collector as my ten or so cultivars are far too modest for that.

Caught up in the euphoria of the garden bloggers meetup at Chelsea Physic Garden recently, I plunged a little further down the slippery slope because G. 'Wendy's Gold' followed me home. I actually bought a promise, because she was just a few leaves when I first saw her. Now she's donned her hat and lifted her skirts to reveal she is indeed my first yellow snowdrop.

I've chosen one of the more reliable yellows, both in terms of colouring and ease of cultivation. Some of the yellows have a reputation of being a bit weak and feeble, but 'Wendy's Gold' is universally rated as a 'good doer' and is one of the easier snowdrops to grow. I'm sure she'll develop a stronger hue in time - yellows often tend towards lime green when disturbed, plus the above photo was taken on a dull day.

It's not the best of circumstances for her to make her debut on Veg Plotting, but I'm sure you'll see her again.




'Wendy's Gold' on a brighter day
Backlit on a brighter day reveals the gold
Like many snowdrops G. 'Wendy's Gold' has an interesting story*. She was found at Wandlebury Ring, an Iron Age hillfort near Cambridge by Joe Sharman's mother in the 1970s. Joe is a noted breeder and collector of snowdrops, so naturally he was interested in this new discovery.

Bill Clark, the site's warden gave Joe a single bulb and Joe named it after Bill's wife Wendy to acknowledge the gift. There was much excitement in the snowdrop world, so Joe sold the bulb on to a Dutch company who had the facilities to bulk it up to meet demand. Just as hundreds of bulbs were on the brink of distribution, they were wiped out by an outbreak of Botrytis.

Luckily the galanthophiles tendency to share snowdrops amongst themselves meant there were 3 survivors. Sharman and Clark both had bulbs,** plus one had been given to Cambridge Botanic Garden for their collection.

Further twin-scaling ensued and her generous nature means I now have a G. 'Wendy's Gold' to call my own.




* = this is a retelling in my own words from Naomi's snowdrop book whom I trust as she got Joe Sharman to proof-read it. However, February's The Garden tells a slightly different story. It says Bill Clark named it around 1988 and goes on to say the RHS awarded its AGM in 1996.

** = the bulbs are amongst some of the largest, often around 2 inches (5cm) in diameter. As a result Wendy prefers to spread herself out a bit instead of forming tight clumps.

Which snowdrops are your favourites?
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