Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sunday, 27 March 2016

To Fedge or not to Fedge...

My ivy cloaked fence bordering the public land next door

... that is the question I'm pondering this rainy Easter weekend.

I've spent over 17 years fighting the ivy that comes over the fence from the public land next door. It's hard work - and a losing battle - to keep it under control, perhaps it's time to rethink things a little?

I'm tempted to treat the fence ivy like a hedge (aka a fedge*) and control it with shears, rather than removing it completely. That'll reduce the effort required on that part of the garden, so I can focus on keeping it at bay from the borders.

The ivy looks more attractive than the wooden fence, protects it from the weather, and also forms a good food source for wildlife. The bees love the flowers in autumn and it's been a joy to watch chattering flocks of long tailed tits flutter through and pick off the berries over the winter.

Sometimes it's better to go with the flow and work with what nature gives you, rather than stamp your own ideas all over the garden.

Fingers crossed it works.

* = most fedge information available online concerns the use of living willow. However, the urban dictionary defines a fedge as 'a fence that has become completely overwhelmed by foliage so it now looks like a hedge'. That'll do me.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

All Change at Kilver Court

Kilver Court garden entrance

I was lured back to Kilver Court this week with the promise of brunch and flamingo-themed fun. This garden is often called 'Somerset's Secret Garden', so it's apt we start with this tempting entrance and a distant glimpse of an unusual object.

Storybook character sculptures at Kilver Court garden

An unexpected - and fun - surprise I found in the topiary garden were these storybook sculptures by Robert James Limited. They're on display from now until April 6th, prior to their transfer up north to the Harrogate Spring Flower Show.

So what about the flamingos, I hear you ask...

The flamingos are welcomed officially to the garden
From left to right we have:
Boatman, Monty Saul, Viscount Weymouth, Roger Saul, and Viscountess Weymouth

... well, here they are with the garden owners and invited dignitaries welcoming them officially to the garden. Guess which song was playing when I arrived.

As you can see, the flamingos were busy on their island getting used to their surroundings - apparently Kilver Court has had them before, around 50 years ago. There was the potential for things to go very wrong with this opening, so the boatman is to be commended for keeping everyone safe.

As well as the flamingos, garden owner Roger Saul had another pet project for us to view...

Gardens Illustrated tweet about the new plant nursery

... which Sorrel from Gardens Illustrated captured nicely in her tweet. There's also a Wiggly Shed stuffed with gardening tools and other goodies, including Franchi seeds. It was good to see Paolo there and looking well after his recent spell in hospital. He told me to look out for the 'pasta Nonnas' at this year's RHS Hampton Court Show.

View of the main part of Kilver Court garden

I also met Matt from the garden team, who told me about future plans for the garden. Storm Frank left quite a lot of damage in its wake last December, so the opportunity is being taken to rethink the planting.

Flamingo island where the giant weeping willow used to be
The huge willow tree has gone from Flamingo island and the replacement Dicksonia there may give a hint of things to come. Apparently Roger Saul is a fan of exotic planting, so the possibilities are being considered, bearing in mind a bitter wind can whip through those arches from the Mendips beyond.

It's likely that the rockery will be revamped, as will the huge 10 foot by 60 foot herbaceous border at the back of the arches. There may be a competition launched to redesign this space, so I'll say more if and when this happens.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the garden develops over the next year or two, and if any ideas can be applied to the area around Chippenham's own viaduct.

The nursery opens and the garden reopens to the public this Easter weekend (2016) - note there is FREE entry for visitors on Saturday. Full information re opening times and directions can be found here.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Seasonal Recipe: Parsnip Winter Cake

Parsnip Winter Cake recipe and growing information
Click to enlarge if needed, or you can download the pdf here
This may seem a strange choice to feature now we're officially in spring, but Parsnip Winter Cake proved a great way to finish off my parsnips last week AND serve as a great reminder to start sowing this season's crop.

I also remember Happy Mouffetard's struggles to find a decent tasting parsnip cake, so it was time to see for myself...

A slice of parsnip winter cake

... and here's the result. A yummy fruit cake with not a hint of parsnip, independently verified by NAH as 'delicious, can I have some more please'. Then I told him about the hidden ingredient and he still demanded more.

Anyone trying to increase the vegetable intake of  their loved ones take note.

The recipe worked exactly as written, even down to the timings in my fan assisted oven. The only change I made to Holly Farrell's recipe was to omit the 2 tablespoons of honey poured over the top. I figured the cake would be sweet enough already and NAH agreed.

Grow Your Own Cake book cover
Grow Your Own Cake is a match made in heaven for gardeners, particularly those who took part in my Bloggers' Cut Chelsea Fringe event a couple of years ago. We conclusively proved cake is what makes the gardening world go round.

How clever of Holly to put the two together in her fine book. I'd say the grow your own part is more for beginner gardeners, designed to encourage them to start, and with the dangling carrot ('scuse pun) of some delicious baked goods to try with the fruits of their labours.

The basics are covered well for the baking part too, with lots of clear photographs to show the techniques involved and recipes which vary from simple through to impressive.

There's a great range of recipes to try arranged by the season, plus ideas for afternoon tea, puddings and some savoury bakes.

Those with allergies or intolerances aren't forgotten, with safe recipes highlighted, or suggested adaptations to make them so.

There's just one niggle on my part, not all the bakes are pictured. I've made a start on that deficiency with my Parsnip Winter Cake :)

Grow Your Own Cake contents list
Now, which one shall I try next...?

Recipe from: Grow Your Own Cake: Recipes From Plot to Plate by Holly Farrell, photographs by Jason Ingram. Published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99).

You may also like to try my Spicy Parsnip Soup.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Let's Go Pell-mell to the Mall

Entrance to the Mall Galleries London

I've walked down the Mall lots of times, but not noticed this place tucked away in the elegant buildings there before. It turned out to be a pleasant discovery yesterday.

I was lured there with the promise of some contemporary garden art courtesy of the Mall Galleries and their Royal Society of British Artists annual exhibition. It promised to be a good follow-up to Painting the Modern Garden I saw in January.

Front Garden with Self Painting by Melissa Scott-Miller

I wasn't disappointed. I particularly liked Melissa Scott-Miller's Front Garden with Self Painting (click to enlarge and you'll see her), which reminded me of Renoir's painting of Monet at work. Melissa's work won the Galleries Bookshop prize and also graces their shelves as a greetings card.

2 paintings by Rowan Crew
On the left we have Morning Light by Rowan Crew, and then his Worcester Pearmain which reminded me of the
plum tree paintings I saw at Painting the Modern Garden 

Olive Tree amongst the Vines by Nicholas Verrall
Most of Nicholas Verrall's Olive Tree amongst the Vines, a painting to get lost in for a very long time

It wasn't all about gardens as art. With 500 items on show, there was plenty more to explore...

View of the Gallery from my seat in the cafe

... with a very convenient cafe, positioned perfectly for visitors to admire the view.

2 detailed ceramic pieces by Stuart Smith

It wasn't all paintings or drawings either. I particularly enjoyed these detailed ceramics by Stuart Smith.

Laura Rosser's woodcut We Ain't All Middle Class Bohemians
My personal favourite: Laura Rosser's intricate woodcut We Ain't All Middle Class Bohemians

A special offer for Veg Plotting readers

If you'd like to see the exhibition for yourself... and for free, just mention Veg Plotting at the gallery desk for free admission for you and a friend. It's open from now until 2nd April 2016, 10am to 5pm (1pm on final day).

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

GBBD: The Darling Buds of March

Clematis 'Diamantina' in bud, March 2016

Spring is continuing apace here at VP Gardens, with many plants in bud well ahead of their usual time due to the mild winter. I don't think any of my clematis had a proper dormant season at all. As a result they're showing buds aplenty and some quite malnourished looking growth.

My C. 'Diamantina' (pictured) grows strongly and as its pruning time is late winter/early spring, I can sacrifice these 'darling buds of March without fear of losing any later flower power. To make doubly sure I'll give the plant a good feed of pelleted chicken manure to ensure much stronger growth and flowers later on.

Buds and flowers of prostrate rosemary, March 2016

Another plant with plenty of buds (and flowers) is my trailing rosemary. This plant never read the label and is in bloom regularly from December onwards.

I saw the upright version in full bloom at a lineside garden on the West Somerset Railway last week, being bombarded by bumble bees in the bright sunshine. Proof of why I value this plant as an early bee magnet in my garden.

My neighbour's magnolia tree full of buds, March 2016

My neighbour's kindly let me borrow some of her magnolia's branches for my garden and it's always a tense time at this time of year, especially when there are the first signs of those plentiful buds beginning to break. We currently have a high pressure system over the UK, which means gorgeously warm spring days, but with the danger of frost overnight. Here's hoping all that promise isn't turned to toast.

Burncoose nurseries has plenty of reassurance on their magnolia cultivation page. The protective coat you can see serves as a natural fleece to those buds. It also seems that magnolias are good at adapting themselves to their local conditions and may bloom later in more northern or cooler parts of the UK. The website also has plenty of later blooming suggestions for happy magnolia times.

Do you have any darling buds of March this year?

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

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A Potted Challenge

A Kew long tom pot with daffodils

I've learned recently styling product images for a client isn't one of my fortes, so when I was offered the opportunity to style a pot using one of the Kew Long Tom range offered by The Orchard, I saw it as an opportunity to try again.

I've admired these crackle glazed pots for a while having first seen them at Kew a few years ago. In my head I saw a lovely spring arrangement complete with nodding daffodils, primulas and trailing ivy.

However when the pot arrived I found it didn't have a drainage hole. Another lesson learned: look carefully at the small print as well as the pretty picture.

Luckily NAH came to my rescue with a surprise birthday gift of tulips. I have very few vases and they were already stuffed with Cornish daffodils. My new pot proved to be the perfect solution.

I may pluck up the courage later to try to drill a drainage hole so it can join the terracotta long toms I have in the garden already. This blog post has a detailed guide. As for styling - I still have a lot to learn...

Update: I like this brief guide about product photography from Wix - a site I've found to be pretty good for various guides to photography. Google 'product photography' and loads of links [of varying quality] are returned in the results.

I must also go back to the still life work I did as part of Clive's course last year - I should have played around with blurring the background more for the top right and bottom left images.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Plant Profiles: Starter Plants

Begonia 'Glowing Embers' starter plants

I always give in to temptation at the Garden Press Event. There are always new plants on offer to trial and it would be impolite to refuse.

This year I'm looking forward to trialling the new petunia 'Night Sky' I liked the look of last year, plus some of the pictured begonia 'Glowing Embers'. I've been pleased with other cultivars of these trailing begonias before, so I'm looking forward to a great display later this year.

It means I'll have a delivery of starter plants quite soon, which I'll need to keep alive until I can plant them out after the last frosts in late May. It's a little tricky as I don't have a greenhouse, so there's quite a bit of windowsill juggling going on in the early stages.

When the plants get bigger, I'll transfer them to my cold frame to start hardening them off, with fleece on standby for any colder nights.

Cultivation Notes

Growing instructions for starter plants
Click to enlarge if needed
I'm pleased I found the pictured cultivation guide (and leaflet) on display as it's a pet peeve of mine that many places stock starter plants from February onwards with little or no guidance available.

I'm sure plenty of gardeners learn the lesson the hard way these plants can't be planted out straight away at this time of year.

lobelia mini plus starter plants
As well as the initial potting up of these tiny plants into the larger celled trays pictured above, I re-pot them again into 9cm pots when they're ready for transfer to my cold frame.

I've seen some criticism recently about gardeners using these plants, with dismissive comments about real gardeners only start with growing from seed. That's great, but there are plenty of reasons why that's not always possible.

I've found them a great alternative when my seeds have failed, or
Strawberry starter plants
I've got behind with my seed sowing. I've also seen some people struggle with handling tiny seeds, or at the pricking out stage, yet they're fine with these larger - albeit still small - plants.

They're also a great option for themed colour plantings - many flower seed packets come in mixed colours - another pet peeve of mine.

As well as more flower options than you'll ever need, there are a few fruit and vegetables varieties available too. I've found tomatoes, peppers and chillis in addition to the pictured strawberries.

Great points from the comments

Harriet Rycroft left a fantastic comment which she's kindly allowed me to add to this post. She's a container gardening expert, so knows what she's talking about. Check out her blog A Parrot's Nest for thoughtful bloggage and excellent photography.

 Starter plug plants poster
I can thoroughly recommend Begonia 'Glowing Embers' I've used it many times, it's a beauty. And I bought it as plug plants.

Little starter plants and plug plants are really useful for many reasons (of course you should shop around to make sure prices are reasonable but sometimes I think certain methods of growing are dismissed out of sheer snobbery).

Some people do not have the equipment or the confidence to grow from seed. Until they acquire either of these then why shouldn't
colour themed starter plant selection
they buy young plants and learn about handling those and bringing them on?

Even confident gardeners and professional gardeners learn that some of the big nurseries producing these little plants do so more efficiently than they ever can: if the price is reasonable then buying plug plants of popular plants such as Petunia and Begonia allows gardeners to concentrate on using their own under cover space and valuable time to grow a few more specialised items.

plant display stand
Thirdly, the range differs from seed ranges - especially in the case of new varieties quite often the only way to get them is as young plants. This is a great way to try a few new things to see if they may be worth growing from seed yourself another time - instead of clogging up your greenhouse with something that turns out to be a dud.

Finally - some varieties simply are not available from seed. Many "Patio plants" are hybrids or varieties which either may not come true from seed or are simply very slow and so better from cuttings. The little starter plants can be the cheapest way to get these.

A top tip bonus

Potted sweet peas

I had a great chat with the lovely people from King's Seeds at the Garden Press Event. Their top tip for sweet pea seedlings like those pictured is to plant out the whole pot in one go.

Thinking about it, that makes sense as sweet peas like a long root run. Any attempt to separate out the plants in a pot is likely to damage those delicate roots. I confess that's been my approach in the past - this year will be different.

Whitehall Garden Centre logo
Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note: sponsorship covers my blogging costs, the words are my own. There are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Garlic Trials

Potted garlic in the garden ready to plant out
Garlic 'Bohemian Rose' showing strong early growth. It's leaves are reputed to grow over a metre high 

No allotment season at VP Gardens is complete without an experiment or two, and this year is no exception.

First up this year is a garlic trial using 3 new-to-me varieties courtesy of Marshalls, where one of the trio (Red Duke) is reputed to have some rust resistance. I didn't grow any garlic last year because rust was so rampant on my plot in 2014. I did harvest plenty of usable bulbs back then, but of the fiddly, hard to peel kind, rather than the bulging fat cloves which are a joy to cook with.

Winter's been constantly wet here in Wiltshire, so I've been unable to get onto my plot to plant out my cloves. As you can see that hasn't held me back as I've resorted to my usual potted solution instead - handy for anyone who gardens on clay and loves their garlic.

The pots mean I've also been able to take advantage of the few frosts we've had - a necessary ingredient if my planted cloves are to become full heads of garlic themselves*. As you can see I've spaced out my pots so they've had good air circulation around them. It's now time to plant these out before they become pot bound.

I had plenty of cloves left over, so the smaller ones are planted up in large pots to give me plenty of green garlic before the bulbs are harvested in the summer.

The varieties I'm growing are Bohemian Rose, Mikulov, and Red Duke, all are hardneck varieties, so they should be good for flavour. What garlic - if any - are you growing this year**?

* = something I learned when I visited The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight a few years ago and asked why my garlic had just one clove.

** = there's just enough time to plant some if you haven't already. Make sure you buy spring planting varieties; mine are autumn planting ones.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Hurrah for NAH!

NAH poses beside Sentinel steam loco 'Joyce'
NAH standing next to Joyce - just before he realised I'd arrived at Midsomer Norton station. 

I'm taking a break from my usual content to celebrate the amazing achievements of my husband aka NAH (Non-Allotmenteering Husband).

For the past 5+ years he's spent most weekends at Midsomer Norton station tending to the restoration of his '28 ton mistress' aka 'Joyce' aka Sentinel Steam Loco 7109. NAH is joint owner of this engine.

NAH reverses Joyce back to Midsomer Norton station
NAH drives by - he rescued me later. That cab is much warmer than it was trackside last weekend!

Joyce is a unique engine in the UK, quite unlike most steam locos, who started her working life at Croydon gasworks in the 1920s. There is a gardening connection along her road to restoration, as she spent some time as part of Alan Bloom's collection at Bressingham in the late 1960s.

I was surprised when NAH suggested we visit Bressingham; it wasn't until we arrived I realised he had an ulterior motive. He went off to research Joyce's history (and see if any of her missing parts were there), and I happily pottered around Dell Garden and Foggy Bottom, bumping into Adrian Bloom for a chat along the way.

Then there's all the time he's spent in the garage making parts to fit the engine, learning how to weld, other visits around the country to see similar engines (which often meant scrambling around beneath them to take photos of how they were put together so he could figure out what needed to be done), plus lots of research time spent in various archives.

I wouldn't have the patience, but that's why he's an engineer and I'm not.

Joyce races the Jinty
Joyce (left) races Great Central Railway's Jinty loco. This engine is currently a guest at Midsomer Norton station

After what seemed to me like forever, the final stages of restoration went very quickly. Two weeks ago Joyce was in steam for the first time in 48+ years; last week she obtained her boiler certificate (which means she can officially run on heritage railways for the next year); and last Saturday and Sunday she was a star attraction at Midsomer Norton's steam weekend.

This coming weekend (5th and 6th March 2016) is a significant one as it's 50 years since the much-loved Somerset and Dorset railway closed. Midsomer Norton was a station on that line and Joyce is once again poised to star alongside Great Central Railway's guest Jinty for the weekend.

Needless to say I'm incredibly proud of NAH, but even I hadn't truly grasped the scale of his achievement, until someone commented on Midsomer Norton's Facebook page Joyce is the first engine to be restored at the station.

Fingers crossed she becomes a TV star soon, as Michael Portillo and a film crew were filming at Midsomer Norton station when she took her first steamy breaths.

In the meantime you can catch up with her via NAH's blog or his Facebook Page. I still giggle over how disparaging he was about Veg Plotting in the early days, but as soon as he had something to say (and record as a diary), he also found blogging is the perfect way of doing so.

NAH and Joyce drive off into the sunset at Midsomer Norton

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

GBMD: I Love Compost

I love compost quote by Octave Mirbeau and mulched beds in progress at West Green House
Mulching in progress at West Green House - early February 2016
I found this surprising (and welcome) quote at the Royal Academy's Painting the Modern Garden exhibition recently.

Octave Mirbeau was an anarchist writer* and seemingly enthusiastic about all things gardening if this quote from his one of his letters is anything to go by.** He considered his garden in the River Seine valley as an unspoiled utopia, and corresponded with Monet, Caillebotte and Pissarro.

* = described as such at the exhibition.

** = I don't know if there was any reaction to this comment from any woman who knew Mirbeau. Whilst I love gardening and compost, NAH knows better than to compare me to anything I spread on our garden. However, a former boyfriend once said, "I don't care if you looked like a washing machine, I'd still love you". Hmm.

Update: purely by coincidence, Flighty has posted about his compost bin. Like him and the gardeners at West Green House, I must get cracking and spread the good stuff from mine...
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