Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 29 February 2008

Spring Cleaning My Blog

Spring is the traditional time to clean the house from top to bottom and let in some fresh, clean, sweet smelling air after battening down the hatches for winter. I feel that after 4 months, it’s time I did the same to my blog. I’m sure you’re tired of seeing the same old things when you visit here.

So out goes:
The old Blogger Template
The background colour
My picture – you’ll have to find me in the reflective globe outside @Bristol for the time being
What Fruit Are You Quiz’ – I’ll be changing the quiz on a monthly basis or choosing another fun thing to do
The blog readability test

In comes:
A new Blogger template and colour
Pictures of my ‘garden helpers’, Skimble and Jess – more about them later
A link to ‘Where am I Veg Plotting’ to help new readers orientate themselves with my part of the world. This is the post I did recently for the Bloggers' Geographical Challenge
A brand new fun quiz – suited to this month!
A revamped Blogs I Like section

On my wishlist for the site:
I’d like to add a background photograph to the title – as soon as I’ve found out how to do it. So far I’ve failed spectacularly
A favourite articles section
A photography collage or slideshow
Scroll down favourites – so I can do a full list of ABCers and Blotanical links
I’d like to be able to have left and right hand sidebars – Blogger only seems to do one of them

I also welcome your Comments on my site - likes, dislikes, requests etc. Keep it clean and constructive please!

Leaping Around

NAH and I have our own leap year tradition. I ask him, Will you marry me? and he replies No, I already have done! Today was no exception and we laughed as usual. No, we're not repeating the original marriage proposal, NAH got that in the year before I could do it for real. I'm not sure if the tradition of the female proposing on February 29th is just a peculiarity of Britain - perhaps you can enlighten me? What I do know is that it harks bark hundreds of years to when the law was considered to be in abeyance or 'leapt over'. Also, people born on this day are rather quaintly known as 'Leaplings'.

So what have you done with your extra day today? Jess over at Bath Crafting Cranny alerted me to the World Knitting and Craft day, so whilst I'm not a member of Stitchlinks per se, I have supported the idea by pootling around looking at quilt fabrics and adding quite a few inches to a furry scarf I'm knitting. My main activities today however, have been in support of the National Trust's Great Green Leap Day. I've calculated my green footprint (relatively huge, but the resultant action plan includes loads of things we've done already), planted 4 trees (see my earlier post) and restarted my carton recycling for Wiltshire campaign - hence the choice of picture at the start of this piece. Looking at Tetrapak's informative website, Wiltshire is the only entire county that doesn't have any carton recycling facilities. In shock I've written to both my District (NWDC) and County (WCC) councils to ask why. I've yet to hear from NWDC (they seem to have a policy of not answering emails in my experience), but I've had a positive response from WCC. So today I've forwarded the WCC response to Tetrapak...

Tree Rescue

My Guerilla Gardening literally reached new heights today. A couple of days ago I 'liberated' these 4 trees from Morrison's for a bargain £1.99 each - who could resist? Not me.

Hmm where to put them, let's see...

Aha, how about the the public land where the council chopped down 4 trees last year after 2 of them landed in our garden?

I've been surveying the scene from our bedroom the last few months - it looks like a bomb's hit it (the scene, not our bedroom!). Whilst I appreciate the extra light that corner of the garden's now getting, I'm also aware it's less private. The previous trees were Fraxinus excelsior (ash) - they would have grown too tall anyway and I believe the council won't be replacing them. So my solution is to plant 4 more reasonably sized trees I would really like to have in my garden, but don't have the room for - Prunus avium (wild cherry), Amelanchier canadensis (snowy mespilus), Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa' (contorted, corkscrew or dragon's claw willow) and Salix alba vitellina 'Britzensis' (scarlet willow).

Job completed just before lunch today :)

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Changing Chippenham - 3

The fate of this site will be decided today.

Another example of filling in the gaps - tucked in behind the cinema this time.

I'm intrigued as to how 2 houses will be squeezed into the site. Watch this space.

Click here to see the previous Changing Chippenham photograph.

Snowdrop Census - Final Week

Snowdrops & Daffodils - up the hill, yesterday
Back Garden - 195
Front Garden - 107
Side Garden - 408
Guerilla Garden - 444

Last year's total has been well exceeded, though most of the snowdrops are looking past their best now. It's as if they realise that the last month of winter is nearing its end and the first breath of spring is here. Next month the colour will definitely be yellow and the freshest of green.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

All Shook Up

The UK's been all abuzz today following last night's earthquake. Those of you in California and the like will be laughing your socks off at the fuss made over a quake registering a puny 5.2 on the Richter scale plus a few cracked and tumbled chimney pots. But for us it's a big deal, because it's the biggest for nearly 25 years and it seems it was felt pretty much over the whole of the country.

I woke up when it happened. There was a deep rumbling that penetrated my slumbers just before 1 am. The wardrobe doors flew open, but I wasn't panicked this time around as I remembered the last 'big' one in 2002. That time I shot out of bed and looked out the window to see if I could find the cause of our house shakes. Everything appeared surprisingly normal. This time I just opened 1 eye, registered it was an earthquake and went back to sleep. NAH slept through it all as usual.

Kethry over at Urbania to Stoneheads has done a hilarious summary from today's media. I'll only add that it appears that mainly women woke up and then had to poke their partner in the ribs for them to realise that anything was going on at all. Make of that what you will ;)

ABC Wednesday – F is for…

… Food Miles at the Farm Shop

A couple of weeks ago I went with Judith and her MIL to the local Farm Shop. It’s within walking distance from our house, but NAH and I had boycotted it a few years back following an argument with the owner over some bad tasting apples. Now the shop’s been taken over by the son and his wife who’ve bought plenty of positive changes to the place.

The choice has grown immensely – local vegetables, including organic ones supplied by a local farm that also does an organic box scheme. A deli to die for, lots of treats, a choice of delicious oils and vinegars to put into refillable bottles – I could go on for a whole lot longer. My eye was drawn to the eggs counter, where it showed the food miles involved in bringing them to the shop. A great way to gently persuade everyone to shop locally.

ABC Wednesday is bought to you courtesy of Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Monday, 25 February 2008

Oh Rats, We've Got Squirrels!

Last year we had squirrels nesting in our loft. They found the insulation there to their satisfaction and snuggled in to raise 2 broods. NAH cut away the overhanging branches at the side of the house but that was no problem, they scuttled directly up the wall instead. Now I've just seen one going into the top of our chimney - a slight improvement on last year as they're not waking me up at 4 in the morning, but I've visions of them falling down the chimney and taking a liking to our lounge sofa.

Any tips on what we could do to stop them?

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Thank You NAH!

Readers, you should find my site a little easier to read from now on. I've been grumbling to myself about the inconsistency in Blogger with separating out my paragraphs. The glutinous mass in my Garden Bloggers Challenge piece yesterday, finally galvanised me into asking NAH about it. He advised me to try using the Shift + Return keys and hey presto it worked :)

This is in spite of NAH being laid up with a nasty stomach virus. He's just murmured from his sick bed that he still has his uses - you bet you do!

Star Gazing

Threadspider and I were reduced to weak-kneed giggling schoolgirls yesterday when we visited the Blue & White show in Bath for the second time. We both admire Kaffe Fasset - me for his tapestry (needlepoint if you're across the pond) and Judith for his quilts. Both are much in evidence at this exhibition. Yesterday we both got to meet the great man as he was there for a book signing. For me, there was a wonderful bonus as Candace Bahouth (another tapestry inspiration) was also in attendance. Her mosaics at the exhibition were a revelation to me and my fellow SUP regulars - Sally was there too yesterday.

There was a very unBritish melee in the Gallery as we awaited the arrival of the great and the good. Judith and Sally neatly averted certain disaster by preventing a Kaffe Fasset original screen crashing down on a table of his pottery, thus saving many thousands of pounds of modern art! Soon afterwards Kaffe appeared and treated us to an eloquent description of his work. He invited interruption from his audience - so I asked the rather lame question, 'Which is your favourite item in the exhibition?' and was treated to a courteous reply and description of the Lady of the Lake quilt on display. The question 'How do you find time to do all you do?' was answered with 'All this is what I am', a dismissal of pretty much all of modern technology and him wondering why people don't knit when travelling on trains or planes. Another question revealed he is 1 of 100 artists invited to customise a pig as part of a controversial public art project due to go on display in Bath later this year. I do hope this comes off - I want to see them!

Candace gave a lovely speech encouraging us all to all get stuck in and have a go at art. She and Kaffe both think that we British spend too much time thinking about it rather than doing. I'll be taking her advice about not worrying about mistakes made along the way, and to just enjoy the journey and the end result.

At the book signing, everyone was being very British and not saying anything except 'Thank you'. I remarked as much to Kaffe as I stepped up with my book. This opened up a lovely conversation about quilting and needlepoint with much encouragement for Judith and I from the man. I felt a bit guilty presenting my book to Candace to sign as it wasn't one of hers. My excuse was 'I've done loads of your needlepoints', so she smiled and signed graciously. We chatted about which ones I'd done and a little about my own designs. After that both Judith and I were too starstruck to continue and had to retire to the cafe at St Michael's Church before our legs gave way entirely ;)

It felt like we'd had an afternoon with people who'd be great friends if we could get to know them better.

Update - Judith has also blogged very eloquently about yesterday on her quilting website.

Special Seed Stash

One of the benefits of being a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is the ability to select up to 20 packets of seeds per year. The seeds are collected from the RHS gardens and their long list of potential delights is published towards the end of the year. This is my first order and I decided to focus mainly on bulbs as I've never grown these from seed before. My selection arrived yesterday, together with a detailed germination guide. Perusal showed I've selected some of the more 'challenging' seeds. Most of them require stratification of up to 4 months first (some even need double stratification) and some may take up to a year to germinate. I've never stratified seeds before, so this will be a good practical exercise for my RHS certificate studies. I'll also need to cultivate patience as I'm used to seeds usually germinating within days!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Where am I Veg Plotting?

The Buttercross, Chippenham Market Place - February 2008

Jodi over at Bloomingwriter has challenged her fellow garden bloggers to provide an insight into their part of the world. My initial reaction was ‘I already write about Chippenham regularly in my blog’, but then realised I’ve only given you anecdotes and brief glimpses, but not introduced my area and town to you properly.

There are 2 Chippenhams in England. I live in the one in the South West, 100 miles west of London and 10 miles east of Bath. It’s in Wiltshire, a rural county of around half a million people – the least densely populated county in the south-west. The county town surprisingly is Trowbridge, most outsiders think it’s Salisbury because of the famous cathedral. The largest town is Swindon, one of the country’s ‘new town’ expansions of the 1960s, now with a population of 115,000.

Wiltshire is a land of mysteries and weird happenings – from ancient monuments like Stonehenge and Avebury, the famous white horses up on the chalk hills, through to more modern phenomena such as UFO sightings and crop circles. Native Wiltshire people proudly call themselves Moonrakers, after the legend of local smugglers hiding their booty in a village pond in the 1700s and telling customs & excise they were raking the water for the big cheese (the moon) they could see there. It seems that every Wiltshire village with a pond lays claim to theirs being the original!

Wiltshire’s geology is described as ‘chalk and cheese’ – the ‘chalk’ refers to the limestones of the Cotswolds to the north of the county and the southern county's chalk downlands (which are really uplands relatively speaking!). Both areas are famous for their sheep and wool production. The ‘cheese’ refers to the river vales incising through the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks, such as the River Avon of my home town. Cattle farming is the main activity of the ‘cheese’ areas. There’s also strong market gardening activity around the village of Bromham, 5 miles from Chippenham, so this is the source of most of the seasonal vegetables in our local shops.

Like most of England, Wiltshire’s climate is a mild, temperate one owing to the influence of the Gulf Stream – we’re on the same latitude as Canada, yet we’d be classified as zone 9a by the USDA. The prevailing wind is south-westerly, bringing us moist, warm air from the tropical Azores. The influence of the Severn estuary 25 miles west of us, also accentuates the mild, damp climate. So, it’s a great place to have a garden and allotment!

Chippenham is a market town of 30,000 people. The name originates from the Anglo Saxon 'Cyppa's Hamme' meaning - low lying land in a river bend belonging to Cyppa. It’s Town Charter was granted by Queen Mary in 1554, but it goes back much earlier than that. King Alfred the Great had a hunting lodge here in the 800’s and his sister married the King of Mercia in the local church, now St. Andrew’s. Market days are on Fridays and Saturdays, though these are much poorer affairs today since the closure of the cattle market a few years ago. I took my driving test on market day in the 1980s and spent half of it sitting in a traffic jam. That wouldn’t be the case today. Chippenham can be a strange place – anywhere that has an Eddie Cochrane festival each year because the man was killed following a road traffic accident in the town has to be a wee bit odd! It’s quirkiness is reflected in the style of the local newspaper and some of the advertising and graffiti I’ve found recently. It also has an international folk festival at the end of May, when the town has a friendly invasion of folk singers, musicians and dancers – mainly of the Morris variety.

Garden-wise, Chippenham has 2 main public gardens, John Coles Park and Monkton Park. John Coles Park is a typical public space dating back to Victorian times and has regular concerts in the bandstand on summer Sundays. I can hear them on my allotment half a mile away when the wind’s in the right direction. Monkton Park is right in the centre of town and was formerly the grounds of a rather grand house. As a result there are lots of rather stately trees, plus walks by the side of the river. It also houses the local council offices, sports centre and a 9 hole par 3 golf course.

Like most of Wiltshire, I garden and allotmenteer on a limy soil (pH > 7.0) and like most Chippenham gardeners my soil is a clay one. There’s a thriving Allotment and Garden Society, looking after 6 allotment sites in the town. We have a monthly talk or social event, plus access to discounted seeds and plants. Our local garden centre is a couple of miles away and has a Garden Club too.

Chippenham is a fantastic base to explore south-western England. We're close to Stourhead, the world-class landscape garden, and Hidcote Manor whose garden celebrated its centenary last year. Smaller gardens such as The Courts, Abbey House Gardens and Lacock Abbey have their own treasures and pleasures. Many garden enthusiasts also open their gardens to raise funds for charity under the famous Yellow Book scheme. Glorious landscapes; stately homes such as Longleat, Wilton and Corsham Court; plus towns and villages like Castle Combe, Devizes and Lacock add to the county’s riches. You’ve probably seen some of our treasures already as Wiltshire is frequently used as a film location. The next Harry Potter was filmed in Lacock last year, Stardust at Castle Combe and The Other Boleyn Girl at Lacock in 2006. It’s also frequently used for classic television costume dramas, such as Cranford and Pride and Prejudice. Sir Anthony Hopkins will be filming in Lacock next month.

I write about Chippenham regularly. I’m currently documenting the changing face of Chippenham in photographs as the town is undergoing major changes to its infrastructure and way of life. You’ll find these and more under the Chippenham Label. I also have Chippenham related links in my sidebar – map, town guide, weather and the local newspaper. I'm also publishing photos of my garden and allotment on a fortnightly basis this year, under the title Plot Views (note to self - must make that a label now, so you can find them easily -done!). I've also provided plenty of great links in this article, should you wish to explore further. I do hope you‘ve enjoyed your visit to my town and will join me again!

Friday, 22 February 2008

Garden Envy

I seriously want this place.

A 'secret garden' of a fifth of an acre hugging the Avon Gorge in Bristol with views to the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. It's totally derelict and up for auction on March 12th at Bristol Zoo.

The garden did once belong to a house, but its previous sellers kept the garden for themselves. Then sadly, over the years it became derelict. The auction catalogue says:
'The property consists of a walled terrace garden to the side of the Gorge connected to Princes Lane via a door through a wall and a flight of steps to the first terrace, leading to a further flight of steps leading to a larger terrace. The garden is currently overgrown and this is an ideal opportunity for enthusiastic gardeners to restore this area to their own particular taste.'

When interviewed by the local paper, the auctioneer Peter Beddoe said:
"There are mature fruit trees on the site, with two level terraces reached by various flights of steps, but everything is overgrown. It is in a stunning location, with wonderful views, and one of the great joys is the terraces are walled on three sides. You get to the garden through a door in a wall but the first terrace is about 30ft below the road and is reached by steps, with more steps leading to the second terrace. There are no services, such as water, but there is a great opportunity for a gardener to restore it to something which will be spectacular."

Sigh. I can afford the auction guide price, but not the hefty budget needed to do the garden justice. In my dreams however, I'm there, it's mine and it's wonderful.

With thanks to Morgan Beddoe for the image used in this post.

Update - the garden never got to auction. A buyer bought the plot for nearly 4 times the guide price on the day of the sale. I think at that price the buyer's speculating they can get planning permission to build there - oh boo!


This is what greeted me when I opened the curtains this morning. It was windy overnight, but not that windy surely? NAH's going to make a temporary repair this afternoon (i.e. make it watertight) then do the full job this summer, bless him. I wonder if I can persuade him to use those nice cedar tiles or maybe make a living roof?

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Snowdrop Census - Week 6

Guerilla Garden Snowdrops- February 2008
Back Garden - 193
Front Garden - 117
Side Garden - 381
Guerilla Garden - 389

This exceeds last year's total :) It looks like the recent frosty nights helped to keep them going. It also shows that last year's wet summer hasn't affected them that much - something I was concerned about. I suspect next week's count will show them in decline as the daffodils begin to really gird themselves up for Spring...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Spud We Like

Not content with telling you about National Chip Week, I've found out the UN has seen fit to declare 2008 as the International Year of the Potato. They're covering several bases however, as it's also the International Year of Languages, International Year of Planet Earth and International Year of Sanitation. The latter forms part of the International Decade for Action, Water for Life 2005-2015, so I guess that makes it the most important of the lot.

Anyway, let's focus on the potato, especially as it gives me an excuse to show you one of my Sarpo Axona from last year. It not only scores well for blight resistance, it's also my best comedy vegetable so far. On a more serious note, the UN are using the humble potato to:
'...raise awareness of the importance of the potato - and of agriculture in general - in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment.'

The quote's from the UN potato link above, which is a very good website. You may also like to take a look at the British Potato Council's site too. They both provide lots of potato facts and fun as well as delivering a serious message about one of the world's staple foodstuffs.

ABC Wednesday - E is for ...

Euonymus fortuneiEmerald Gaiety’

This is a popular evergreen shrub in many gardens round here as it likes limy soils and is drought tolerant. It’s also tough as old boots, so often forms part of municipal planting schemes. It comes in a wide variety of other forms and colours, such as this ‘Emerald n Gold’. Just because it’s common as muck, doesn’t mean it should be sniffed at. I like to use it as a structural shrub that comes into its own over the winter months, cheering up the garden. It can also be clipped into bold shapes or trained up walls or trellis to give some height.

In the photograph, it looks like the colour of the Pyracantha coccinea (firethorn) berries have ‘bled’ into the leaves of the Euonymus. This isn’t so - many of the varieties with white variegated leaves take on a rosy tint during the winter cold.

The Euonymus family also has deciduous varieties, such as Euonymus planipes, the spindle tree. These are spectacular in the Autumn, with fiery leaf tints and eye-popping red pods that split to reveal bright orange seeds, attractive to the wild bird population.
Check out Mrs Nesbitt's Place for other ABC Wednesday postings.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Changing Chippenham - 2

This is where I was told I'd passed my driving test 20+ years ago. Back then it was a cluster of non-descript low-rise buildings belonging to the Department of Transport. Now It's going to be a bland lego-style blend of apartments and houses, handy for the railway line (see the passing train?), but not necessarily the railway station.

Click here for the previous posting on this theme.

Celebrating Regionality - Brummie Words & Phrases

Blogger still seems to be playing up with image loading - grrrr :(
However, I'd been planning an image free item in my ongoing Regionality series for this week, so here it is :)

It wasn't until I left home to go to university that I realised that there are words which only Birmingham (and possibly Black Country) inhabitants understand. I can well remember telling my boyfriend 'My donnies are cold', only to be met with an incredulous stare instead of the hand warming I'd been expecting. I was also astonished that we couldn't 'Goo up the Outdoor' and buy some beer or wine from an off licence attached to a pub - something I'd taken for granted until then.

Brummie's not as rich in its local dialect as say Newcastle (Geordie), where I decided to further my education, but it does have some words and phrases all of its own. I don't mean words like 'buzz' (bus), 'bokkle' (bottle), 'gardin' (garden), 'tuth' (tooth) and 'winda' (window), which are just the way the Brummie accent sounds to the unitiated. I mean 'proper' words like 'waggin it' (playing truant), 'fizzog' (face), and 'mardy' (grumpy). 'Yow's yampy' is the way to tell someone they're daft and 'Go up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire' is not such a long winded way to go to bed as it sounds. All these and much, much more are explained in this online dictionary.

However, the best Brummie word of all, just has to be 'bostin'. So much so, it even has a website all of its own. You can even buy the t-shirt!

So look out - 'if the wind changes, you'll stick like that', don't get 'kayliyed' when you 'goo up the outdoor', otherwise 'arl goo t'Clent'.

'Tara a bit me bab'.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Chippenham Against Plastic?

The local news reported this morning that the town's thinking about going plastic free :)
If it does, it will be the largest town in the UK to do so. Apparently Chippenham's supermarkets are in consultation with local charities to see how it could be made to work. I'm really pleased about this news and will be doing everything in my power to make it happen - I feel another e-mail campaign coming on!

In the meantime, these produce bags arrived last week and I've been using them when buying my fruit n veg. I found out about them courtesy of Polythene Pam. This is a great website to consult if you're trying to cut down on your plastic consumption - I was tipped off about it by Flighty.

Plot Views (at last!)

Blogger Problems - *@*&!

Hi Everyone,

I'm having problems loading pictures into Blogger at the moment, so will try again later. Hopefully normal service will be resumed ASAP.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A Recipe for Happiness

Saturdays are still special:

A leisurely breakfast with a cafetiere of coffee instead of the usual instant

A cold, crisp winter's day - brilliant sunshine and air like champagne

A walk into town with a multitude of birds singing at the tops of their voices

The Bucket Band playing feel good music - a fiddle, guitar and double bass with a folk/bluegrass twist. There's dancing in the streets

A forlorn author sits in contrast to his book in Waterstones. I'm the first person apart from friends to stop by. He cheers up visibly

I realise I don't need a recipe - I have one already, here and now :)

With thanks to Nigel Linacre, a local Chippenham author for the image from the cover of his book. He invited me to pick a recipe at random from the basket next to him. I chose Salad Bar - 'Decide on your favourite salad and start to gather the ingredients.'

Eat More Chips?

I'm indebted to Flighty for letting me know it's National Chip Week. In these days of healthy food campaigns, it's comforting to know that this initiative and my local newspaper are redressing the balance a little ;)

It's the while stocks last that intrigues me - since when has a Fish & Chip shop run out of its main potato product? Or are the Gazette & Herald worried that the entire readership will take them up on the offer?

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Daffy Down Dillies *

Daffodils were the first thing I planted in the garden - I had a vision of 'a host'** of them clothing the steep bank at the side of the house and planted nearly 500 bulbs there one very grey November day. I still plant daffodils every year - but have graduated to my 'guerilla garden' on the public land at the side of the house as I've run out of room in my own garden.
That's still to come. The pictured daffodils first flowered on February 7th, the earliest date ever according to my garden diaries. They're Tete a Tete and are in the front garden. Usually Jetfire in the back garden are the first to bloom - they're just coming into bud.
* = my childhood name for daffodils - I've just found out it originates from here.
** = with apologies to William Wordsworth for the very brief quote, but not as many as that needed for this version.

A Glut of Garlic

This is my absolute favourite garlic to grow. Big fat juicy cloves, produce big fat juicy bulbs in July/August that store well into April the following year. However my liking for Cristo will be tested this year as I appear to have been sent 3x the amount I ordered - 9 bulbs in total!
My February planted garlic failed last year as there was no frost to break the dormancy, so I've decided to turn my glut into a seed trial this year. Frosts are forecast for the next few nights, so I've put 3 bulbs out in the garden nursery area, 3 are in the fridge and the rest are in freezer. Let's see which produces the best crop this year...

Friday, 15 February 2008

A Stitch in Time

The return of the winter chills sent me indoors again. I'm desperate to continue with pruning everything back in the garden. However, I can't stand wearing gloves - I like to be able to feel what I'm doing. So, a quick Google yesterday afternoon came up with the pattern for these Cheats' fingerless gloves + some left over wool from at least 20 years ago = problem solved in a couple of hours!

Update: the link no longer works so here's my version of the knitting pattern:

You need some spare wool + 1 pair size 4mm knitting needles and a tape measure

Firstly measure around the widest part of your hand. This will tell you how wide your knitting needs to be

1. Cast on enough stitches for the size of glove needed (if you don't know what this is, knit a tension square, so you can work out how many stitches you work per inch). Make sure you cast on an even number of stitches
2. Knit 2, purl 2 rib until your work measures 1.5 inches in length
3. Knit 1 row
4. Purl 1 row
5. Repeat 3 and 4 (i.e. stocking stitch) until desired length achieved, or half an inch before the end
6. If the latter Work knit 2 purl 2 rib until end (can also change wool colour at this point if desired), otherwise omit this step
7. Cast off
8. Sew sides together, leaving a gap for the thumb

Seed Sowing - At Last

This week's good weather stirred me into taking February's stash out of my storage tin and pondering what to sow first. I decided on a quick small row of carrots (Early Nantes 2) to go in a sheltered spot on the patio.
The icy blast that greeted me when I went outside yesterday, galvanised me into making the pictured bottle cloche. I made a couple of wire pegs from a mangled coat hanger I found in the airing cupboard to pin the cloche in place.
Coming soon: Home-made guttering for peas!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Magnetic Poetry - February

A Valentine poem for ???, as always.

Snowdrop Census - Week 5

Back Garden - 187
Front Garden - 117
Side Garden - 369
Guerilla Garden - 390
Bees have been bumbling around all week in the springlike sunshine. Blackthorn is in flower in the hedgerows and my Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' is bursting with buds. The first daffodils have arrived - they're the subject of a later post.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Was it Banksy? Is it Art?

There's quite a stir in town at the moment as a piece of graffiti art has appeared on the bus stop outside the local cinema. There's much speculation on whether it's 'a Banksy', the famous graffiti artist from nearby Bristol. It certainly has his trademark quirkyness that makes you look twice, but I'm not sure as it doesn't seem as well executed as the examples on the above link, the couple I've seen in Bristol, or Banksy's own website.

The local bus company's taking a rather dim view of it all and threatening to remove the picture. Could be a tad hasty if it is the real mccoy, they'd be better off selling the shelter to a Banksy collector - prices can top £300,000. A house sale in Bristol has just fallen through as the potential new owner was threatening to paint over the Banksy on one of the walls. He then found out he wasn't actually buying a house, but 'a work of art with a building attached'. Another home owner has actually removed part of his wall, for fear his artwork might be painted over. Mind you, Bristol Council did manage to cover one up by mistake, before they declared all the other Banksy's in Bristol should be preserved.

As for the question 'Is it Art?', I think the answer's yes (as the above anecdotes seem to be saying too), but as for it being 'Great Art' - I'll let you be the judge. You can even click here to join the debate!

ABC Wednesday - D is for...

For me, the most difficult part of my garden design course is keeping a book of drawings, ideas, things that take my eye etc. I'm not alone in my difficulties as it's a recurring theme in the student forum and chat room. It's part of our assessed coursework, hence our trials and tribulations.
I haven't done anything like this for over 30 years, so my approach has been to do something little and often, rather than getting frustrated in trying to complete something in one go. As a result, I'm quite pleased with the pictured seedpods of a Callistemon citrinus 'Splendens' (aka bottle brush). I realised I'd mistreated this plant dreadfully by trying to grow it in a pot when really it wants to be a magnificent bush 2-3 metres high out in its native Australia. As a result, this drawing is all I have left.
Check out Mrs Nesbitt's place for more ABC postings from around the world.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Recording Artiste

I'm very excited as the CD from our Christmas concert is now available. It sounds very different to the experience you get when actually singing and I was pleasantly surprised. NAH's brother and family were too - particularly as they hadn't realised that we sing acapella style (unaccompanied harmonies). NAH was also impressed with the standard of the recording.
Our next big event is the music festival at Stourhead in May. Apparently we'll be singing on the Palladian Bridge and in the Panthenon - 2 of the best spots in the magnificent landscape gardens.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Award Reward

The lovely Dragonstar has honoured me with the Nice Matters Award. I first met Dragonstar a few weeks ago through our ABC Wednesday posts, so it's great to have an award from a new blogging friend. So who to pass this award onto? I've decided to keep the ABC Wednesday theme and thank some of the many people who've not only commented on my ABC pictures, but have also stopped by on other days of the week and said 'hello' on other posts. So, a big shout goes out to:

Family Times

It's Half Term in Yorkshire, so we've had my Brother-in-Law + family to stay with us for the weekend. It's always lovely to see them and rediscover parts of the area we'd forgotten about, such as Cheddar Gorge yesterday (not to be confused with the game of the same name from the radio programme I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue!). The picture shows Lion Rock, one of the well-known features of the limestone cliffs that tower 450 feet above the floor of the gorge.
Most of the gorge is a very special place, being a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its karst limestone scenery and rare plants such as the Cheddar Pink. As it's limestone country, there are plenty of underground caverns and caves too. 6 of these are scheduled as ancient monuments as the remains of early British people have been found there (e.g. Cheddar Man from 9,000 years ago - DNA tests in 1997 revealed his descendents are alive and well in Cheddar!). Most of the 3 miles of the gorge has spectacular scenery, but unfortunately the village of Cheddar itself is rather spoilt as it's a bit of a tourist trap. We did manage to buy authentic Cheddar cheese sandwiches for lunch though, before wending our way back up the gorge. We finished the day with a scramble up the rocks then ice creams all round at Chew Valley Lake nearby - a great place for birdwatching.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Muck Movin'

Now I've got my plot plan together and the weather's got better, I've been getting to grips with the vast pile of muck hidden under this black tarpaulin. 12 beds need to have a thick layer added ready for spring digging - 3 down, 9 to go!
I get my muck from 'Mr Manure', named as such by NAH, after the farmer presented me with his home made business card (simply saying 'Manure' + telephone number + suspicious brown smudge) the first time he delivered a trailer load to my plot.
The weather's set fair for the next few days, so guess what I'll be doing!

Friday, 8 February 2008

How Advertising Works in Bath

I grabbed this shot whilst on my way to meet up with SUP to see the Blue & White exhibition in Bath today. Both the wording and the guy on top of the waste bin amused me greatly. He was reading a book at the same time, so he was completely oblivious to the product!

The exhibition was fabulous and inspirational. It was like greeting old friends as a number of the exhibits were the originals of pieces seen in my craft books. I hope to return in a couple of weeks time as Kaffe Fassett is doing a book signing.

Snowdrop Census - Week 4

Back Garden - 192
Front Garden - 111
Side Garden - 323
Guerilla Garden - 302

The sun feels like it has some warmth in it for the first time this year. It looks like I'll be able to show you the first daffodils next week. The Clematis are sprouting back into life - quick, where's my secauteurs?

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

ABC Wednesday - C is for...

Even better, this is part of Caen Hill flight near Devizes, taken last Saturday. There was meant to be an open weekend there as three of the sets of lock gates are being replaced at the moment. However, there was no sign of activity when I was there - so I took this shot of a lock entrance instead. The replacement of 2 sets of gates last year was recorded in pictures, so it'll give you a good idea of what I should have seen.
The canal pictured is the Kennet & Avon which links the River Kennet at Reading to the River Avon at Bath. The canal was to have been routed through Chippenham, but some scurilous parliamentary wheeling and dealing by the Devizes MPs got the canal re-routed through their town. This left the brilliant engineer, John Rennie with a problem - a rise of 272 feet over 2 miles, in canal terms that's steep. His solution was to build 29 locks over that distance, with 16 of them forming the Caen Hill flight. It's a wonder of the UK's waterways as the locks rise in a staircase formation, with pounds (like a large pond) between each lock holding a reserve water supply.
The canal took 16 years to build and opened in 1810. 4 million bricks were used in the construction of Caen Hill alone (the last part of the canal to be built), with the clay from digging out the canal being used to make the bricks - how's that for recycling! The canal prospered for 30 years, but the opening of Brunel's Great Western Railway (GWR) from London to Bristol in 1841 soon led to it's demise. In 1852 GWR took over the running of the canal, but as they had no vested interest, it was left to further decay and finally stopped trading in the 1920s. Restoration started in the 1950s, and gained momentum in the 1980s, particularly when Heritage Lottery funding became available. It was reopened by The Queen in 1990. Further restoration is ongoing through the auspices of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and today the canal is a fantastic leisure resource for Wiltshire. Take a pictorial ride through Caen Hill yourself, by clicking here.
For further ABC Wednesday pictures, do pop over to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Happy Pancake Day!

Rio and Venice both have their carnivals, but here in good old Britain we have our Shrove Tuesday aka Pancake Day. It's the day before the start of Lent, the period of fasting prior to Easter. Traditionally all fats and eggs are used up on this day as they'll not be eaten for some time. Many people in Britain don't observe Lent now, but still look forward to their pancakes today.
I've always had a bit of difficulty with Lent, as my birthday falls within the period. At work it's traditional to provide birthday cakes that day, and I've had to take into account the various foods my friends give up (usually cakes & biscuits or chocolate) and provide suitable alternatives in addition to their usual food avoidances. However, I don't need to worry about that this year and as you can see I'm just about to tuck into my pancakes. The traditional way to serve them is piping hot with caster sugar and lemon on top. Quick tip: whizz the lemon in the microwave for 10 seconds to get the most juice. As you can see, my family's tradition is to replace the sugar with a spot of golden syrup instead - lovely!

More Tomatoes

I've a number of posts lined up, so I've been deliberating which ones to choose for today. A Comment from Barbara on yesterday's Plant Workshop post was the clincher for deciding on this one.
Grow Your Own magazine has a free packet of tomato seeds, Sub Arctic Plenty on this month's cover. It's their response to last year's miserable summer as this tomato crops better than most in cool summers. It's a Heritage Variety, used by the US Air Force many moons ago to ensure tomato crops when stationed in Greenland. Mike over at Tiny Farm Blog doesn't rate it (see our Comments conversation) and recommends Stupice instead. It's another Heritage Variety - from the Czech Republic this time, which Mike says does well for him in his cooler climes over in Canada. Kitchen Garden magazine also mentions it this month as a variety that's good for flavour.
So which one to choose? Well, I've decided to trial both to see which one does best as my future cool weather insurance crop. I'll also be growing Ferline as my blight insurance crop, plus my taste favourites Gardener's Delight and Sungold (which I've also recommended to Katie over at Gardenpunks). I always go a bit overboard with tomatoes, so no doubt I'll throw a couple of others in when I sort out my tomatoes for sowing later on this month. You may be able to influence my final choice - which are your favourite outdoor tomato varieties?

Monday, 4 February 2008

Plant Workshop

Today's weather was much better than January's for my monthly visit to The Botanic Nursery for their unusual plants workshop. Threadspider came with me this time and we had an uplifting couple of hours pottering around the nursery and garden areas in the enthusiastic company of the owner. Sensibly I restricted the funds I took with me, but was unable to resist the allure of a Prunus mume 'Beni-shidon'.

The picture shows part of the old walled garden on the left, which originally had a flue in the wall and glasshouses to enable exotic fruits to be grown for the old house, now a school. On the right are post WWII glasshouses originally used for market gardening until the oil crisis in the 1970's meant most commercial glasshouse production became uneconomic.

In addition to our plant-based heaven, we were treated to a dramatic display by the local crow population mobbing a buzzard flying low over the trees. I think we'll both be returning next month!

A Fresh Start

It was a strange start to the day this morning as from today both NAH and I aren't working. We're both too young really for us to be called 'retired' and I'm not sure for how long NAH will pursue his own interests before the pull of being an engineer gets too strong for him to resist. However, he's assured me that he's going to have at least 6 months off to do his own thing and decide what he would like to do in the longer term.
Perhaps he needs to ponder the question posed for this week by David over on authorblog. He asks 'Do you get enough leisure time?' In spite of not working (I know I'm very lucky and I'm risking making you all snort with derision), my answer is no! I'm even busier now than when I worked as I now have the energy and time to do some of the many activities that interest me. I would like to be able to do even more. Am I being selfish, or is it simply because it's part of the human condition to never be satisfied with our lot? I also believe that a modified version of Parkinson's Law is at play too - my leisure (rather than work) is expanding to fill the time available!
What do you think? Do you have enough leisure time?

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Plot Views - Wot no Snow?

Celebrating Regionality - The Brummie Accent

Yes I admit it, this is a strange thing to celebrate. After all, take a look at the results from the following polls:

Most Hated Accent? - Brummie
Least Trusted Accent? - Brummie
The most guilty sounding? - Brummie
Least Intelligent? - Yep that's right, Brummie it is

I suspect call centre operating companies won't be beating a path to Birmingham then!

However, some celebrities have managed to rise above the 'handicap' of their Brummie accent, indeed it's part of their fame and fortune. The brilliant Jasper Carrott's ('World famous in Birmingham') sense of humour - his cynicism, sense of the ridiculous and fatalism fits it well. Cathy McGowan's 'Oy'll give it foyve' on Ready Steady Go sums up the early 1960s pop culture for me. Benny from Crossroads would have been another has-been, and I don't think Julie Walters as Mrs. Overall in Acorn Antiques would have been half as funny in say Scouse or Geordie.

So what are the characteristics of the Brummie accent? It's mainly a flat monotone, thus inducing an immediate sense of boredom in the listener. A downward inflection at the end of sentences doesn't help either. Cathy McGowan's catchphrase shows another key characteristic - the use of oy or oi as a substitute for i. I'm lucky that I haven't picked up the accent that much, though like Sue Lawley, my over pronunciation of -ng word endings can give me away if you're listening carefully. The next time we meet or you find yourself in the company of a Brummie, and you want sure-fire success in your imitation of our accent, then you may wish to commit the following to memory:

Berminggum is wun uv the Larges citays in the unyted kingdem.
Birmingham is one of the largest cities in the United Kingdom.

This and further examples to help you can be found here.

Friday, 1 February 2008

World Wetlands Day - 2nd February 2008

It's probably one of the most important 'World' days of note, but I expect it'll go almost unnoticed by the general media.

Wetlands (as defined here) are one of the most wide ranging and diverse habitat types to be found. They cover just 3% of the earth's surface, yet 75% of the world's population live in former wetlands and their surrounding areas. As a result, it's one of our most threatened habitats. It's the only one to be covered by an international treaty, the RAMSAR convention - aka the International Convention on Protection of Wetlands. It's named after the place in Iran where the treaty was originally signed in 1971 and now over 100 countries have signed up to it, including the UK.

During this week, various countries have announced their latest RAMSAR protected sites, educational initiatives and celebratory events. Tomorrow, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in the UK has free admission for under 16s to their sites. I've been lucky enough to be involved in researching a RAMSAR protected site in Mallorca and will be telling you much more about this in a later post. Much of the research area is a reedbed, and as such is dominated by large stands of the Common reed, Phragmites australis, as shown in the above picture. This was taken just a few hundred yards from where I live, and I was particularly pleased to see it there when we moved here 9 years ago. It's being used to filter and clean the runoff from the nearby Chippenham bypass, a key feature and usage of this type of habitat.

If you'd like to see a wetland for yourself, then the sites owned by the WWT are a good starting point. Slimbridge is the one closest to Chippenham, but I'd love to go to the London Wetland Centre sometime - perhaps with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust later this year.

Totally Tomatoes

I first blogged about these a month ago, but only found them in the shops yesterday. I've since found out that the annual yield of these tomatoes are set to save 250,000 food miles and 12,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I still haven't found out the environmental impact of the additional lighting needed, but feel a bit better about buying them now. If only Sainsbury's would use biodegradable packaging...
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