Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 30 August 2013

A Taste of the Good Life Revisited: Luton Hoo

Last week I treated myself to a road trip and visited a couple of gardens slightly further afield. I'd been tempted by a tour around the gardens at Luton Hoo courtesy of their PR people, and it seemed churlish not take them up on their offer ;)

Never heard of Luton Hoo? Neither had I until a few weeks ago...

... as you can see the drive up to the hotel is lined with mature trees. This creates a tunnel-like approach and a sense of anticipation...

... until the draw dropping reveal of a huge and imposing property designed and built by Robert Adam in 1767. In its hey day that whole area in front of the house was loose gravel, which the gardening staff raked every day. Now it's a bonded surface, much to the relief of Keith, the Head Gardener!

Skirting around the Grade I listed mansion to the right, I found the formal gardens and this view back towards the hotel's terrace. Lots of people were there sipping tea, coffee and cocktails. It's also where I found my guide for the afternoon, Head Gardener Keith Hersey.

Keith has gardened at Luton Hoo for 33 years (since qualifying at Silsoe College) and has seen it in its glory, then decline, and its current recovery. Now he's at the heart of and in the middle of a 10 year programme of restoration to bring the gardens back to life.

I'm sure Keith won't mind me telling you that in the process of looking after the gardens, he has totally fallen for the place and regards the garden as his. After all, at one time it was only him there to love and look after them.

Now there's a team of 5 to look after the gardens, so we're definitely looking at much happier times :) Mind you, it takes 6 weeks to cut all the hedges and topiary!

Keith is an enthusiastic guide and has a great fund of stories to tell. This may have been the spot where Edward VIII finally decided Wallis Simpson really was the 'woman he loved' as they stayed at Luton Hoo just before he abdicated the throne. The Queen and Prince Philip spent part of their honeymoon here and her godson, Nicholas Philips was the last private owner until his death in 1991 (much more on Luton Hoo's history here). The house was part of the royal hunting circuit, so this is the place to be if you want that whole country house/Downton Abbey style experience.

Beyond the garden, there are over 1,000 acres to explore of a Grade I listed landscape designed by Capability Brown. The property was originally over 4,500 acres (making it the second largest Capability Brown designed estate, only Blenheim is larger), but it was split into two when the house was sold to the Elite Hotel Group in 1999. The other part of the estate can also be visited separately, which includes a walled garden.

However, a smaller estate doesn't mean there aren't classic Capability Brown styled views on hand. Just in front of those trees dead ahead is the lake, another element Capability Brown liked to place in his landscapes. The large urns you can see are just 2 of the 76 which Keith stocks from his north facing greenhouse (yes I know, north!). Keith was a bit surprised to find it was north facing too, but says it just means he grows his plants a bit harder and at least he doesn't have to worry about having to shade it in the summer.

And here's the view back towards the house. This was the front of the house originally and I'm standing not far from the croquet lawn, complete with comfy bench nearby which a couple had just flopped down on after finishing their game. Other leisure options include a golf course (which I found was quite well hidden), a spa and clay pigeon shooting. At this point, Luton airport is also very visible if I swing my camera to the right, though I didn't find the sight or the noise from it that obtrusive whilst I was there.

Another leisure option is the lawn tennis court. I love how it's a 'secret garden' hidden behind tall hedges, which double up as the barrier stopping stray tennis balls escaping too far. The restored pavilion you can see in the distance is mounted on wheels so it can be moved into the sun or shade as required. I want one!

And this is the next project in Keith's 10 year plan, the restoration of the Victorian rock garden Sir Julius Wernher built for Lady Alice at the end of the 19th Century. It'll take about 18 months to complete, but I still enjoyed my wander around in its current state.

As you can guess, I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon's visit with my knowledgeable and entertaining guide. The hotel has a varied 'Ladies Who Lunch' programme and I'm pretty sure Keith will be repeating his popular spot on that next summer :)

My thanks to Elite Hotels, and especially to Keith for their hospitality last week. This probably isn't my only post about Luton Hoo as Keith has kindly lent me his massive archive of photos and slides to look through, taken over his 33 years at the property.

And that's not quite all...

If you like what you see, you might like to know Garden Answers has a very tasty looking competition to win a luxurious stay at Luton Hoo. The closing date is September 19th 2013.

And then...

This visit and my other Taste of the Good Life earlier in the summer have given me much food for thought. I've come round to thinking an extended visit is a much better way of assessing a garden, by having the ability to 'live' in it and experience a number of different lights and moods. And what could be more delightful than visiting a garden of interest which also offers accommodation?

Here's some further ideas on this thought. Some have historical interest, some are more for foodie gardeners and some have both. Some I've visited, others are by reputation waiting for me to explore. Your ideas and experiences are also welcome.

  • Tylney Hall Hotel - in the same luxury hotel group as Luton Hoo. In Hampshire this time, with a Gertrude Jekyll garden
  • Gravetye Manor - where William Robinson had his home and developed many of his ideas about the natural garden
  • Barnsley House - formerly the home of Rosemary Verey. There's an option to become a Garden Club member as well as dining or staying at the hotel.
  • Bressingham Hall -  Alan Bloom's former home is now a B&B, right in the heart of The Dell, with Foggy Bottom also on hand. The Dell pioneered island beds and Foggy Bottom the conifers and heathers style of planting. There's also the national collection of Miscanthus and Adrian Bloom was updating the conifer style quite substantially when I visited. (gardens visited but not blogged)
  • The Pig - I had a fab afternoon with my blogging pals having A Taste of the Good Life and would love to stay there :)
  • Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons  - I haven't been, but Threadspider went all dreamy about it when she spoke to me about her visit
  • The Manor House Hotel at Castle Combe - Michelin star food in a fabulous setting, plus fresh produce from the kitchen garden and estate. All sampled by moi :)
  • National Trust cottages - plenty of options to stay at some of the properties with notable gardens. For instance, at Lytes Cary Manor this is an entire wing of the manor itself.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

My Crazy Petunias

My summer pots usually feature a petunia somewhere, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to trial a new variety called 'Crazytunia Pulse' this year. As you can see their growth is more upright than usual, which I'm very pleased with. I've found their sturdier nature means I'm not seeing the usual dieback I have with other petunias.

However, I was a little nonplussed by the flowers. I've been nurturing these plants indoors since early April and the flowers I'd had before planting out at the end of June were a gorgeously velvety wine red. Whilst these blooms are still acceptable, that dark red had spoiled me. I thought the paler blooms might be due to lack of feed, but as you can see they've continued flowering in the same way after I'd fed them.

Here's a closer look at that lower bloom in the top picture, so you get a good idea of what my flowers look like... hold that thought...

... because this is how they look in the catalogue I rediscovered last week. As you can see they're completely different. So I had a little ponder... my feeding and watering's OK, but the flowers not only look different to the catalogue but also to those I had earlier in the year. How could that be?

So I asked Michael Perry, Thompson & Morgan's New Product Development Manager via Twitter, who confirmed what I'd been suspecting:

"We've found they can be very sensitive to light and temps.. And actually don't need lots of fert, better colours when neglected..."

The proximity of my 'Crazytunias' to my Salvia 'Hot Lips' - it also changes colour with temperature - gave me the clue, which Michael confirmed in his DM :)

Come to think of it, changing flower colour in response to environmental conditions isn't that rare. For example, we all know about the change from blue to pink in lots of hydrangeas depending on whether the soil is acid or alkaline...

... we also get leaf colour changes in the autumn - chlorophyll production slows down, then stops due to changing daylength and falling temperatures, which allows the other leaf pigments to shine through...

... and a bit of light googling revealed flower colour variation is common in Hibiscus (there's a very interesting read all about it here), asters* and daylilies. It seems flower colour can vary owing to changes in temperature, light conditions (cloudy, sunny), pH, daylength, watering, feed, plant stress, or a combination of any of these.

I'm beginning to think growing plants with static flower colouration is a little bit, well ordinary ;)

Here's a final, gratuitous look at my 'Crazytunia', simply because I'm delighted with the
accidental combination I obtained with some self-sown Violas
* = This quote is from research on the anthocyanin levels in aster flowers and is just one of many that investigate the effects of low temperatures on flower anthocyanin levels:

"Temperature is one of the main external factors affecting anthocyanin accumulation in plant tissues: low temperatures cause an increase and elevated temperatures cause a decrease in anthocyanin concentration." from Physiol Plant. 2002 Apr;114(4):559-565.

I found the above quote via a question asked about flower colour variation in a discussion forum on plant botany. Apparently raised anthocyanin levels means more red pigmentation is seen, and carotinoids affects the amount of yellow.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Pesky Pests: Rose Sawfly

It's been a good year for the roses here at VP Gardens, so I suppose it's no surprise to find rose sawflies have made their first ever visit too. Grrr. They're quite hard to spot, but what usually gives them away is the skeleton leaves left after they've munched their way through the softer parts. Look closely at the picture just above the flowers to the left and right (click to enlarge if needed) and you'll see what I mean. Double Grrr.

Even when you know they're there, it can take a while to get your eye in and spot them, especially when they're lined up nose to tail on a leaf's edge. I've found shaking the leaves gently can help - they then tend to curl outwards away from the leaf, as you can see some of them have done in the above photo.

A mass squishing and re-inspection session ensued to rid my roses of these pesky blighters. I've added regular inspections of my roses to my early morning walk around the garden with coffee mug in hand. The female sawfly lays her eggs in the stems ready for the larvae to emerge onto the leaves, so it means they're well protected and hidden until they start to do their worst. As I only have a few roses, the inspection and squishing sessions are relatively brief. Phew.

It's interesting to note that I've only found sawfly on my three container grown roses, but the three left to fend for themselves in the garden are trouble-free so far *crosses fingers*. I wonder if there's a connection?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Salad Days: Getting It Taped

I've cleared the alliums from the raised beds and whilst I'm waiting for them to dry - so I can finally assess the results of my biochar experiment - I've started off some new leaves for our autumn salads.

To keep the spirit of experimentation going, I'm using some of the seed tapes which Simple Sowing have kindly given me to try. I've tried some seed tapes before and been quite critical of the limited range on offer, so it's great to have a much wider range to play with.

I used my trusty onion hoe* to mark out the rows and then watered them as I usually do when sowing seed. This turned out to be a wise move as the damp soil prevented the tape from blowing away when I laid it on top. Each tape is 1.67 metres long, so I had to trim it to size. I quickly learnt I need to keep my hands dry for this part of the operation, and for putting the tape back into its bag.

I've sown four types of lettuce ('Little Gem', 'Lollo Rosso', 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' and 'Salad Bowl'), plus some rocket and a chicory, 'Treviso Rosso'. I also sowed some conventional seed - land cress, 'Bull's Blood' beet, 'Green in Snow' mustard and a new lettuce 'Intred'. It'll be interesting to see how evenly I've managed to sow these compared to the seed tapes**. I have another raised bed to clear soon which I'll use to try some turnips***, kale and quick grow radish seed tapes.

Elsewhere this month, I've used some of the bolting lettuce to make lettuce and ginger soup (nicely warming when the weather turned cooler last week) and I've also learnt tomato leaves are edible. Apparently a few leaves added to any tomato based dish really help to enhance the flavour. That seems reasonable, though I'm not sure I'll add them to a tomato salad...
How's your salad faring this month? Mr Linky is waiting below to take your salad related post, or else you just leave a comment as usual. Any experiences of using tomato leaves in cooking are also welcome.

* = it's much more versatile than that; it's probably the garden tool I use the most. And all for a mere £1.50 from Dorset Steam Fair a few years ago :)

** = on past form they'll be rubbish ;)

*** = our site has a reputation for not being able to grow turnips and swede, it'll be interesting to see if the combination of a raised bed and seed tape cures the problem.

    The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

    Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence.


    Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    Tah dah! Success :)

    It's been a very satisfying week as I've managed to make a success of two things: one I've never tried before, the other where I've failed previously. I hope you don't mind while I bang on my drum a little bit...

    Firstly, I've managed to get the moth orchid I posted about here to bloom again. This is despite my completely destroying its leaves because I left it outside whilst the nights were really too cold to do so safely. According to an aside in a fab book I'm reading at the moment (The Flower of Empire), the key to orchid success is not to let the roots die. Seeing they're in rude health, perhaps that's why I have a positive result.

    Now, I've got to achieve the same with the Cymbidium mentioned in the same post. It's enjoying its summer holiday on the patio very much and is currently throwing out a couple of new shoots. Perhaps that's why it's not flowering...

    And here's my 'Basket of Fire' chilli plant. I've never managed to get to this stage before because I've always put my plants out onto the patio during the summer. I've since learnt we don't quite have the climate to do that (even in a good year) and as you can see, the indoor windowsill treatment has corrected the problem.

    We had a bit of a debate on Twitter on whether I needed to give a helping hand with pollination. It was split pretty much 50:50, so I decided not to and see what happened. I doubt if I had 100% self pollination, but then I've got more than enough chillis for my needs with this variety, with more still to come.

    My next challenge is to keep this plant as a perennial and add it to my Edible House Plant collection.

    Isn't it great when you learn a little bit more about a vast subject and then find you have success? Long may the learning continue :)

    Monday, 19 August 2013

    A Purple Patch - At Cotswold Lavender

    Part of the show beds at Cotswold Lavender which displays mass plantings of a number of
    different varieties. You can also see a little of the harvested beds towards the top of the picture

    Lavender is for lovers true, Which evermore be faine; Desiring always for to have Some pleasure for their paine: And when that they obtained Have the love that they require, Then have they all their perfect joie, And quenched is the fire. 

    Clement Robinson in: A Handefull of Pleasant Delites, 1584 (possibly 1566)

    Just when you think you've got lost, your nose tells you you're still on the right track and you're very close to where you want to be. Our visit may not have been perfectly timed (the lavender harvest had just finished), but there was still plenty for Victoria and I to discover when we visited Cotswold Lavender last Friday.

    Note this is a farm not a garden, so there are plenty of farm buildings around and the lavender is cultivated as a crop, probably (I think) as part of a farm diversification scheme. The lavender was planted in 2000 and the precious oil is extracted via steam distillation on site.

    Much has been said about the plight of bees this year, so it was heartening to be greeted by a very workmanlike hum as hundreds of them made their way around the flowers in the show beds. There were a number of different butterflies flitting about too. A further tick of approval from me was finding the field headlands are part of a rare arable plants conservation project, which aims to encourage biodiversity.

    Even though harvesting was over, I was surprised at how much flower was still left on the plants. Victoria and I worked out this must have been partly due to the harvester turning round as the ends of each row had noticeably more flowers. We were also told later the harvester is pre-set to a certain height, so the younger growth doesn't get cut. This allows the plant to mature properly and maximises the oil content of what's actually harvested.

    Lavender 'Sawyers' - note the 'brashy' limestone soil - just like I have at home!

    I much prefer the deep purple kinds of lavender, but I'm keen to get away from my usual choice of 'Hidcote'. Good varieties for purple - according to the show beds when we visited - are 'Elizabeth', 'Grosso', 'Hidcote', 'Peter Pan', and 'Sawyers'.

    It was good to visit on a day with a mixture of rain, dullness and bright sunshine as this allowed us to evaluate which lavenders looked good in a variety of conditions. 'Sawyers' turned out to be my favourite, which I hadn't looked at twice earlier when perusing the individual plants in the sales area. Its lighter green foliage contrasts well with the deep purple flowers and looked great in both sunshine and showers. 'Grosso' was also highly recommended by the farm's staff.

    Another surprise for me was finding special culinary lavender for sale. I thought I could just use some of my flowers for cooking, but this isn't recommended. Naturally we tried some via the cafe - by sharing a generous slice of  lemon and lavender madeira cake (recipe also available), which was delicious. There was just the right balance between the sharpness of the lemon and the sweeter lavender. We were told lavender recipes are the kind where precision is needed - add too much and everything tastes like soap - yuk!

    I was also keen to see whether the use of lavender and garlic in cooking I'd heard about on Breakfast News the day before is recommended. The staff in the shop thought this was a bit adventurous, though a quick perusal of The Scented Kitchen, revealed a number of recipes with a middle eastern influence using this combination..

    Cotswold Lavender is open until September 1st 2013 - the website is good for news re the progress of flowering and harvesting.  A small charge is payable to walk around the site when the lavender is at its best - as we were visiting outside the peak time, our visit was free. Note that the show beds are also considered to have gone over now (as at 13th August) - I shall be keeping a closer eye on the best time to go when I return next year.

    You may also like:

    • Norfolk Lavender - the tale of our trip to see the national collection a few years ago.
    • Other lavender places I've yet to visit are Wolds Way (warning: there's a dreadful flashing banner displayed at the top of their page) in Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight (another national collection holder). It's interesting to see the differences in the visitor experience on offer according to these websites. I'd say Cotswold Lavender looks the least commercially orientated place of the four options available.
    • Update: Helen Gazeley has kindly added Mayfield Lavender in Surrey to the visiting list via her comment :)

    Friday, 16 August 2013

    Gromit Unleashed

    I've had lots of fun going to Bristol lately because of all the decorated Gromit Unleashed models found around the city. There's been other trails before - such as the Wow Gorillas in Bristol 2 years ago, plus the pigs and lions in Bath, but there's nothing quite like Gromit is there?

    There are 80 to find, so it's a good way of seeing Bristol. As you can see, they're not just outdoors - the bottom centre one in the collage above is at the cinema at Cabot Circus - can you tell who it is? There are two wonderful ones at Temple Meads station - have a look at Isambark Kingdog Brunel in the centre of the collage.

    They're not just in just in Bristol either - places like Cheddar and Westonbirt have the odd one and Chippenham Town Hall has the smaller size which were sent to schools and community groups to decorate - by Sheldon in this case. I was delighted to find the one pictured at Paddington, which invites passengers to come to Bristol. The GWR train managers have been known to announce Gromit's whereabouts when they arrive at the station ;)

    The trail is proving to be popular and Gromit must be one of Bristol's most well-loved characters (Aardman Animations is based in the city). Children run up to him with squeals of delight when they see a new one and I'm not that far behind them in the running stakes either. The free trail map is in reprint after the first 150,000 were snapped up and there's an App you can download for 69p, with 40p of that going to Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal. After the trail finishes in September, all the models will be auctioned to raise money for the same charity.

    Sadly some of them were vandalised, including the celeb one designed by Joanna Lumley. However, it was heartening to not only find this Gromit restored to good health last month, but also to see the get well card which appeared in his absence.

    There's a few other Gromit themed items appearing around the city too - like the wafer shown below, which came with my friend H's ice cream on our recent GNO.

    Here are a few more of my favourites:

    Ice cream wafer, Trevor Bayliss's 'Wind This Way' and 'Nuts and Bolts' at Temple Meads

    And I love the irony of another favorite character - Simon's Cat - adorning Gromit at Cabot Circus...

    The trail continues until September 8th, so you still have time to get cracking!

    Update: On October 3rd the auction of all the Gromit statues raised 2.3 million pounds for the Bristol Children's Hospital :)

    Thursday, 15 August 2013

    GBBD: Mellow Yellow and Crocosmia Glow

    This picture was taken on a dull day and the flower is shaded by other vegetation,
    thus showing how yellow can light up the planting scene

    There is one universal prediction which holds true for gardening - no matter what - every year will be different :)

    2013 is proof in action. After the longer, colder winter and spring's delay, who'd have thought July would be so hot and dry? For the first time in years it means my courgettes, squashes and cucumbers are all flowering in profusion up at the allotment.

    In fact they're assuming triffid-like tendencies. They've already overrun the oca (see my 2013 plot plan) and are heading off into Compost City and my new raised beds. I've also had to stop them sneaking off into the plots next door, so one of them has decided to climb up the grapevine instead. It's a delight to see them doing what they're meant to do and I'm enjoying their mellow yellow flowers, as are loads of pollen beetles.

    My Nepalese allotment neighbour is very excited by my plants and plans to grow the same varieties next year. When I said I was worried they were beginning to overrun their allotted space, she got even more excited and told me the shoots are edible. Apparently I just need to peel them and then they can be used in stir-fries. What a marvellous discovery and a great way to keep them in check.

    At last there's some late summer fire at VP Gardens, which is
    making me think my large terrace bed should be more hot, hot, hot!

    Another prediction which holds true - for my garden at least - is as soon as I mentally decide to get rid of something, it'll slyly decide to over perform and bowl me over. This year it's the Crocosmia 'Emberglow' in my large terrace bed. Until now their best part's been during early growth, when their fresh, sword-like leaves are back-lit perfectly when I look over from the patio.

    At flowering time, they've tended to topple over and swamp whatever's planted in front of them. Most disappointing. This year, the seed heads of my 'river' of Allium christophii have formed the perfect natural staking for them to punch through and lean over more conversationally, so at last I'm enjoying the flowers. The only thing that's missing now are the humming birds, like the ones I saw feeding on Crocosmia at the Seattle Fling. That was my first natural, magical sighting of them sipping the flowers - thanks to Mr McGregor's Daughter excitedly waving me over so I saw them - and one that's sorely missed here at VP Gardens.

    What's magical in your garden this month?

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

    Monday, 12 August 2013

    Do You Have the Best Blog?

    RHS Gardening Blogs Competition

    The RHS have launched a competition to find the best garden blog for 2013 :)

    Sounds interesting, tell me more

    All you need to do is select one blog post about gardening you've published between the launch date (Monday 8th July) and the competition's closing date (September 30th). There's no need to offer any more posts, or your entire blog as the judges will only consider the post you've entered.

    What are the judges looking for?

    Your post can be about any subject as long as it's about gardening in some way. It's the quality of the writing that matters, and it should be unique to your blog, not published elsewhere. Any images used in the post must also be yours. The selected post must be from your own personal blog, not part of a group blog which publishes from a number of authors.

    The judges will select a shortlist of 10 finalists, which will then be opened up for a public vote, just like the 'People's Choice' used at the RHS's garden shows.

    OK, so what can I win?

    All finalists are invited to visit an RHS Flower Show of their choice on press day in 2014. The winner will have the chance to blog on the new RHS website, a visit to an RHS Flower Show on press day in 2014, plus a tour of an RHS Garden with the curator.

    How do I enter?

    You can notify the RHS of your entry via one of three different ways:

    • Twitter: Tweet a link to your post with the hashtag #RHSGardeningBlogs - you may like to add @The_RHS for good measure
    • Facebook: Post a link to your post on the RHS Facebook page with the text 'RHS Gardening Blogs Competition'
    • Email: Send a link to your post to

    I like your shiny button at the top of your post, can I have one?

    Only if you enter! You can grab the code from the RHS's website. The finalists will also get a Finalists button for their blog. And of course, the winner gets an exclusive button just for them.

    How do I find out more?

    Visit the RHS blog competition page, especially to check out the full Terms and Conditions and to grab your Entrant button :)

    Friday, 9 August 2013

    For Seed

    I sneaked over and took this picture on my neighbour's allotment earlier this week as it's a timely reminder to start saving my own. Coriander is notorious for running to seed quickly (though 'Confetti' is meant to stay in leaf longer than most varieties) and whilst I can always do with more leaves, I also welcome and value its seed. Home saving is so easy to do with this plant (just leave it to dry) and when it's ground up it adds a wonderfully warming, citrussy quality to winter soups.

    I've also been pondering whether my lettuces could be saved for seed as they're so keen to bolt this year. My 'Black Seeded Simpson' and 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' look to be good bets as they're described as 'old' varieties and 'Relic' is sold as an heirloom variety. This suggests their seed lines are stable and they're not F1 varieties - key as the latter won't come true from seed. 'Dazzle', 'Little Gem' and 'Salad Bowl' should also be OK because I've found an online reference describing them as Open Pollinated varieties*. That's probably enough to be going on with for a bit of fun and seed saving experimentation.

    Looking at my trusty Back Garden Seed Saving bookI see lettuces are fairly easy, apart from needing to take a bit more care when cleaning them ready for storage. They usually self-pollinate, but as my plants are very close together, I'm going to put a bag over each seed head just in case. I'll leave cross-pollination and experiments with developing my own varieties for another year :)

    I've successfully saved tomato seed before, as well as fennel, chillis and various beans (shallots and garlic bulbs too), but this is my first foray into leafy salads. I'm interested in hearing about your experiences with saving salad seeds, especially from other leaf varieties such as spinach, mustards, or pak choi to name but three. Which are easy to save? Any varieties which work particularly well? Do you have any seed saving tips to pass on to other Salad Challengers?

    I've just remembered Naomi's written about Tree Spinach this week: how great it is for salads and how it self-seeds sooooo easily - as do rocket, winter radishes and all kinds of mustards now I come to think about it. I can certainly vouch for tree spinach's tendencies as the plant Karen gave me last year self-seeded itself into 2 pots nearby which were meant to be overwintering Echinacea. At around a foot high, I must have the smallest specimens of 'tree' spinach in the world ;)

    * = I've explained more about Open Pollinated and F1 varieties here if you're interested.

    NB If you'd like a sneak preview freebie packet of lettuce seed, then you can get hold of Thompson & Morgan's brand new variety Intred here.

    This is my third and final post celebrating this year's National Allotments Week. Monday was Plot Plan 2013 Style and Wednesday was a look at the fab Roll Out the Barrows.
      The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

      Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence.


      Wednesday, 7 August 2013

      Roll Out the Barrows

      The outdoor space surrounding the Southbank Centre in London has plenty of growing on show at the moment as part of its Festival of Neighbourhood :)

      I'd gone especially to see the Edible Bus Stop's latest incarnation which is called Roll Out the Barrows. As you can see it's a lot of fun. Volunteers are looking after the barrows over the summer and they have the chance to take theirs home when the festival ends for their own community growing project.

      What I didn't know before I got there, was that Roll Out the Barrows is just one part of the wider festival. To my delight I also found...

      ... a mobile orchard with benches - this is  a joint initiative with the National Trust called Octavia's Orchard. Each tree is also 'twinned' with a National Trust property and is available for adoption. Round the corner there was...

      ... a giant herbal greenhouse ready for a Herbfest with the Company of Cooks. It was a bit of a surprise to hear John and Yoko Lennon's voices speaking out from behind the herbs though!

      And last, but not least there was...

      ... a most wonderfully inventive walk called Queen's Walk Window Gardens by Wayward Plants. It's made from reclaimed windows and makes a very different stroll along bustling Southbank. Yes, it's rhubarb dangling down from those pots, if you were wondering. At night the sheds are illuminated :)

      I particularly liked this juxtaposition of the growing vegetables and the fruit seller ;)

      If you never thought Growing Your Own had street cred, then I hope these photos will help to change your mind. In view of its location (and some of the presentation), I wonder if these exhibits add another dimension to the age old gardens as art argument? I simply enjoyed them for their quirkiness and sense of fun.

      They're well worth a visit if you're in London from now until September 8th.

      This is my second post in celebration of National Allotments Week. There's also Monday's Plot Plan 2013 Style and Friday's For Seed.

      Update: It's not just London which currently has GYO street cred. Anna over at Green Tapestry has a wonderful taster of this week's Dig the City, Manchester's urban gardening festival :)

      Monday, 5 August 2013

      Plot Plan 2013 Style

      Happy National Allotments Week! It's a while since we had an overview of my plot, so I thought now is the ideal time to do so. I do love this time of the year when the plot is full and there's loads of harvesting to be done :)

      When I gave up half of my plot 2 years ago, I speculated I might be more productive as I wouldn't be constantly battling to keep everything up to scratch. After last year's false start (all that rain), it's proving to be true, especially after I installed some raised beds earlier in the year.

      I was sad I might not have the space to experiment any more. I'm glad to say this fear was unfounded as I currently have 4 of them on the go: growing onions, shallots and garlic with or without biochar; a new variety of sunflower; using various seed tapes; and growing potatoes the no-dig way. The latter is a failure so far (compost not deep enough) and I'll say more about the others at a later date.

      The pictures above don't show everything, so here's my Plot Plan for 2013 - click on the diagram to enlarge if needed. The items in black are the perennial areas, such as all my fruit.

      I'm pretty happy with the way I have things laid out now with the mix between raised beds, permanent planting and other areas.

      However, the bramble amongst the gooseberries is proving to be a thorny(!) problem. I'm going to have to dig out the gooseberries (and possibly take cuttings to replace them - I haven't decided one way or the other yet) in order to tackle it more thoroughly.

      You'll see from some of the accompanying notes that I still have some planting left to do later this year. Most of it will go where the potato no-dig experiment is. The exception is the wasabi which is earmarked for a space below the apple trees as it likes a shady spot.

      So I have a few weeds to get rid of, some further planting, plus loads of harvesting left to do this year. Overall I'm pleased with the way things have gone so far. How about you, how's your plot faring this week?

      This is my first post celebrating this year's National Allotments Week. Wednesday's looks at the fab Roll Out the Barrows and Friday's is For Seed.

      Friday, 2 August 2013

      Gardening Against the Odds

      Annie Maw (right), a previous Gardening Against the Odds Awards winner
      at Horatio's Garden last year with Cleve West and Olivia Chapple
      When Elspeth Thompson died a few years ago, one of the positive things to emerge from that tragedy was the Gardening Against the Odds Awards. Unbelievably it's now in its fourth year - how time flies - and entries for this year's Awards are now being sought.

      It's been a privilege to meet Annie Maw, a person with such a positive outlook on life who is also one of the Award's previous winners. As well as her own gardening activities, her work as a trustee for the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust means she's been instrumental in ensuring Horatio's Garden is as fabulous as it is.

      The press release for this year's award says about the previous winners:

      "They include people with psychological or physical problems who find gardening empowers rather than restricts, where health, space and location are no barriers."  - the underlining is mine because these words sum up how I feel gardening should be for everyone.

      There's no doubt in my mind Annie was a worthy Award of Merit winner. The link takes you through to Annie's story and how a new garden brought back her zest for life :)

      The Awards aren't just about people; gardens which have defied the odds can be nominated too. Plus a new award is introduced this year - Young Gardeners Against the Odds.

      The closing date for entries is Monday 30 September. Full details of how to enter or nominate a garden are here.  More information about the Gardening Against The Odds Awards including previous winners’ stories is here.

      When I started my Against the Odds series earlier this year, it was my intention to use the category in its widest sense. Raising awareness of these Awards was at the top of my list :)

      Thursday, 1 August 2013

      GBMD: The Wise Gardener...

      The wise gardener... is one who makes his gardening a joy and not a chore

      From a sign seen in the garden at the Garden Museum in June. I'm trying to heed that advice and looking at my first-time grown tree lilies® is helping enormously :)
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