Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 29 November 2013

Gardeners' Question Time Live

Our GQT panel: Matthew Biggs, Christine Walkden and Matthew Wilson

A couple of Monday's ago, I had the hottest ticket in the county when Gardeners' Question Time came to record at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon. A quick exchange of tweets a couple of months ago meant I was there in the super company of Cally and Sara (of #britishflowers fame), thanks to Cally securing the tickets for us.

We met up beforehand at a local farm shop for coffee and cake to keep us going - doors opened at 5.30pm and recording finished just after 8.30. We puzzled over our individual questions, before gaining all round approval of their worthiness then agreeing that all of them were far too long and we stood no chance of posing them to the panel. Thus we took our seats at the top of the auditorium safe in the knowledge we could sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

How wrong we were.

Eric Robson called out my name, followed swiftly by Sara's, so we had to make our way down to the front row to sit ready to pose our questions. For me this came with the added benefit of a peck on both cheeks from Matthew Wilson! *blushes in front of around 300 people*

The panel don't know the questions beforehand, which means there's a frantic scribbling of notes whilst they're asked. I was really pleased to see this was the case as I had quite an argument with F up at the allotment a few months ago, who swore blind the panel had plenty of time to think of their answers.

Today my question will be broadcast to the nation, so I thought I'd give you a sneak preview of the subject. I'm hoping most of the answers remain in the final edit as I had no means of noting all of the advice given at the time.

Broadcast times are today (Friday 29th November) at 3pm pm on Radio 4, with a shorter repeat on Sunday afternoon at 2pm. I'll put a link into the iPlayer version when it goes up (and here it is - my question is about 7 minutes in).

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My account of what happened after I asked a question when the show came to Chippenham a few years ago.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Against the Odds: Zauschneria californica

I saw this Zauschneria californica (aka Californian fuchsia or Hummingbird's trumpet) at Bodnant last month, which was working very hard to brighten up a very rainy autumnal day. Judging by the other plants in this wall, I think this specimen must have been self-sown. It's clearly thriving in its chosen home.

Despite hailing from the warmth of California, this is a pretty hardy plant (H4), which can be evergreen or deciduous depending on where it finds itself. I first encountered it leaning over the garden wall of the Methodist chapel in Chippenham a couple of years ago, and since then its been on my list of plants destined for the terraced beds.

I'm now kicking myself for not picking up the 2 plants I saw on sale in Bodnant's plant centre. The garden has its own propagation unit and the staff there are producing lots of healthy plants at very reasonable prices. I'll just have to go back when I visit Karen again :)

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Great British Elm Experiment

Happy National Tree Week!

I can't think of a better way of celebrating than by planting a tree as part of The Great British Elm Experiment. This Conservation Foundation project aims to find out why some elms survived the Dutch elm disease epidemic during the 1960s and 70s which killed 25 million trees (around 90%) in the UK. If the why can be explained, it also paves the way for this iconic tree to grace our landscape once more.

Over two thousand trees have been planted so far and height, girth, wildlife, signs of disease and other data are being recorded as part of this long-term experiment. The disease usually strikes when the tree is around 15 years old, so this is a long-term project.

Trees are free for schools and community projects/non-profit organisations and there's a small charge for private individuals and businesses. Note: these trees grow very tall, so they need lots of space.

A fab elm fact:

Terry at The Botanic Nursery has surviving elms in his nursery garden in Atworth. He told me he keeps them below 4 feet in height as the beetle which acts as the disease carrier lands and feeds on taller trees.

NB A date for your diaries...

As part of National Tree Week, there's a 10-hour tweet-a-thon on Wednesday 27th November, from 9am until 7pm. You can pose your tree questions to a panel of experts who have a unique insight into trees and woods within the UK.

Find out more on the Tree Council's website and for details of which twitter names to use and when. The hashtag to use/follow is #NationalTreeWeek

NB The picture used to illustrate this post is the poster available to download on the Great British Elm Experiment website.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Salad Days: Hunkered Down for Winter

It's been a long, slow autumn this year, which means I'm still picking plenty of salad leaves - enough for a couple of meals a week. Here's a 'warts and all' view of my allotment salad. It's also overrun with salsify which has self seeded itself into my raised beds. Time to get weeding!

This week's colder weather means re-growth at the plot and in my home based cold frames has slowed right down. As I have plenty snuggled under protection, I'll still be able to pick lots of salad for a few more weeks, but now is the time to start my indoor sowings of pea shoots in readiness for leaner times.

I've been really pleased with this new lettuce variety 'Intred', which is providing a colourful addition to the salad bowl. It's thriving under a cloche, producing plenty of tasty leaves beneath a protective layer of tougher outer ones. My lettuce 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' and chicory 'Treviso Rosso' seed tape leaves sown in August are also standing well beneath their fleece and cloche protection respectively.

Soon it'll be time to switch to sprouted seed and microgreen production and my 52 Week Salad Challenge cycle will start all over again.

How's your salad faring? What steps are you taking to keep your crops going this winter? Add your news in the comments, or add the URL of your salad related blog post in Mr Linky below. NB there are some great comments as well as the links :)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

In Horatio's Garden

Horatio's Garden has just released a short film which explains what the garden is all about. It's beautiful and I guarantee you won't fail to be moved.

Horatio's Garden isn't just the wonderful garden in Salisbury any more. It's all about having similar gardens at every spinal unit in the country.

One down, eleven more to go...

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

Monday, 18 November 2013

Seasonal Recipe: For the Love of Quinces

Last week I received just the kind of email I like from my friend M:

Are you going to choir tonight? it read, because I have a bag of quince for you.

And so it came to pass, a large bag of golden treasure was handed to me later that evening :)

For me, quince summons up happy memories of long leisurely lunches taken outdoors on my project in Mallorca. Manchego cheese topped with membrillo was an extra special treat for us to have before we cleared the table to examine the invertebrate samples we'd caught in the morning.

There were no freshly caught invertebrates yesterday, but freshly made membrillo - aka quince cheese or quince paste - is definitely on the menu along with the poached quince and cake I mentioned yesterday.

I still had fruit to spare, so I decided to roast a couple. We had roast chicken for dinner and there was just enough room in the oven to slide in a dish of quince for NAH and me to have for dessert.


2 small quinces, washed well so all the fuzzy stuff on the outside is removed
250 ml water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime (or you could use half a lemon)
2 star anise


  1. Pour the water into a large (ish) pan, add the sugar, lime juice and star anise and bring slowly to the boil
  2. Just before the water comes to the boil, quickly slice the quince in half and add to the syrupy liquid - the cut half of the quince should placed face down in the pan so they don't go brown
  3. Turn the heat down to a simmer and poach the quince until soft (approx 20 minutes)
  4. Place the quince cut side up in a small ovenproof dish and pour over the syrup
  5. Roast in a moderately hot oven for about 25 minutes (gas mark 5, 190oC electric or 170oC for a fan assisted oven) until the quince are pinky brown in colour
  6. Serve warm with a large dollop of natural yoghurt or half fat creme fraiche
Note that I haven't removed the skin - it can be removed whilst transferring to the dish (if lucky), or just eat them, or simply scoop the roasted quince out of their skins when eating. You'll also need to remove the core. I didn't remove the skin or core the quince as they are so hard to cut - it's a much easier task to do later.

Oh and make sure you also serve the poaching juices - they should be jelly-like and utterly delicious.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: Two for Vegetable Growers

Do not judge this book by its cover, well the front one at least. For once I'm showing you the back as well as it's much more representative of the overall content.

What lies inside is a charming pictorial tale of life on Caroline Deput's allotment in colour drawings. Quite a lot of the narrative is in colour too.

This is a very inventive and humorous account from 2010 through to early 2012, packed with the trials and triumphs of allotment owner 'Floss'.

Amongst the usual allotment plans, lists of things to do and harvests achieved, there are exquisitely drawn details, such as the badger who's trashed the tayberries*. I particularly enjoyed the tale of 2010 told via a snakes and ladders board and the bindweed wars cartoon, which reminded me so much of Karen's comics**.

This is a positive allotment tale, which doesn't shy away from when things go wrong. In the process of drawing Plot 19, life is depicted in a much more realistic way than most allotment manuals manage using photographs.

* = my sympathy as we have badgers on our allotment site too - ours loves sweetcorn.
** = a much missed labour of love

As hinted in its title, Grow Harvest Cook is a gardening book hybrid which covers both the growing and cooking of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. It reflects the blog of the same name which hails from Australia.

It has a bit of a retro feel as the covers are very thick board, but what lies inside is a very thorough and modern list of 90 fruits and vegetables to grow, harvest and cook from the plot.

We can't grow all of them in the UK - macadamia nuts for instance - but all of the produce is obtainable here for us to take advantage of the inventive recipes. Today I'll be using both the poached quince and paste recipes and some of the results of the former will be used to make the quince cake tomorrow :)

The produce is listed in alphabetical order, so fruit and vegetables rub shoulders with each other, along with a hefty sprinkling of herbs, nuts and the odd edible flower or two. The treatment of each is broadly the same: a brief outline of how to grow, followed by a harvest section which covers basic freezing and other ways of storage and preservation as appropriate. There are plenty of good photographs for illustration.

The cook section has at least one beautifully photographed main recipe with plenty of variations and short recipes included for good measure - 90 different crops metamorphoses into 280 recipes.

For me this book works better as a cookbook, especially for seasonal inspiration. I believe the grow and harvest sections are a bit too rudimentary to be useful, but cooks wishing to grow more of their own produce may think the opposite.

Disclosure: I received review copies of both books, but the words are my own. The links aren't affiliate ones, so I won't make a bean if you decide to click and buy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

GBBD: Cute Cyclamen

Can you spot which are the cyclamen leaves and those of the ivy they're named after?

Each year I'm pleased to see the return of my Cyclamen hederifolium in the front side garden. It's a bit of a miracle they survive really as my neighbour always covers them with several thick layers of leaves with his leaf blower. There were about triple the number of blooms on view, until the leaf blower made its first annual appearance at the weekend...

On the whole I don't mind my neighbour's antics as my border is benefiting from some more Compost Direct as outlined last week. However, I did worry at first my cyclamen wouldn't survive owing to the timing of their cover up. Now I see I can relax as I've spotted at last they're beginning to spread out from the spot where I planted them 10 years ago.

I don't usually go that much for pink flowers, but these are a delicate sugar pink which looks just right and helps to light up the shady spot I've given them. This morning's low slanting sunlight suits them rather well too.

We've enjoyed a mild autumn so far, but today that's set to change as the wind is due to move round to the north to reveal its more wintry side. Next week's tasks looks like they'll include cutting down the dahlia stems to make the mulch for their duvet.

How's your garden faring this Blooms Day?

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Unusual Front Gardens #16: Derelict

Whilst on holiday in Ireland, it took me a while to realise these 'houses' were derelict. The brightly painted windows and doors plus the flowers in front with the lush vegetation behind had disguised them. This was right in the middle of the village close to where we were staying, so it was a very prominent spot just a few yards from the entrance to Mount Usher gardens.

Quite a few derelict buildings in County Wicklow sported the painted treatment, but I saw no others with flowers.

Monday, 11 November 2013

I Love My Job

Last year I attended the RHS seminar Horticulture a Career to be Proud Of which looked at the skills gap crisis in horticulture and why it's rarely highlighted as a viable careers option in schools.

As a follow-up they produced a very good report earlier this year called Horticulture Matters. However, I think their latest offering of 10 short videos from young people working in horticulture under the #ilovemyjob banner is far more powerful. Watch John talk about his own business as a nurseryman and you can't fail to be won over.

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

NB if there are any teachers reading this, students currently studying horticulture at my local college have their pick of 5-6 jobs when they qualify. Not all of them are on low pay either. Here's a link to the Grow website which has lots of information about the wide variety of careers available in horticulture.

Here's the full playlist of 10 videos:


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Breaking the Rules: Compost Direct

Look at any list of gardening jobs published for this month and I bet most of them - if not all - will have 'make leaf mould' on there. Now leaf mould is a very good thing, but the problem is I have more leaves than my leaf mould bin can take. And like many urban gardeners with a modest plot, I've run out of space to build another one. Besides, when I come to empty it next year, there'd only be a thimble full* of lovely crumbly stuff to use.

This year I've decided to learn from my shady borders in my front and back garden. They're beneath the trees on the public land, so they quickly get covered with a thick layer of  leaves in autumn. It means I never have to mulch these borders and all the plants get snuggled down for winter with very little effort on my part.

So I've decided to extend this principle of 'compost direct' to other areas of the garden. Many of my plants - like my dahlias - need mulching in the autumn to protect them from winter's worst and it's allowed them to survive without lifting**. Therefore, the leaves you can see in the above picture will form the start of my dahlia duvet this year.

This isn't so much breaking the rules as ignoring one and placing greater emphasis on another by focusing on the mulching side of things. It also means less effort as I won't have to take the leaves all the way down to the bottom of the garden. Most of them will go on the terrace beds in the middle instead, which are handily placed right by the patio where most of the leaves have accumulated.

My only regret is I haven't thought of this before.

Is there anything you're doing differently this autumn?

* = I might be exaggerating a little for effect ;)

** = don't try this if you garden further north - remember I'm in the softy south. Leaving dahlias to overwinter under a thick layer of protective mulch can be tried south of a line drawn between the Wash and the Severn estuary, but success also depends on your garden's aspect, soil and height above sea level.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Bargain Offer and a Book Giveaway: Counting Steps

This is a very fine book written by Mark, my fellow Chippenham blogging buddy. I'm proud to have a signed copy with the message "in friendship" written inside.

If you like your reading thoughtful, funny, sad, memoir, raw, landscape, family, nature and a whole host of other things, then this is the book for you. This is writing which defies a single classification and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

This week there are two ways in which you can enjoy Mark's book for free...

The first way

... for those of you who have a Kindle or the Kindle App and it's available for the next four days only on Amazon. 

There are no catches - just a free download instead of the usual £4.49. There's even an extract to read online. 

Giving away free copies might seem counter intuitive, but it's an established technique publishers use to rise up the rankings - and the impact on later sales is evidently positive. It costs publishers a lot to do this... 

... the word is getting out there on how we need to support our small, independent British nurseries and British grown plants to keep these businesses thriving. The same applies to our small independent publishers like Cinnamon Press, the publishers of Mark's book. 

If you can, please take the time to download Counting Steps - and send on the link, email your friends, tweet it, Facebook it,  mention it on your blog - any way in which you can help to get the word out there is appreciated. 

The second way

Mark's generously given me four copies for a blog giveaway. So if possible, why not download the book in support of Cinnamon Press and enter your name for a copy of the book too? All you need to do is leave a comment below saying you'd like to take part.

This is open to UK readers only - I'll be posting these to you at my own expense and the cost of sending books abroad is pretty pricey. This giveaway closes at midnight GMT on Sunday, November 10th and I'll need to be able to contact you via your comment.

Monday, 4 November 2013

And the Winners Are...

Many thanks to everyone who took part in my socks giveaway. NAH has delved into my special terracotta pot to reveal the winners as follows:

Heat Holders wellie socks

Anna (Green Tapestry)
Esther (Esther's Boring Garden Blog)

Workforce socks

Colleen (Rus in Urbis)
Flighty (Flighty's plot)
Katie Skeoch via Facebook

Congratulations! I'll be in touch shortly to make arrangements to send your prize to you :)

Stay tuned for my next exciting giveaway...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

I Love November For...

... this Blog

Today I can quote A.A. Milne and say 'Now we are six' as it's my blog's birthday. However, unlike the poem, Veg Plotting won't be staying six for ever and ever, and the more I learn, the less I think I'm clever.

Thank you for your continued readership and thoughtful comments - it's like having my own team of cheerleaders :)

The picture is of me reading my blog in a new way  - to me anyway - in the garden. More on that to come...

Friday, 1 November 2013

GBMD - The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Near the entrance to Devil's Glen, County Wicklow, Ireland

National Tree Week is 23rd November to 1st December this year.

20 years ago I and around 30 other volunteers celebrated National Tree Week by helping Professor Martin Haigh plant 1,000 trees directly into a coal spoil heap in south Wales. This is a land reclamation technique pioneered in Bulgaria, which they found is more successful in stabilising the land and kick-starting soil formation than the grassing over we're more familiar with.

Martin was trying to find the right combination of native trees for the UK which would replicate the Bulgarian results. We planted alder and willow which could withstand the soggy, claggy material, plus Scots pine and oak. The idea was the first three species were sacrificial and would help protect the oak; this would then grow on to form the mature woodland.

In 1993 we planted in the snow - as well as having the odd snowball fight - and these trees went on to grow more rapidly than those planted in previous years. I like to think the harsher conditions - and the usual ones were pretty bad - helped them make better use of the summer warmth which followed. Martin always named his research plots after key people involved in the project, such as his Bulgarian colleagues. I'm proud to say part of that 1993 plot - situated on a very bleak hillside near Big Pit - is named after me.

What tree planting plans - if any - do you have this month?

NB The Woodland Trust has packs of free trees for schools, universities and community groups to apply for now ready for planting in spring 2014. Packs of 30, 105 and 420 trees are available in a variety of themes to include short hedge and small copse for the small pack; and wild harvest, wildlife, year-round colour, working wood, wetland and wild wood for the medium and large packs.
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