Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone :)

It's time for me to take my Christmas break and to leave you with some uncharacteristically snowy scenes for the time of year. Already there's talk of this being the coldest December for a century.

These pictures are of the woodland and public footpath which runs alongside our house. Only a few minor clues gives evidence that 'civilisation' is nearby. We didn't make it up north as planned for our pre-Christmas trip to Leeds and are hoping that we can get up to Birmingham Botanical Gardens tomorrow to meet up with everyone there instead. We're also hoping to get down to Poole on Friday to pick up NAH's aunt who's coming to stay with us for the Christmas period.

Emergency supplies have been gathered in and then some. Though if we do run out, it looks like we do have an alternative within walking distance if we're really desperate ;)

A Merry Christmas to you all (or Happy Holidays if you prefer) and I'll be back in the New Year :)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Public Planting Resources: Publications

This is the first in a series of posts designed to make up the new Public Planting Resources Page. This overview gives you an idea of how I anticipate it'll work.

Newspapers, Magazines and Journals

Out on the Streets -
a Twitter newspaper I publish on a weekly basis. It comprises the tweeted links made by various organisations concerned with the quality of our open spaces which I've found on Twitter. There's a mixture of news, views and resources considered to be of note at the time of tweeting. NB there may also be off topic links depending on what's been tweeted!

Horticulture Week - the trade paper of the gardening industry which regularly features news concerning public planting which is also accessible online. As well as relevant articles highlighted the Latest News on the Home page when appropriate, it has a section dedicated to Parks and Gardens, plus a resource list of key research articles which help to put forward the case for our green spaces. There's also a debate on whether Parks Trusts are the way forward for ensuring the future of our major green spaces following the recent budget cuts.

Update: From April 2011, you'll need to subscribe to Horticuture Week to see the articles in detail. You can still get an idea of the content from the links and there's also a 14-day free trial for you to see whether a subscription's for you.

Green Places - the charity Green Space's magazine dedicated to looking at the issues and news surrounding our open spaces. The Green Places link takes you to a summary page where you can also view a copy of the magazine (not necessarily the latest) online. A dedicated website is also under construction. I've just signed up for a subscription and also volunteered to be one of their book reviewers. They also have an email news service called The Bench which you can sign up for on the above Green Space link. I'll be telling you more about this organisation when I write the Charities/NGOs section.

Garden Design Journal - the journal of the Society of Garden Designers which often has news and articles concerning major open spaces commissions. You don't need to be a member of the society to subscribe, though it is quite expensive. I found a very cheap deal via a flyer in Gardeners' World magazine a while ago, so it might be worth keeping an eye open for something similar in the future or asking them for an old copy to see if this one's for you.


Good Parks Guide 2006-2007 - a joint publication from Green Space and the RHS details more than 500 free parks and other open spaces around the UK for you to enjoy. It looks like this was envisaged as an annual guide, but I've only found a copy for 2006/7 priced at 1p + p&p on Amazon. It's a bit like the parks equivalent of the Yellow Book and I was surprised at how many different types of open space are counted as a park for this guide.

On Guerrilla Gardening - a controversial entry for this resource page perhaps, but Richard Reynold's handbook for gardening without boundaries is worth a look not only for dedicated guerrilla gardeners like me, but for anyone contemplating an 'official' community led initiative to look after a local public space.

Parks, Plants and People - Lynden B Miller's personal account of her work dedicated to transforming New York's parks and other public spaces since the mid-1980s. The link takes you to my book review on ThinkinGardens.

The Planting Design Handbook - Nick Robinson's definitive text aimed at landscape architects and amenity horticulturalists on the principles and practice of designing with plants for public and institutional landscapes. NB it's a textbook, so is rather lacking in inspirational photos (most of which are in black and white), but is packed with information about this aspect which is often overlooked on many landscape architecture courses. It's also available as a free eBook.

NB This post is a work in progress which will be added to as and when new items suitable for inclusion are found. If you have a useful resource to add to this category, then do contact me at vegplotting at gmail dot com with the details and I'll add it to the list.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Reading Veg Plotting on the Move

Blogger in Draft has a new template designed to make reading Blogger blogs easier on mobile devices. It looked good when I previewed it - much better than what the full web version looks like on a mobile - and seeing from my stats there are a few people out there who are reading Veg Plotting on the move, I've just enabled it for here.

Of course the best judges of whether the template works are those who actually use it, so if you do have an i-Phone, Blackberry, or similar I'd appreciate it if you'd have a look at Veg Plotting on there and let me know if it works well or not for you. If it's not working well, then I'll switch it off until it comes out of Beta and report the problem if you give me some details.

If you want to enable the option for your blog, you'll need to do the following:
  • Sign onto Blogger if you haven't already
  • Go onto your Dashboard
  • Select Blogger in Draft
  • Click on Settings
  • Click on the Email and Mobile tab
  • Enable the mobile template option (you can also preview what your blog will look like at this point if you want)
  • Hit Save
  • Et voila!

The above link takes you to the Blogger in Draft information if you want to know more. My preview showed extracts from my last 5 posts (with a link for the full post and the option to page back through the older posts) plus my Profile details extract (plus link) and links to my Pages. You can also add your Comments, though taking the Comment link takes you to the full web version of that page rather than a skinny mobile version. I'd be interested to hear if your experience differs.

Update: A couple of people have tried it so far and it looks fine, unless you have an older Blackberry (new one worked fine, 2yr old model displayed the full web version of the blog). I'd appreciate your feedback on non-Blackberry phones all versions, or your Blackberry phone if it's not shiny new or 2 years old.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Christmas Miscellany

If the above video isn't working, then try this link instead.
Instead of the usual Sunday Supplement, I thought I'd put together a few things today as a rather nice miscellany for Christmas.
First up is the above video which is my favourite Christmas carol ever, Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar. In fact this was the favourite of everyone at school, which is where I first learnt it. We all sang the soloist's part and the school orchestra would play the rest at our carol concert.
We also had something called Friday Songs, where each form would take it in turns to choose 3 songs for the entire school to sing. The last Friday of the Christmas term was always reserved for the Upper Sixth to choose 6 carols. Time constraints meant we rarely got to sing all the choices, but Three Kings was never dropped.
Art lovers may like to have a look at a selection of entries for this year's Turnip Prize, a Somerset pub's antidote to the Turner Prize where the award is for art which requires "as little effort and talent as possible". This year's winner is Chilli n'Minors.
I also loved this story about the interpreter hired to translate the Geordie accent. One of the reasons why we've ended up living in the West Country is because NAH got fed up of not understanding what people were saying in Newcastle. Here's a quick guide to larn yesen Geordiefor those times when the official interpreter isn't available ;)
As it's the season of goodwill, I rather like the idea of World Book Night: a scheme to give away 1 million books on March 5th. You can apply to give away a box of 48 of them - January 4th's the closing date for applications and the link gives you all the information about the scheme, which books are involved and how to apply.
No Christmas is complete without sprouts and games, so how about trying your hand at Attack of the Sprouts?
And finally we need a quiz to round things off nicely, so I have no hesitation in reminding you of The Constant Gardener's advent calendar conundrum :)

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Today in Chippenham

Overnight our garden's been transformed into a winter wonderland. The cats took one look out of the cat flap this morning and immediately returned to 'central heating duty'. It's still snowing, so our planned trip up north today to see my brother-in-law and family's been put on hold.

Luckily we're within walking distance of a supermarket so we can get emergency supplies and also the town's main sorting office so I can post my Christmas cards. Somehow I don't think the van will be able to get to the post box on our estate to pick things up from there.

Then later I expect a spot of neighbourly street clearing will ensue once the snow's stopped falling. Looks like we're in for an active day :)

Friday, 17 December 2010

Soil Mates: Book Review

Companion Planting isn't new, but most guides to it so far have tended to be a bit dull and boring. Soil Mates is quite the opposite: it's funky and colourful and treats the concept as a fun dating agency for plants. Twenty 'love matches' are made from the familiar tomato with basil through to sweet potato with summer savory. The book is sturdy and well illustrated and the growing details for each pairing are followed by a delicious recipe. The growing guides (detailed under novel headings such as Turn-ons, Turn-offs, Needy Alert, Stalker Alert and Love Triangles) are followed by a general guide to garden preparation and care, all with a view to organic gardening.

That's the good news. However, I can't recommend this book as there's too much in there to confuse UK readers or is just plain wrong. It was written in the US and unfortunately the UK edition hasn't been re-edited for this market. Most of us probably know that zucchini = courgette but pests such as hornworms on tomatoes and Mexican bean beetles either don't occur in this country or have completely different names. Colorado beetle is mentioned for potatoes, but there are strict regulations in place in this country to prevent its introduction. I also spent ages puzzling over such things as '3 c chicken or vegetable stock' in the recipe section, only to realise much later that c = cup or around 250ml liquid. I still don't know what all-purpose flour is.

I also got quite annoyed by the layout. Often the cultivation information given for each pairing is scanty and is added to in the general section at the back. This means quite a lot of darting backwards and forwards through the book is needed to gain the full picture on how to grow a particular crop. I also don't think many gardeners would want to grow dandelions, no matter how well it might go with kale! Be warned: the tobacco insecticide recipe is not only effective on pesky pests, but also on beneficial insects such as ladybirds, bees and lacewings, so isn't strictly speaking organic.

In summary it's a great idea, but I don't think it's executed well enough nor 'translated' for the UK to be a recommended read.

NB I received a copy of this book for independent review from the publisher.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #24

  1. Start a blog
  2. Meet local blogging friend who has a thing about quirky 'adverts'
  3. Blogger with a camera spots something contradictory about adverts in financial advisor office
  4. Et Voila!

    This was in the financial brokers office [North Wilts Credit Union - Ed] next to McColls (post office) and Lee's fish bar off Hardenhuish Lane. The contradiction made me giggle.

This is a guest post from Mark at Views From the Bike Shed with a little light editing from me (hope you don't mind!). Thanks Mark, your email was most timely seeing I've had quite a few family matters to sort out this week.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

GBBD: Bouncing Back

Winter's come early to VP Gardens this year with nearly two weeks of snow and ice already, clearing just in time for this month's Blooms Day. It's been interesting to observe how the plants are bouncing back after experiencing their physiological drought (see D is for Drought in my recent ABC of Weather series of posts) which certainly made everything in the garden look very droopy and miserable for a while.

The Violas seem to have fared the best so far. I have a number of large planters dotted around the back and front gardens within easy sight from the windows. I try to colour theme most of the pots, so the back ones are filled with mauve and yellow smiling faces. As I buy mixed packs from Frank's Plants, there's inevitably some other colours to play with and these go in the front garden. This time I'm struck by the richness and warmth of my chosen Blooms Day picture for this month. The main flower may be a little dog-eared after its wintry travails, but already plenty of new ones are poised to take over to cheer us up during December's darkest days :)

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

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

And the Winner is...

Plucked from my lovely new baby terracotta pot this morning, the winner is The Constant Gardener :) Congratulations and do email me at vegplotting at gmail dot com ASAP, I'll send you the shiny copy of A Well-Connected Gardener.

BTW there wasn't enough light indoors to take this photo earlier this morning, so I nipped outside in my PJ's - brrrrracing!

Monday, 13 December 2010

OOTS: Oh Christmas Tree

I always find that most outdoor large Christmas trees these days tend to look a little forlorn: the barriers which surround them (health and safety reasons? to prevent vandalism? potential opportunity for sponsors advertisements) don't really help and in daylight the strings of lights look like they're trying to tie the tree down rather than looking their magical best as they usually do when it gets dark.

This year, Chippenham's tree in the centre of town has been criticised as looking 'scrawny'. I thought it didn't look that much different to previous years, though admittedly there is something a bit strange going on to the right. As usual it's been decorated with ornaments made by local schoolchildren. I wonder if this is part of the scrawny problem? The tree's quite large, so the decorations look a bit 'lost' as it would have taken the children a lot longer to make sufficient decorations to really fill the tree. Perhaps we need a smaller tree with the same amount of decoration and then it might look more sumptuous?

Elsewhere, this year's tree at the Tate Britain in London has caused quite a stir because the artist responsible for it has chosen to install an unadorned tree. According to the BBC, Georgio Sardotti is noted for art which 'celebrates the power of nothing'.

I can see where he's coming from: perhaps we should appreciate the tree for what it is, rather than having to decorate it. His thoughts chime with my suggestion about us having living, 'celebration trees' when I wrote about Poole's festive tree controversy last year. I was also amused to read he used to decorate Christmas trees for a living, so perhaps he has a stronger reaction against all of that than most of us.

In contrast Claridge's have revealed their designer tree for this year and the one on display at Jenner's department store in Edinburgh is marvellous - they needed to remove the revolving doors in order to get it into the building. Meanwhile The Daily Mail criticises the Obamas for having a tree which took over four days to decorate during an economic crisis.

Perhaps my favourite finding this year was The Telegraph's video report on the world's tallest tree in Gubbio, Italy. However, whilst it is indeed a magnificent specimen, I think their report might be a tad exaggerated: 2,600 feet seems a bit of a tall story?

What's your neighbourhood tree like this year? Real or artificial? In situ or shipped in? Decorated or unadorned? Do post a picture and show us via Mr Linky on December's OOTS kick-off post.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Sunday Supplement #9

Sunday Supplement is an occasional round up of the virtual and real here at VP Gardens. I'd like it to be a weekly event just like the best bits and reviews you get in the Sunday papers, but I'm not promising ;)

Web Watch

I'd love to see the Aurora borealis, but until I do so these pictures from The Telegraph are a great substitute.

Trending Topic

The National Trust this week highlighted that mistletoe could disappear within 20 years in some parts of the country owing to the decline of many of our orchards. As well as asking my local farm shop where they've sourced theirs from, I'll be eyeing it up as a possible source of seeds for a spot of growing my own.

Link Love

There was lots of buzz about the changes to Gardeners World this week, but nothing beats Arabella Sock's unique voice on the subject over at The Sea of Immeasurable Gravy ;)

Blog Action

Don't forget, tomorrow's the closing date to enter my super book giveaway.

Thanks for your contributions to December's Out on the Streets this week and for those of you yet to add your contribution, the above link takes you to the kick-off post.

Comment of the Week is actually an email of the week from my friend Lu (who's also a regular commenter) who sent me this fantastic seasonal link:

If above video link doesn't work, then try here instead.

Keyword Search of Note: we're back to an old favourite - how long is a week? How someone expects to find the answer here at Veg Plotting surprises me ;)

Back to Reality:

There's little time for gardening this week as we have various family visits to make.

Time Out

It's time to get the Christmas decorations up. This was always my job from when I was quite small and it's always a special time for me :)

The picture is of the chilly public planting at the entrance to Monkton Park, which I also wrote about when it was first planted. Last week a magnificent pine tree was taken down, thus leaving a clear view to the large trees featured in the photo. It's going to take a while for the new planting to grow to their height!

Last year I was making chocolate spice cookies - yum; in 2008 I was pondering a Sign of the Times; and finally in 2007 I discovered the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Golden Prince: Book Review

The publishers must be rubbing their hands with glee with the timing of their launch of The Golden Prince as this tale of Prince Edward (Edward VIII) and his love for a relative commoner coincides with the recent announcement of  Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton.

The year is 1911, a time of social and political change in Britain. Prince Edward is 17 and studying at the naval college in Dartmouth. It's a lonely existence for the prince - he has no real friends to speak of and belongs to an unloving family whose life and behaviour are constrained by royal duties.

A car accident in the country lanes of Hampshire whilst returning to London brings Edward in contact with the Houghton family: four young aristocratic women living at Snowberry, their grandfather's delightful home. Rose (the eldest) is an intelligent Oxford educated suffragette; Iris is plain and of the hunting, shooting and fishing persuasion; Marigold a sexy vamp; and Lily, the beauty of the family has yet to be presented at court.

The ease of friendship these women extend to him plus the chance of stolen moments away from the constraints of duty are too tempting for the prince and he contrives to visit Snowberry as often as he can. Besides, he has fallen instantly in love with Lily...

The tale of their doomed love affair over the next year is played out against the background of great state occasions (the coronation of George V and Edward's investiture as the Prince of Wales) plus the parallel love stories and scandals of the other three sisters.

The elements of a cracking good read are there but sadly I found the telling of the tale to be stilted and wooden. Most of the characters aren't that well drawn: Edward is said to be a charming, dazzling, 'golden' prince adored by the people, yet I couldn't understand why that was so from what was presented by the author.

I also found Rose's story was the most compelling, rather than that of Lily and Edward. Being a child of the 60s, her sense of independence resonated more with me. I also couldn't understand how Edward, whose activities were so carefully watched, could manage to correspond with Lily so easily from the confines of Buckingham Palace. I thought the loose ends were tied up rather too neatly at the end with each sister finding a suitable romantic match within the space of a few chapters, leading to a rather convenient and abrupt ending in my view.

I'm rather surprised the author has chosen to tell this story using a fictional family and when the prince was so young: only a few years later Edward did have a thwarted romance with Rosemary Leveson-Gower during WWI. I believe a fictionalised account of their story set against the backdrop of a most tragic war would have been well worth reading. My overall score for this tale is an OK-ish 5/10.

The book's publicity states 'if you like Philippa Gregory you'll love this.' I for one prefer Philippa Gregory's richer, more engaging tales.

Note: I was given a copy of this book to independently review via fuelmyblog.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Well-Connected Gardener

Today it's hard to believe that garden history hasn't always been here. After all we know our garden heritage goes back many centuries, even if a lot of it has been swept away by subsequent fashions or ideas. That's why it came as a surprise to me when I first picked up The Well-Connected Gardener to find its study is only a century or so old.

Another surprise is that the distinguished career of Alicia Amherst (aka The Well-Connected Gardener) seems to have been almost forgotten. She was a contemporary of Gertrude Jekyll and a friend of Ellen Willmott (of Miss Willmott's Ghost fame), and for many years was a member of the management committee of Chelsea Physic Garden. She was the author of several seminal works and was active in ensuring that horticultural training was opened up for women. This was quite controversial at the time because women started to take on the role of head gardeners on major estates, although her main motivation was ensuring people with the right skills went abroad to help colonise the empire.

This book gives a fascinating glimpse of a time and a world long since gone. Alicia Amherst may have been a well educated member of the aristocracy who then became heavily involved in political matters, but it's clear she used her privileged background to help others. During the First World War she was heavily involved in ensuring the security of the nation's food supplies: pioneering work which paved the way for the Dig for Victory campaign during the Second World War. I expected her to be a suffragette, but actually she openly opposed the movement, preferring instead to find more pragmatic ways (mainly through education) to elevate the role of women in society.

Alicia Amherst was born in 1865 into an extremely wealthy family, whose country estate was a mere 1,500 acres in Didlington, Norfolk. Perhaps more importantly for us, her father collected antiquarian manuscripts and books and was acknowledged as having one of the finest libraries in the country. It was noted for its works on the history of printing and Egyptology, but also contained early manuscripts on gardening.

As well as the library, Alicia was also introduced to gardening at an early age, so perhaps it's no great surprise she combined both loves by writing A History of Gardening in England, published in 1895 when she was 30. It's an objective, scholarly work which set gardening history alongside social, political and technological changes. It's also said to be very readable. It seems her objectivity lead to some criticism concerning her own lack of critique e.g for not raising the issue of how the landscape movement swept away many earlier gardens. She was also scorned by some for not focusing on the architectural aspects of garden design, whilst others took her to task for not doing the same with plants. Some things never change!

Alicia's other pioneering works were: London Parks and Gardens (1907 and perhaps one of the earliest looks at public planting); Historic Gardens of England (1938); and Wild Flowers of the Dominions of the British Empire (1935 and where she demonstrated knowledge not only of the economic value of plants but also aspects of ecology and ethnobotany). She was also honoured for her charitable and horticultural work (both CBE and DBE), but perhaps the honour she valued most highly was being given the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners in 1896, the first woman to be honoured in such a way.

Sue Minter has used Chelsea Physic Garden's and other archive sources well: she allows her subject to tell her own story wherever possible though her letters, papers and artistic endeavours in such a way that I often forgot I was reading a biography. Personally I would have liked more details on the contents of each of Alicia's books - and there is room in this relatively slim volume and scholarly work for her to have done so - but there's sufficient there for me to hope I find them on one of my regular second hand bookshop forays. However, her life was much more than gardening or garden history and I prefer to be introduced to the whole person rather than just one aspect.

If this sounds like your kind of book, then you can win my review copy by leaving a comment here on my blog by midnight on 13th December. Sorry, this is only available to UK based readers. I'll let you know who's won on the 14th, which also means I should get it to you in time for Christmas :)

Update: I've just found out a copy of A History of Gardening in England is available to read online via the Open Library organisation.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Grit: YAWA Dictionary

Yesterday I caused Susan at Bike Garden some confusion when I said:

Hurrah! The road round the corner is getting a grit bin. Too bad it's not in time for my expensive prang last week.
I wonder if she had something like the picture below in mind: I fondly remember breakfast style grits (which we know as polenta here in the UK) from various holidays we've taken in the USA...

Image courtesy of sashafatcat via Wikimedia Commons.
However, the grit I was talking about comes in one of these...

Being in the nether regions of a modern housing estate means not only are our roads not gritted when our wintry weather gets bad, we're also too far away to get the benefit of any salty runoff coming from the roads which are.
I usually walk when that happens, but I overslept after last week's GMG Awards excitement. So an undue haste to get to my beginners pilates class despite the snow whirling down at the time, meant I literally took my car for a spin.
The road round the corner from us is on a slight slope and I must have caught the edge of some ice beneath the snow. My car did an elegant pirouette halted only when I hit the kerb as I was too close to it to steer out of the spin in time. The result of my 'prang' (another word Susan didn't understand) by hitting the kerb turned out to be bent steering to the tune of £256 to repair :(
That road is always an ice rink in bad weather and now it seems the council have decided we're to have our very own grit bin, so we can be all neighbourly and keep the road clear ourselves, just like my dad and neighbours used to do when I was little. As the road's on a major route for pupils walking to school that probably helped them make the decision.

So now we'll have lots of grit (aka crushed rock salt) available to help us clear the road: as long as someone reminds the council to top it up whenever supplies get low...
At least Susan and I have some common ground (do excuse the pun) as far as grit is concerned when it comes to gardening, because when I asked her if anyone uses it in that sense in the USA her reply was:
Do you mean as in a mulch? Or as in a soil conditioner? and she added later...
...we'd use sand-sized grit to amend soil (tho not where I live, since plenty already), and pea-sized for topping.
Phew, international harmony has been restored. We know what we're talking about now, though I see the term amend might need looking at by the You Ask, We Answer team at a later date. Isn't our English language wonderful?
The YAWA Dictionary: Adding meaning to your garden blogging

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Gardeners' World Gets a Retro Makeover

Toby Buckland (centre) at Malvern Autumn Show in 2008 - just after his helmship of Gardeners' World was announced

So Toby Buckland, Alys Fowler and Greenacre are out and Monty Don, his Herefordshire garden and Rachel de Thame are back in at Gardeners' World. Quite a shock for us garden enthusiasts to take in late yesterday afternoon which inevitably set tongues wagging.

I thought Sue Beesley summed up the BBC's retro makeover well in her Stop Press post about it yesterday and I'll endeavour not to repeat what she's said already. The reactions to The Telegraph's breaking of the news also make interesting, if mixed reading. For those deploring the move, an equal number welcome it and inevitably the names Alan Titchmarsh and Geoff Hamilton also get a mention. There's also a call for fresh faces, but who that should be is much harder to tell.

What's clear from the many people outside our cosy garden blogging world I've spoken to recently is there is a genuine need for a good programme dealing with the basics and nothing else. There will always be people who are new to gardening or aren't that confident about the experience they have and who are we to deny them? I hope next year's Gardeners' World fills this need and that the BBC don't try and make it all things to all gardeners. That formula combined with a measly half hour slot clearly doesn't work.

I've also come to realise that even if the programme had my 'dream team', I still probably wouldn't watch it. Nowadays I prefer the one-off hour long Gardeners' World specials which go into a subject into more depth. Carol Klein's recent look into The Science of Gardening was fascinating (NB still available on i-player via my link) and I now covet the weather station she had installed. I no longer need a weekly (almost) TV gardening fix: I get that via blogging nowadays and I'm glad I can select my own personal 'pick and mix' combination of thought provoking, informative and entertaining material.

So in future I'll be cheering on the more imaginative programming such as Landscape Man [series 2 sadly dropped], Britain's Park Story and James Wong and the Malaysian Garden. Interesting programmes are out there: we just need to look a bit harder and let everyone know about them.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Lights, Camera, Some Action

As you know I'm all for products which enable us to tread a little lighter on this earth, so how could I refuse when the people at Dobbies offered me these starry solar powered path lights to evaluate?

I've often wondered if this type of lighting might be just the thing for my front garden: we're next to woodland, facing north and quite some way from the nearest street light, so things can get quite dark around here. Our neighbour has invested in a set of individual stick solar powered lights which seem to work quite well around their lawn edge, so if we had a set of something similar, we could gently make the neighbourhood a safer place without too much in the way of light pollution or running costs. Besides, a path lined with twinkly star shaped lights looked kinda fun :)

A few days later the lights arrived and were very easy to assemble and set out alongside our front drive. I even managed to find a place to site the solar panel without it being shaded by any shrubs. I then left them for a few days to see what they could do: this often involved making sure the solar panel was gently wiped clean (the instructions say not to press down when doing this) as my setting them out coincided with last week's snowfall.

Having had them out there for a week, here's what I've found:
  1. Lamps come out of their sockets easily, but can just as easily be put back together again.
  2. The on/off and static/animated switches are flimsy and hard to use: they look the same (unlike the enclosed leaflet diagram that comes with the lights which shows a clear difference in switch height depending on what you've done) and it can take several attempts to change from static to animated, or on to off and vice versa.
  3. One light completely dislodged (see photo below) after I brought them back in even though I was very careful in the way I handled them. Flimsy construction and just one session's use isn't quite what I had in mind.
  4. The ground spikes bend/break very easily.
  5. Lights have a variable brightness - some are bright and others are hard to tell if they're on.
  6. Lights are unsuitable for a north facing garden in the winter: a bright sunny day on Sunday gave only 25 minutes illumination (1 lamp only lasted 15 minutes). The leaflet says there's a maximum of 8 hours*.
  7. It's difficult to get the lights to be as upright as in the illustration as they're on a bendy wire. Personally this wasn't a problem as it meant I could gently alter the lights to peek out from under foliage where needed
* = I wouldn't have expected 8 hours at this time of year, but my neighbour's currently getting 3-4 hours

Whilst I realise I've not tested them in ideal conditions, looking at the accompanying leaflet I would question whether they're suitable for use at this time of the year, even if I moved the lights to my south facing back garden. It's recommended the first day's use needs bright sunshine for 8 hours to fully charge the batteries. There's less than 8 hours daylight (never mind sunshine) in the Bath area from 9th December to 2nd January: this period will be even longer the further north you go. Also the leaflet's Maintenance section recommends they're put away for the winter to dry off thoroughly and then brought out again in the spring.

In summary - a great idea, but a disappointing execution. If I was reviewing these on Amazon I'd be giving them one star; possibly 2 for summer use. As they're an electrical item, I now need to take them to my local household centre for recycling.

However for the sake of balance, Patient Gardener's experience was much more positive than mine.

Monday, 6 December 2010

We Dined on Quince*

The gift of a large bag of golden Japanese quince from Mark recently gave me the opportunity to try out some recipes much earlier than I'd anticipated when I bought my own quince plant. His crop was quite variable, ranging from teeny tiny fruit no larger in circumference than a 10p coin through to ones more like medium sized apples.

The small ones have been converted into jars of amber quince jelly a la River Cottage's Preserves as they would have been too fiddly to peel and core for anything else. Then Love and a Licked Spoon came to my aid by posting a timely recipe for Quince Tarte Tatin: just the thing for the larger fruit.

I view most recipes as a guide from which I can freely wander if needed and according to what I have to hand. This one was no exception: for her tarte tatin, Debora's preferred pastry was puff and the final tarte is assembled upside down prior to baking. It's only when it's served that the tarte is turned right side up and the perfectly arranged fruit are on view.

I only had shortcrust pastry and I didn't feel confident enough to go down the upside down route, so my version is much more like making a quiche. I thought my Japanese quince were small when compared to those from a proper quince tree, so I doubled the number used in the recipe.

I also found that my carefully sliced quince cooked down to a pale golden fluff, so I was unable to replicate the whorls of fruit when I put my version together. As you can see, the final result is a golden orange colour due to the caramelisation process during the later stages of cooking.

However, these diversions made no difference to the most important component of all: taste. Imagine a treacle tart combined with the taste and texture of citrussy Meltis fruits and you'll have some idea of the treat we've had. I'm making another one today and that'll be the end of a most lovely gift :(

I'll leave the final words to NAH: Can I have some more please?

* = with apologies to Edward Lear

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sunday Supplement #8

Sunday Supplement is an occasional round up of the virtual and real here at VP Gardens. I'd like it to be a weekly event just like the best bits and reviews you get in the Sunday papers, but I'm not promising ;)

Web Watch

I believe we need a winter warmer this week, so what could be better than this delicious mulled wine recipe from the Eden Project's chef?

Trending Topic

The continued cold snap this week has presented difficulties pretty much for everyone working in the gardening industry. Plants and trees can't be lifted to send to customers; landscaping and gardening activities have ground to a halt and many staff have had difficulty in getting to work. Lots of people (including a most grumpy NAH) have come down with a cold or other wintery illness. If that includes you or yours, I wish you a speedy recovery.

Link Love

The Constant Gardener has a fantastic advent calendar puzzle for you to unravel and win a prize :)

Blog Action

Don't forget, there's still time to enter my super book giveaway...

AND Out on the Streets is waiting to see how festive your neighbourhood is this year.

Comment of the Week: Anna said:

We have been having great fun trying to identify all the characters who have been snow walking in our garden.

If anyone else wants to join in Anna's fun, this guide is fantastic for birds and my friend Rob's Mammal Detective is a good one for er, mammals.

Keyword Search of Note: is allotment gardens recipes. Most timely as Alys Fowler has posted an intriguing recipe for kimchi (a fiery fermented Korean winter vegetable pickle) over at the BBC Gardening blog this morning. It looks guaranteed to banish the winter blues!

Back to Reality:

I have a crisis: all my kitchen scrap bins are full to overflowing and my lids are ice welded to their compost bins. I hope I can sort them out - I may be some time...

Time Out

Nigel Dunnett is speaking about Pictorial Meadows and rain gardening at the Bath University Gardening Club this week. Threadspider and I are hoping the current icy conditions have abated by then so we can get up the very steep hill.

The picture is of some berrylicious rowan trees at Chippenham station. I'm looking out for waxwings at the moment who seem to go for these kinds of berries, particularly at Sainsbury's car park if their previous form is anything to go by.

Last year I was singing Hallelujah; in 2008 I thought it was Nicer to Share; and finally in 2007 it was All About U.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Bloggers Take Over at Awards Ceremony

A tinsel strewn festive entrance, complete with lawnmower. It's also worth clicking to enlarge to see what the sign says...

It's December, so it's time for the annual bash that is the Garden Media Guild Awards: a glittering ceremony held in the heart of London yesterday at The Brewery. Last year I was privileged to be there and had an absolute ball, so despite the ticket price I was determined to be there this time. Then Martyn invited me to sit at 'the best table in the house', comprised almost entirely of bloggers and tweeters, so I knew I'd made the right decision.

The event's format was pretty much as I described last year and it was good to meet up with first timers like Michelle, Letitia and Dawn over a glass or two (it might have been 3?) of fizz and find out where we were sitting. It was at the back of the room (but with a fab view as we were on the balcony): perhaps our reputation had preceded us? There would be no chance of anyone going up for an award from that distance, or so we thought.

A rather blurry view from our balcony eyrie - too much fizz or the lighting conditions? You decide...

How wrong we were! It turned out ours was the most successful table of all. Victoria's listed them all (as well as everyone on our table), including her shock at winning Journalist of the Year. Well, it was most thoroughly deserved, as was Dawn's New Talent and Mark's Gardening Columnist of the Year awards.

After a year of seeing blogging coming in for some criticism, it was particularly satisfying to see both bloggers and tweeters stealthily hoovering up a number of awards and nominations across various media. In addition to the aforementioned, James at last had the quality of his writing for Gardens Illustrated acknowledged as a finalist in Journalist of the Year; Matthew Wilson (aka @LandscapeMan) picked up the award for Garden Programme TV Broadcast of the Year; and Anne Wareham (aka @Bulchey) won Website of the Year. Back in our usual habitat, Lia's gifted writing won the nod for Blog of the Year.

All of this success went to our heads rather and our table ended up being quite rowdy. Martyn was worried this might end up with us being separated at future events, but I was assured afterwards by one of the GMG committee that we'd actually got it right and it would be rather good to get some inter table rivalry going.

After lunch, there was time to meet the mysterious Fat Gardener and for more gossip over afternoon tea with Victoria and The Constant Gardener (hurrah our paths crossed this year!) before heading off to a nearby pub for the evening where Rob joined us with a most timely tin of chocolate biscuits. It was quite a day, with a number of opportunities for VP's VIPs and behind the scenes visits garnered for future blogging: I'll tell you more about these as and when they eventually happen :)

Update from my Comments: I've concentrated on the blogging aspects here, but I also need to mention Marc Rosenberg of Amateur Gardening who also graced our table and won the News Story of the Year. Gardening is often thought as a warm, fluffy occupation or hobby, so it was good to see a hard news expose from the gardening world which actually made a difference being given the nod from the Guild.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

GBMD: Awake and Join the Cheerful Choir

Snowy evidence of a visitor yesterday, but alas no signs of a cheerful choir yet...

Awake and join the cheerful choir
Upon this blessed morn
And glad hosannas loudly sing
For joy a saviour’s born.

Let all the choirs on earth below
Their voices loudly raise
And sweetly join the cheerful band
With angels in the skies

To tell this news the heavenly host
Appeared in the air
And humble shepherds in the field
Those joyful songs did hear

Wise men from far beheld the star
Which was their faithful guide
And when it pointed forth a way,
Then God they glorified

From Britford, Wiltshire (notated by Geoffrey Hill)

Our choirmaster has found a local Christmas carol for us to sing this year. This snippet is very similar to what we'll be singing :)

Garden Bloggers'Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.
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