Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: A new clematis on the blog

Clematis urophylla 'Winter Beauty' on my pergola
From a large pot nearby and now clothing my side garden's pergola, this Clematis brings a welcome to my garden 

My new clematis on the blog C. urophylla 'Winter Beauty' has bucked the Sleep Creep Leap trend by flowering within a mere 18 months instead of 3 years. I love its white simplicity and vigorous growth.

The flowers are quite small (like most at this time of the year - see this Garden Bloggers' Muse Day offering), but they're still welcome. Who can resist those cheekily upturned petals? The flowers are reputed to be scented - I need a few more blooms before I can confirm that. The evergreen leaves resemble those of Clematis armandii, though I'm having more success with 'Winter Beauty' than the latter, as I've managed to kill two of them already.

Most of the flowers dropped off before I could photograph them, which makes me wonder whether the catalogue blurb "Plant Clematis 'Winter Beauty' against a warm house wall so that you can appreciate its winter flowers from your window. This sought after variety will appreciate a sheltered site with some winter protection", means my chosen site is not quite protected enough.

However, these latest flowers are still going strong after the past few days of cold weather and a sprinkling of snow. In time, I hope this clematis will prove a good alternative winter white.

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

Update 17/2: We've had ding-dong temperatures and some quite long dry spells this winter, so this tweet from Gardeners' Question Time today may point to the reason for my fallen flowers rather than my speculation re its site, especially as mine is in a pot. Great choice of clematis featured in the photo!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Be my Valentine

A simple woven heart with snowdrop kokedama makes a cute Valentine

I spotted this cute vignette at the snowdrop press preview at Easton Walled Gardens last week and decided it was perfect for a secret Valentine today.  Easton's snowdrops are on fine form throughout the garden and you have until Sunday (19th February 2017) to see them with or without your beloved.

It's worthwhile combining your visit with Hodsock Priory like I did. Their massed snowdrops are available to view until 5th March and there's lots of other winter garden inspiration to be found there. Look out for plentiful ideas to add flowers, colour and scent to your plot at this tricky time of the year.

Allow around 50 minutes for travel between the gardens, which makes for a nicely full, yet relaxed day out. Both gardens have plenty of options for yummy treats and hot drinks to fuel your day.

Witch hazel at Hodsock Priory
Witch hazel sparkles against the blue sky at Hodsock Priory

Friday, 10 February 2017

Of lawnmowers, snow and cake

Snowy mountains and traditional Tyrolean buildings as seen from the coach in Kufstein
The journey to work: no wonder everyone we met was so happy 

Warmth, hospitality, passion - three words which sum up my recent visit to the Viking factory in Austria. Oh, and let's not forget lawnmowers, snow and cake ;)

I've always found factory visits fascinating and this one was exceptional. It was also enough to make NAH green with envy - more on that later.

The view from the Viking factory car park - pretty Tyrolean scenery
The view from the Viking factory car park - a 'pinch me, I'm really here' moment 

You may wonder why anyone would want to work in a factory in the midst of such beauty. Well, it turns out peak production time (January, February) coincides with when the locals can't work on their farms.

It means an extra income for them which also helps preserve the traditional Tyrolean way of life. Besides seeing the passion for their work, pride for their region also shone through during our visit.

View of the Viking factory in Kufstein, Austria
The factory in Kufstein, with a couple of products undergoing extreme testing in the -14oC temperature ;) 

Sadly I couldn't take photos inside the factory and I probably would have forgotten anyway as the process was so absorbing. It's probably the cleanest and quietest factory I've ever visited; even the many forklift trucks dancing their way along the factory floor were quiet. The drivers' sideways position in the cab meant they could keep a good eye out and easily avoid any collisions.

We were shown the assembly line where components from all over Europe and beyond come together to make the final product. They were assembling some of the 4 Series mowers whilst we were there i.e. the mid-range ones, plus STIHL's compact cordless blowers like the one I reviewed last year.

There are 4 stages in the process with quality checks made before the work is accepted by the next person in line. Final tests at the end of assembly include a final check once the product is inside its delivery box, where any discrepancy in weight means something e.g. the instruction booklet has been left out.

We learned there are some quirky regional differences. In Scandinavia they go for mulching in a big way, the Germans like to scarify, and the French like tilling. And we Brits? We prefer a much closer shave finish, so our mowers have the ability to cut to 18mm instead of the standard 22mm. We are the only folk who like stripey lawns, so some of the range destined to come our way includes the all important roller for that quintessential finish.

Some of the Viking lawnmowersavailable
Part of the Viking range we saw on show at the factory

Engineering in action

I used to love testing to destruction in my previous IT jobs and it was good to see this concept also in action at Viking in a more physical form. Their engineers conduct around 60 different product tests and we were shown three of them.

The first started with a demonstration of a computer model of a lawnmower blade which could be modified to see which design is best for minimising damage when the blade hits a solid object. This has the potential to damage not only the blade, but also the central crankshaft and ultimately the engine. It would be costly to repair, if not a complete write-off of the machine.

They've found that by adding a 'wave' to the blade, not only is damage eliminated or minimised, it's also resulted in a quieter machine and increased efficiency so that battery life is extended - three improvements for the price of one. We were then shown an actual machine test - one of hundreds - which also supplies the data needed to refine the computer model.

The second test also involved the blade, and was a resonance test. This reveals the frequencies which put the most stress on the blade and so should be avoided when the machine is running. It was amazing to see a thick metal blade suddenly flap its 'wings' like a bird when the 'right' frequency range was reached.

Inside an anechoic chamber
Anechoic room at the Technical University of Denmark. Credit: Arnaud Dessain via Wikimedia Commons

The sound of silence

Finally, we were led into an anechoic chamber similar to the one pictured. There aren't that many of these around in the world, so to experience a place designed to minimise sound was something special and most striking. NAH tells me they can't be completely silent, but they come close. He's also quite envious I've been in one when he - the engineer and Hi-Fi addict - hasn't.

Viking's anechoic chamber is used to test the noise levels attained by each machine in their range. There are tough noise regulations and standards to adhere to and the aim is to be even quieter than these, then to continually improve on what's been achieved. We also stand to benefit - wouldn't it be bliss on summer Sundays when everyone's mowing their lawns with quiet machines!

One of the members of our group found it quite hard to take in there because they suffer from tinnitus. The sounds of ordinary life can help people cope with the condition and they were removed completely in this room. You can get a good idea of what that's like here.

Note that the dull sound when someone speaks isn't a fault in the recording, that's just what sound without an echo is like. NB this chamber no longer holds the world record as the quietest place on earth as mentioned in the video, that's currently held (at the time of writing) by Microsoft.

In conclusion

It was an impressive couple of days of presentations, factory tour and question/answer sessions which showcased the care Viking take to ensure their models are built to last and continually improved in their design. Of course I can't say how they compare with other manufacturers in this respect, but I came away with a much better understanding of how one company brings their products to market.

The people involved enjoy their work too, which was great to see. I also have a better insight into why NAH believes being an engineer is the best job in the world.

Jolly green Viking cupcake
Disclosure: Viking were my generous hosts, whose attention to detail and pride in both their work and our entertainment shone through the whole of the trip.

Their attention to detail even extended to the cake we were given in our packed lunch on the way to the factory from Munich.

All opinions and views are my own.

You may also like:

  • An hour in Munich: My Weekend Wandering post from the same trip which highlights some of the wonderful sights of central Munich. NAH and I are already planning a trip back there
  • Jay's fun review of the same trip in his blog Gadgety News - he has more details of Viking's product range for you to explore there. He was also much better than me at remembering to take photos in the non-factory bits
  • Stephanie's thoughts on the trip in her Life at 139a blog, and my companion on the plane home. I also enjoyed her post about her return to a snowy Hofgarten in Munich
  • Emma's 3-for-the-price-of-1 blog manages to squeeze in Munich, Kufstein and the Viking factory into one post. Kudos Emma!

And finally...

I was reluctant to mention lawnmower racing when I was there as I thought it might be in bad taste. However, I've since learned Viking currently holds the world record for the fastest lawn tractor... 134mph!

If the embedded link doesn't work, try here.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Life is...

Thorny Zanthoxylum piperitum
A thorny discovery at Chelsea Physic Garden last Saturday: Zanthoxylum piperitum
I don't usually think of plants as a metaphor for life, but when I searched for a quote to match a thorny discovery we made at Chelsea Physic Garden, I found one which reflects how life is currently chez VP Gardens.

My proven remedy for life's thorns is to ensure there are plenty of bright spots inserted along the path. A day spent with jolly garden bloggers and sprinkled with snowdrops was a perfect way to get it right :)

Garden Bloggers and Chelsea Physic Garden collage
Some general views of the garden & blogging pals. Main picture: Jack holds up Lou's sign (pictured bottom right)
Andrew and Sarah are middle right; and Nic is admiring the snowdrop theatre with Jack.

Sarah's post on Facebook nicely shows what else we got up to. Shopping and hedge bothering simply had to be done ;)

I *may* have succumbed to my first yellow snowdrop.

Garden Bloggers Fling folk from Toronto might like to show your approval of my choice of sweatshirt - it means you were also there in spirit.

* = I did!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Weekend Wandering: An hour in Munich

Neues Rathaus aka the New Town Hall in Marienplatz, Munich
Neues Rathaus aka the New Town Hall in Marienplatz, Munich  

Is one hour enough to explore Munich? The answer is yes... and no.

Of course I would have liked more time to explore further, but an hour's certainly worth grabbing with both hands (and feet) when the opportunity arises.

View of the Bayerisches Nationaltheater on Max-Joseph-Platz
Our drop-off point, right by the huge architecture of the Bayerisches Nationaltheater on Max-Joseph-Platz  

Several factors helped make our time there worthwhile:
  • We were dropped off in the heart of the city, which is nicely compact to explore on foot
  • I was with someone who'd been there before, so no stopping to consult the map was needed
  • I had a vague idea of a couple of things I wanted to see nearby
  • I had 3 companions who were a huge help as we spotted more things of interest between us. Our conversation and delight at being there added to my experience of the city
We took a walk of around half a kilometre in a south westerly direction. Let's see what we found...

A walk around Munich city centre
A walk around the city centre

I like the feel of this city. It was bombed extensively during WWII, but unlike Birmingham where I grew up, the city's planners decided to keep to the previous layout for the rebuild. This decision also extended to the architecture of buildings like the Bayerisches Nationaltheater which was totally destroyed. Its later extension is also in keeping with the original design.

This approach gives a pleasing cohesion to the city centre. I also like the traditional style paintings and other ornamentation seen on many of the buildings, plus the plentiful bike storage areas. Like London, the centre of Munich is a low emissions zone, so the streets weren't choked with cars on the day we were there. There are underground train and tram systems to explore too.

Views of the New and Old Town Halls and the Marienplatz
Views of the New Town Hall and the Marienplatz. Top right is the Old Town Hall

The Gothic revival New Town Hall is a dramatic exception to the general architecture seen in the city, which I think still works. The main tower has a glockenspiel carillon (shown in the main picture above) which plays at 11am and 12pm (plus 5pm in summer). Luckily we arrived just in time to hear it chiming away.

In view of the cold, I was surprised to find the square's fountain was working, though there was also plenty of ice in evidence too.

Some of the goods on offer at Manufactum
Main picture: the deli section at Manufactum, which I've chosen to feature as German bread was sooooo good

There are plenty of shopping opportunities, and although I didn't plan to do that I did enjoy a brief look around Manufactum, an upmarket modern lifestyle store. I like this kind of shop as it gives a good idea of what's available and a country's general style. In the gardening section, the emphasis was on looking after our wildlife in winter, and I couldn't resist a photo of some hi-fi items for NAH.

Judging by some of my colleagues' shopping bags, Munich is good for Zara; bargain jumpers and warm winter hats; and quality kitchen knives. In contrast, I bought a kitsch magnet for my collection from a touristy stall which shows a snowy Marienplatz within a pretzel.

The Viktualienmarkt

One of my must-sees was the Viktualienmarkt. The site is a farmers market with around 100 stalls which dates back to the 1800s. They sold cheeses; fruit and vegetables; meat and game; sausages and cooked meats (including the famous Bavarian weisswurst aka white sausage); honey; plus decorative items made from dried flowers, seeds and woody materials.

Where appropriate stalls also sold wines and spirits to match their main produce. Many of them were protected by see-through plastic sheeting to protect their goods and customers/stallkeepers from the cold (around -14oC whilst we were there).  Note there's also a beer garden in the centre of the market, which sells locally brewed beer.

The indoor market

In nearby Blumenstrasse (aka Flower Street), the covered Schrannenhalle was warm and chic. This hall is a recent addition to the area, though the building was constructed from the century old materials (or more) reclaimed from the grain market that was on the site originally.

It had a marked Italian flavour and some innovative ways of displaying goods, one of which I may 'steal' for Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day. I also liked the way planters and black ironwork were used to screen the shopping area from the relaxed cafe.

Blutenrein flower shop

Imagine my delight when we chanced upon Blutenrein, an ultra-chic flower shop in the Viktualienmarkt. Both indoors and out were crammed with seasonal arrangements of flowers, plants and all kinds of gardeny trinkets, most of which I wanted to bring home with me. Having hand luggage only meant I had to restrict my choice to just one plant label (lavendel).

I particularly liked the tulip kokedama shown in the lower middle picture as I've not seen them used that way before. The shop's website is well worth a look, especially as you get to see the owner who served us, as well as all kinds of chic ideas and a better view of the shop's outside. I've since found out we were lucky to find the shop open as he'd only reopened the day before after his winter break.

View towards the Spatenhaus an der Oper restaurant
And finally back to Max-Joseph-Platz for lunch - our restaurant is the second building on the left

It's confession time - my hour in Munich didn't include the jolly meal we had at Spatenhaus an der Oper afterwards. This beautiful restaurant specialises in Bavarian dishes, which ensured we had a good taste of the region as well as its capital city.

Disclosure: Viking were my kind hosts for this trip, who not only showed their passion for the design, testing and production of their garden products, they were also keen to show off the best that Kufstein, Austria and Munich have to offer.

It was the most interesting, comfortable and enjoyable of times and I'm still pinching myself I was there. My thanks to everyone who helped organise the trip and to my delightful companions who joined me.

Getting there

Munich is just over an hour and a half away from London Heathrow by air with easy transfers available into the city by train (it takes around 45 minutes). It's perfect for another Weekend Wander - with NAH this time - methinks. I've included as many links as I can above so we can explore further and plan a visit at our leisure.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Hope in a garden

Fun garden entrance at Heligan

Yesterday was so-called 'Blue Monday', the day of the year when we're supposed to be at our most miserable. I can't think of a better way to counteract the winter blues than to visit a garden, especially when it's in Cornwall.

Come with me for a quick pick me up trot around Heligan, which I had the good fortune to visit last week...

Camellia in full bloom in January

The warmer Cornish climate is always going to cheer the heart in January, especially when the Camellias are enormous and in full flower like this one. There were plenty of daffodils in evidence too, plus lots of tender plants such as Dicksonia not wearing fleecy winter coats like they need in my garden.

This is a garden that gives hope that spring will come, even in the darkest days of winter.

Heligan Kitchen garden collage
Click to enlarge for a better view of the garden details

Winter is a great time to admire fruit tree pruning perfection, top-up greenhouse and cold frame envy, and appreciate the odd splashes of colour to be found in the enormous kitchen garden. I also added tool shed envy to my list of sighs, though only my photo of the hundreds of terracotta pots in there is worthy of inclusion on our walk.

Heligan takes advantage of the sea's bounty as they're allowed to harvest local seaweed for their mulched beds. It's also here in the kitchen garden where we find many of the poignant reminders of Heligan's story of the gardeners who left for WWI and never returned.

Wheelbarrows lined up ready for action at Heligan

I idly wondered what happens if a gardener appears with the wrong wheelbarrow for the area they're looking after ;)

A quick walk to The Jungle
The walk to The Jungle... and back. A small selection of the views and plants we found
A brisk walk to The Jungle allowed us to take in plenty of the rest of the garden, though sadly we didn't have time to explore the wider estate of around 200 acres.

We did have time to admire the restios, agaves and other unusual plants; focus in on interesting textures, bark in particular; have a discussion on land art (such as Andy Goldsworthy - the pictured form is Growth and Decay by Cornish sculptor James Eddy); and to sniff the glorious Mahonia, thoughtfully placed at the side of one of the paths, just at a time when a pause for a breather was needed.

Naomi Slade on the rope bridge at Heligan
Thanks to Naomi Slade for her invitation to join her for her talks at the Cornwall Garden Society
I also managed a new photographic technique - taking pictures whilst the two of us bounced up and down on the rope bridge!

Thanks goes to Heligan for their hospitality and allowing us to go garden bothering at relatively short notice, and to the Cornwall Garden Society for making us both so welcome.

Old tools artwork
I loved the use of old tools in the artwork decorating Heligan's cafe. Their salads are fab too!

Update: Naomi has A Different View of our visit, in her usual thoughtful, lyrical style.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Beginnings

Suggested resolutions for 2017

Here's a chuckle for regular readers who know I don't make new year's resolutions... it's the answer to a meme I was tempted by on Facebook the other day. It's a pretty good set of actions to live by in 2017... if I only knew who Ruth is!

However, despite my lack of resolutions I have made some new commitments for 2017. The clue is in the top line above; my mother's move to a local nursing home means I'll be spending more time with my family this year. I'm learning to appreciate the little things too - the impact of mum's stroke affected her speech, so every new word she speaks, or when she manages to string several together are very much appreciated. They're small victories to celebrate with a cheer.

As a result we smile a lot rather than talk. Each one is much appreciated by me as mum couldn't smile at all for a while and they show she's more comfortable in her new home. Her face lights up when the staff come into the room, so I'm reassured I've made a good choice for her. Today we had laughter too and a grabbing of both hands, a sign that some strength is returning to her at last. I'm told the road to recovery from a stroke can take up to two years, so we're living each of those precious moments too.

One of mum's new words is 'flower', in response to the thoughtful Christmas gift of a bowl of hyacinths from the nursing home staff. She loves their scent and her strong response to them means I've resolved to grow some cut flowers for her this year. I've earmarked two of my raised beds on the allotment, and I'm in the process of making a list of what to grow. Look out for more blog posts once seed sowing starts.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Postcard from 2016

Some of my favourite highlights of 2016. Here's to a wonderful 2017 for you and yours :)

Monday, 19 December 2016

Seasons Greetings

Christmas lights on Oxford Street
Bustling Oxford Street when I treated myself to a day out in London recently. 

Merry Christmas everyone! Here's to a brighter, kinder 2017.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

A Quick Update...

Festive yarn bombing on Chippenham High Street
I couldn't resist this week's festive yarn bombing on Chippenham's High Street  
Just popped in for a quick update and to show you some cheerful pictures. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post; your good wishes have helped me through the past few weeks.

Mum moves down to Wiltshire tomorrow, so cross your fingers it all goes smoothly. There are still a lot of hoops to go through, but we're getting there... slowly.

It'll be a while before I'm back to regular blogging again, but I'll pop in from time to time for a quick update or two.

In the meantime, here's the full story from our local paper on who's behind Chippenham's yarn bombing. Someone even wrote in with a thank you letter :)
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