Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 18 September 2017

Here comes the judge

Me and my official Judge's badge
It's official! And yes, that IS a spider at the window - it caught a wasp just after I took this selfie
I entered a new world at the weekend, courtesy of my friend Sally who invited me to judge the flower classes at Foxham Horse Show. After I said I'd love to, a little bit of jiggery-pokery ensued and I swiftly achieved promotion to fruit, veg AND flower classes.

I was totally unaware this event existed until Sally volunteered as show secretary this year. Not only does it exist, it celebrated its 30th birthday on Saturday. The horse show is the main raison d'etre with around 300 horses attending this year's competitions of all kinds. The produce classes were added a couple of years ago as a fun way of involving more people.

Foxham is a small village around 5 miles north of Chippenham. It's a pleasant drive which follows Maud Heath's Causeway for quite a way and goes through the hamlet of Kellaways. This is the source for the naming of the Kellaways Formation, a particular series of sands and clays from the Jurassic period.* It shows even a tiny dot on the map can achieve world recognition.

* = the Type Section which is used to define this rock formation is currently an issue at Junction 17 of the M4 near Chippenham as the geological Site of Special Scientific Interest is close to the building work currently underway.

Lots of horses on parade

Here's a typical scene from the huge field where the show's held. There are lots of competitors on their mounts, either awaiting their turn or watching the progress of their fellow competitors or friends and family. Everyone is immaculately turned out, even the tiny tots who can only just reach the stirrups.

I was asked if I ride and I had to confess to only the lightest of experience. The last time was three years ago in Oregon, when Victoria and I had a great time on Nancy's ranch**, who bred award winning horses specifically for Western-style riding - completely different to English style.

** = how come neither of us has blogged about that?!

All tents and trade stands

As well as 9 show rings, there were all kinds of trade stands and tents to explore, with the cafe, barbecue and bar particularly well attended. Just out of shot is the Produce and Craft tent which was my main scene of action on the day. I deliberately kept well away whilst the staging and public viewing was in progress, apart from popping in to say hello to Richard Tucker, who'd organised this part of the show.

The Shetland Pony Performance Team in full flow

Instead I had a brilliant time taking in the show's atmosphere, particularly the Shetland Pony Grand National, hastily renamed to the Shetland Pony Performance Team at the insistence of one of the team's organisers, who had the correct name proudly emblazoned on the back of their outfit.

I learned any youngster with a registered shetland pony can apply to be a team member, much to the disappointment of my young ringside neighbour. Her good looking grey shetland pony caught the team's eye, only for her mum to say unfortunately theirs isn't registered.

Produce awaiting my verdict

Soon it was time to head tentwards and survey my domain for the next couple of hours. The produce section is designed to be a fun part of the show and all but one of the 25 classes had something waiting for me to judge. Even though these classes are for fun, I still took the wording on the schedule as my guide. It's amazing how many people hadn't read the specifics for the class(es) they'd entered.

There was some exquisite staging, particularly in the herb, floral, foliage and vegetable collection classes. I found the latter hardest to judge as no two trugs/trays of produce were the same. Whilst I wasn't judging to RHS standard, I kept their key headings in mind: condition, uniformity, colour, shape and size.

Freshness was considered, particularly in the runner bean and rhubarb classes where I snapped one of the pieces presented for evaluation. Beetroots were sliced to see if there were any rings inside. In the event of a tie, the quality of presentation became a factor. The exception to the rule was the longest runner bean class, where my trusty tape measure ruled the winner.

Discussing some of the finer points of the display
Me in full flow - photo courtesy of Sally, spot the clipboard! You can just see organiser Richard Tucker over my shoulder  

Once I'd made the First, Second and Highly Commended awards (where applicable), I had a look at the Art and Craft classes***, then retired to the other side of the tent for a delicious packed lunch and a chat with some of the other judges and organisers. I was particularly fascinated by the judging of the Egg class. Here in the event of a tie, one egg is cracked open to evaluate freshness.

I was also surprised at the self-restraint of the cake judge, who only sampled a tiny morsel in her deliberations. I was reminded of how different it was and how much of the winning cake remained when I showed my fruit and vegetables at Chippenham's show.

*** = much more difficult to judge in my opinion. There was some amazing quilt work, full of birds and bullrushes, which I wish I'd photographed to show you.

A smiley dog from the dog classes

A quick treat of some yummy Lovington's ice cream (rhubarb and custard flavour since you're asking), then a final turn around the showground revealed the dog classes in full flow, complete with a smiley dog looking up to greet me. It's a fitting reflection of the warm welcome I received on the day and the relaxed feel to a wonderful village show.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Weekend Wandering: Chippenham's horse chestnuts

A sorry looking horse chestnut tree in Chippenham
Looking up the hill on Malmesbury Road  
Chippenham has many stately horse chestnut trees, on our side of town in particular. Sadly all the ones I know of are heavily infested with leaf mining moth, and lend an early autumnal air to our townscape from July onwards. As the flowers of Aesculus hippocastanum bloom early enough to be unaffected, their candle-like blooms still make a welcome sight in spring.

The view coming into Chippenham from the M4
Looking down the hill with the tree featured in the top photo behind me. All the brown you can see are horse chestnut trees
The tell-tale signs leaf mining moth is in town
Late afternoon sunshine reveals the problem: each brown spot is home to a leaf mining moth
It's a while since I wrote about this problem and at the time there was some hope in the shape of a parasitic wasp. Conker Tree Science led a citizen science project to see if  it could help to control moth infestations. Whilst there was indeed some impact, their results show it was insufficient to make the desired effect. Their research continues, as does research by the Forestry Commission.

The conkers are ready to drop

Most online advice is reassuring about the moth's impact on tree health, and 2017 certainly looks a good year for conkers. I'd like to see some research conducted on the numbers produced, size and seed viability though.

Previously it was thought the moth's effects might make trees more vulnerable to bleeding canker. Research results published by the Forestry Commission seems to lay that concern to rest.

The scene closer to home
Sadly the horse chestnuts I can see as I write this post are affected too 
A couple of smaller trees overhang the front side garden at VP Gardens. There are few conkers here this year, though that could be due to the relative age of the trees rather than the effect of the moth. The current advice is to compost affected leaves or bury them deep enough so the moth can't emerge in spring. However, it's almost impossible for me to get into the area where most of the leaves drop, so infestation is set to continue in my neck of the woods.

Horse chestnuts are no longer an option for future public planting schemes and I wonder what we might have instead had our house been built a few years later. According to the RHS other chestnut trees are a suitable alternative, with the Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica) the closest in size and appearance. It's a good pollinator option too.

A recent chat on the All Horts Facebook Group suggested the pink-flowered red horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea) isn't affected. This observation is backed up in the Forestry Commission's research linked to above, unless the tree is close to heavily infested horse chestnut(s). I'll be on the look out for any local specimens next spring and monitoring them to see what happens.

How are your neighbourhood's trees looking this weekend?

Friday, 15 September 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: the return of 'Polish Spirit'


Just about in flower in time for this month's Blooms Day, I'm pleased to find sultry Clematis 'Polish Spirit' has returned to VP Gardens after a few years absence. This truly is an Against the Odds appearance because I've given this delicate looking viticella clematis the most challenging of conditions:

  1. I'm growing it in a pot
  2. I haven't watered the pot this year
  3. The pot is hidden beneath the ivy I'm growing along the fence
Yet it's managed to pop its head up and stick out its tongue as if to say, 'See? My instinct for survival far exceeds your neglect'. I really must release it from its potted prison and give it proper garden room.

From my research for today's post I see I couldn't have chosen a better clematis to survive this treatment. The links I've chosen say viticella clematis tolerate dry conditions and 'Polish Spirit' in particular is a tough cookie. Perhaps breeder Brother Stephan knew this when he chose the name: to reflect the deep patriotism of the Polish people which burns fiercely at all times.

Raymond Evison is probably the most well-known clematis breeder here in the UK. Poland's Brother Stephan deserves our recognition too as he's bred many a popular clematis to grace our gardens. 'Warsaw Nike', 'John Paul II', and 'Cardinal Wyzsinski' all come from him, as well as 'Polish Spirit'. Many of his introductions have the RHS Award of Garden Merit, a mark of garden worthiness. You can read more of his story here.

Do you have a 'come back kid' blooming in your garden this month? Or perhaps you have one of Brother Stephan's introductions? Tell all in the comments below.

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

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

On trial at Mr Fothergill's

Plenty of colour on a rainy day at Mr Fothergill's trials field

Oops that sounds more serious than it actually is! Let's take a deep breath and drink in the scene at the trials field at Mr Fothergill's* instead. It looked splendid last month, even on a rainy day.

Visual results from the seaweed plant tonic and root formation experiment

There's always lots to learn on a press day at Mr Fothergill's and first up was news of their launch of Seasol seaweed plant tonic. I've used the powdered version of this product before and I'm a huge fan of all things seaweed based. Whilst they're not a feed per se, I've found the extra minerals does help keep plants healthier for longer. I must do a proper trial myself sometime...

What I didn't know previously was the potential for a dramatic effect on cuttings. As you can see from the photo, the plants in diluted Seasol, have a more extensive root system, which in turn should help the plants romp away when they're potted up.

Optigrow carrots germination vs usual seed
Looking at a bit of a game changer, methinks - could this be the end of my parsnip seed chitting?

Another dramatic difference we saw was in the new Optigrow® seed range due for launch early next year. This is a new non-chemical seed treatment which primes seeds ready for germination. Here you can see the difference between treated and untreated carrot seeds, with the treated row showing a quicker and greater rate of germination.

They've also found seeds are less prone to fungal disease during germination and the process really helps those tricky-to-germinate seeds such as parsley and parsnips. It'll also be interesting to see if those seeds usually sown fresh every season can be used next season and beyond.

There are black peppers... who knew?

We all wanted to know what 2018 will be... it turns out it will be the year of the pepper and the marigold (of the Tagetes kind). As you can see, I'm looking forward to growing something a bit different in that line next year.

Exhibits on the day

There's always plenty more to explore, such as this DIY green wall/salad bar idea made from pallets. There were the staff scarecrow and wildlife gardens to judge, plus the announcement of the support given to Greenfingers and Royal Hospital Chelsea charities from last year's seed sales (hence the Chelsea Pensioners in my photo). We were also introduced to the Chilli Guru™ who breeds chillis from a wider range of species than most, specialising in flavour rather than heat - definitely my kind of chilli.

A lunch tent find

Lunch is always special and produce from the trials field is used wherever possible. I detected a boost of Chilli Guru's flavoursome chillis in the meal as well as that admitted to in the chocolate tart. You can see Chef also has a nice line in humour!

Cucurbits growing up a fence

Back out in the trials field I liked the way the cucurbits were taking over one of the fences. It's a great example of how to find some space for these often sprawling monsters (see also the potager at Ulting Wick).

In view of my blight woes this year I was pleased to see the blight trial plot and I await the results with interest. I also picked up the tip that not only does 'Losetto' have some blight resistance, it can crop from a planting out as late as July.

Agastache flowering from a March sowing

On the floral side of the trials field, I particularly liked the first year flowering perennials plot. The seeds were sown in March and were putting on a great show in early August. I loved the airiness and apricot shades of Agastache 'Sunset Hyssop' you can see in the middle of the photo. I think it's a great looking and fragrant alternative (albeit completely different colour) to Nepeta. I can't grow the latter as the cats love it to death.

Verbena 'Scentsation'

Finally, I fell in love with this annual and I wish I could bring it to you via smellovision. One day Trials Manager Brian Talman noticed a beautiful scent in the trials field and crawled around until he located it in the Verbena trial area. Several years on from that day, it was a privilege to be there when Brian announced its name: Verbena 'Scentsation'. It'll be a wonderful addition to the Flowers for Mum project next year.

Thanks to everyone at Mr Fothergill's for being such informative, enthusiastic and generous hosts.

* = in case you're wondering there are real Mr Fothergills at the helm. John Fothergill now runs the company alongside David Carey and they're the sons of company founders Jeff Fothergill and Brian Carey. Look out for special company celebrations next year for its 40th birthday.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

#mygardenrightnow becomes #mygardenbackthen

A hummingbird hawk moth sips nectar from the Phlox paniculata
Only the second recorded sighting of a hummingbird hawk moth in Chippenham this year - exciting!

Phew how marvellous that was! Many thanks for all your contributions to #mygardenrightnow last weekend; we had over 400 posts, around 250 contributors and over 500 photos shared across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Contributors came from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Italy, France and Ireland.

As usual there was tons of variety in your posts and I'm sneakily pleased about the number of washing lines included in the real gardens you shared. We spotted loads of garden wildlife too thanks to your posts; with our first sighting of hares and my excitement at finding a hummingbird hawk moth in my garden amongst the highlights.

We also had our first barbecue - at last. I declare dahlias and tomatoes as the most popular flower and vegetable featured, though onions and roses came close. Here's a summary collage of some of the photos I featured over the weekend. These are mainly from sunny Saturday - see last weekend's post for the more rainy Sunday ones.

#mygardenrightnow at VP Gardens
Other highlights and discoveries over the weekend - that Nemesia was a self-sown surprise as was the alpine strawberry in the watering can. My fig needs renovation pruning and the Erigeron Steps are coming along nicely.  Those rescued tomatoes ripening on the windowsill are my entire crop this year after blight struck just over a month ago.


My favourite mug - not just for the garden
Many contributors showed they have favourite mugs for time out in the garden. Here's mine - cheers!


Finally, I leave you with #mygardenrightnow's first ever poem. A clever and appropriate haiku courtesy of Happy Mouffetard. Let's do it all again the first weekend in December!


First ever poem for #mygardenrightnow

Friday, 8 September 2017

Ulting Wick: drier than Jerusalem? One of the Secret Gardens of East Anglia

Philippa, me and Lou sheltering from the storm
Thanks to Lou for letting me use her tweeted selfie :)  

When an owner says their garden is 'drier than Jerusalem', the last thing you expect is to arrive in a downpour of biblical proportions. That's what happened when I visited Ulting Wick recently. 'Third time lucky' I thought when I made the arrangements, as I've tried and failed to visit the past 2 years. That thought was almost my downfall. Almost.

The rain was coming down so heavily when I arrived I could hardly see out of the car window and I was deafened by the noise. Bright flashes of lightning made the courtyard stand out in stark relief for a second before fading again into the murk. I was giggling so hard at the irony, I struggled to get into my rain gear. Also which of the buildings I'd glimpsed should I run to for shelter?

Luckily owner Philippa Burough quickly came to my rescue and guided me to the potting shed where she and new head gardener Lou Nicholls had taken shelter from the storm. It was a great opportunity for Lou to take a selfie of us before we all settled down for a good catch up and a gossip.

Exotic garden at Ulting Wick

Thankfully the storm soon abated leaving a moody sky in its wake whilst it rumbled away across the Essex countryside. It left a newly washed garden for me to squelch around with Philippa as my guide. I knew from her tweets an exotic garden was a treat in store for me and it certainly didn't disappoint. Philippa isn't afraid to use colour and her combination of plants and form were sublime. Moody Ricinus with pink dahlias or Echinacea are highlights stuck in my memory.

Lots of colour at Ulting Wick

After a whistle stop tour, I was left to noodle around on my own for as long as I liked - heavenly! It's clear that Philippa and Lou work hard to keep this garden in tippity top condition.

The productive vegetable garden

Who says vegetable gardens can't look good? Not I. I loved the idea of growing cucurbits up wigwam poles as well as the more usual beans.

Listed barns screened by wispy Verbena bonariensis

Careful thought has been put into how plants can be contrasted with the listed barns on the property and used along the pathways linking different parts of the garden.

Classic black and white

Black, white and greenery make for a quieter area of the garden...

More colour and greenery to admire

... though colour and lusciousness are never far away.

A surprise corner of the garden at Ulting Wick

There are woodland and water areas too, though Philippa told me it's unusual to find so much water here at this time of the year. It's been a topsy turvy season at Ulting Wick in 2017, but then most years seem to be these days don't they?

Inviting Adirondack chairs by the water at Ulting Wick

Two of my favourite Adirondack chairs invite the visitor to tarry awhile. I resisted because there was so much I wanted to photograph.


There's always a grand pot display around the front door
Philippa & Lou frequently tweet from Ulting Wick. I was delighted they joined #mygardenrightnow last week


I hope you've enjoyed your garden tour and a huge thanks to Philippa and Lou for making my visit so enjoyable. NB Ulting Wick opens for the NGS on Sunday (10th) and also on September 15th, 2-5pm. See Philippa's entry on the NGS website for more details.

I'll leave you with a final selection of images from the garden and news of a grand book.


Flowers, sculpture, features and the mother of all bee weather vanes
More features and flowers which caught my eye - there's a Friday Bench too :) 



A new book on the blog

Secret gardens of East Anglia collage
If you've enjoyed my trip to Ulting Wick, but can't get to an NGS opening, then you'll love Secret Gardens of East Anglia as Philippa's garden is one of the 22 featured.

It's the next best thing to being there and you'll also get to see the garden at tulip time. 10,000 bulbs are on order ready for planting out in November. I feel tired just typing that.

If you're planning a trip to East Anglia, this book provides excellent guidance on some special places to visit in addition to those that are better known.

If you can't get to East Anglia but love reading about special gardens, then this is also the book for you.

It's the latest in a series of fine regional garden books published by Francis Lincoln. Barbara Segall has woven a web of magical words around photographer Marcus Harpur's wonderful images. Within the pages you'll get to know the garden owners, their thoughts behind the garden they've made, plus see lots of beautiful views taken in more than one season.

It'll make a great gift for any garden lover.




Postscript

View towards the house from the pond
The receipt of my review copy last month was a poignant one as Marcus died a few days earlier. This book is a fitting tribute to his skill as a photographer and I have a lot to learn from his eye and talent.

Years ago I never dreamt I would count him as a friend. I used to open The English Garden and think, 'Oh good there's a garden with Marcus's photos'.

Barbara's also a good friend whose generous spirit and company I've enjoyed on many occasions. Her recent blog post gives a warm insight into her friendship with Marcus, as well as the process of garden book making. She also reminds us of the importance of taking time to celebrate life's milestones

Putting poignancy and friendship to one side, I would still love this book.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

#mygardenrightnow: the video

Rainy roses and dischuffed cats
Early doors in my PJs... I look at raindrops while Jess and Skimble yell 'Oi, where's my breakfast!'

It's quite a different day to yesterday's warm sunshine, yet the #mygardenrightnow weekend's going strong and I still have stuff to share from my garden.

One of the things I love about blogging projects is they can take you in quite unexpected directions. I contacted Bren on Friday - one of the US bloggers I met at this year's Fling - to see if it was OK if I posted about #mygardenrightnow on her #gardenchat Facebook Page.

We ended up having an enthusiastic video chat instead (my first!) with Bren actually in her garden at the time, then she put together the video below of our conversation, illustrated with lots of photos from previous editions of #mygardenrightnow. It sums up perfectly how we all come together for a 'virtual peep over the fence' - thanks to Karen for that neat summary :)




If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link instead. Bren has put this and more on her own blog, Creative Living which includes photos from her own garden in Ohio - she has some fab dahlias and I want those tomatoes!

Thanks Bren, your generosity and enthusiasm for #mygardenrightnow is amazing.

For the links to everyone's blog posts from this weekend - have a look at yesterday's post.

Friday, 1 September 2017

#mygardenrightnow: the autumn edition

The Erigeron Steps are looking good for #mygardenrightnow

It's the first weekend of September and time for the autumn edition of #mygardenrightnow!

We had a fantastic response in March and June, and I look forward to seeing how your garden's growing this weekend. I'm expecting to see lots of late season colour and harvests from the plot, plus plenty of projects and garden tasks on the go. I wonder if we'll have clear winners in the flower and crop photos this time?

Mr Linky is lined up below for your blog only contributions, followed by some FAQs for those of you who are new to #mygardenrightnow. 

I'll also scout for your hashtagged submissions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to promote your posts. Facebook entries can be a little tricky to find sometimes, so do please give me a nudge via my Facebook Page to help find them if this is where you choose to respond (NB a tip from my friend Bren in Ohio - make sure you set your post to Public, so we can find it).

A note for Mr Linky, please submit the URL of your blog post, not your blog. It's easier for us to come and find your #mygardenrightnow entry and leave a comment if you do.


Here comes Mr Linky...




A dahlia the size of my head
Some FAQS to help you join in this time around...

Does it have to be just one photo?

That's entirely up to you! I plumped for one photo so it's easy for as many people as possible to join in. If you want to do more, please do.

I'm away this weekend, but I still want to join in

We've had a few people 'adopt' the garden where they're staying in previous rounds, and you're welcome to do the same.

I have both a garden and an allotment, which one should I photograph?

It's entirely up to you. I linked my garden and allotment together in March by using my trug to represent what's going on at the allotment. If you want to take separate photos of you at both sites, then that's OK too.

I'm camera shy

It doesn't have to be a photo of all of you. Feet or hands are acceptable and are easy to do if you're taking the photo yourself. As you can see Selfies are acceptable too. I took the one above with my camera for a bit of fun; let's just say it's easier if you use your phone!

I don't have a garden

If you have just one houseplant, then you can take part. That's your garden.

My garden's not a showpiece

That's just the kind of garden I want to see in #mygardenrightnow - we're celebrating all gardens, warts and all. Though if yours is all primped and ready for a NGS opening (real or otherwise), that's welcome too.

Can I use YouTube?

We've had some wonderful YouTube videos (plus another included in a Facebook Note), so I don't see why not. You'll need to let me know where it is if you choose to go down this route. If you don't link to it via your blog or other social media it's more difficult to find and promote your efforts.

Contributions are welcome on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook too.

Let me know in the comments if you have any further questions...

... otherwise see you later for #mygardenrightnow. The forecast looks best for tomorrow, so we could have flip flops on show on Saturday and sou' westers on Sunday!

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Sorry you missed it


I found Barbara's cheeky and gigglesome sign* on the way into her garden when I visited her recently. It got me thinking: how often do we beat ourselves up publicly re the state of our gardens when someone visits?

I've resolved it shall be no more as far as VP Gardens goes. From henceforth all compliments will be received gracefully. I'm the most critical person when it comes to my garden, so I'll endeavour to find at least one good thing about it, whenever the critical demons come to call. After all, the good points need to be noted as well as the bad, in the pursuit of a better garden.

This philosophy chimes well with the #mygardenrightnow project which is designed to be simple to do and show gardens as they are; showpiece or not. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's posts this weekend.

* = it looked fine to me, despite the biblical amount of rain we experienced that week.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Umbrellas

Umbrella Street installation in Bath
Part of the Umbrella Street installation at Southgate Shopping Centre in Bath  

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