Write Away: #SpringNatureDiary

On Wednesday I took part in a project commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. They invited anyone and everyone to write a quick 150 word nature diary to mark this year's spring equinox.

Regular readers know I love this kind of project, reminiscent of the fun we had with #MyGardenRightNow a couple of years ago.

You can read my [lightly edited] entry below. 80+ submissions and photos from around the country are available here. It's a wonderful celebration of this year's arrival of spring.

How's spring (or autumn) looking in your neighbourhood?

Today's dawn was special as the first chiffchaff of spring announced its arrival. It's a fitting way to celebrate the vernal equinox.

Nature's changing so fast now. The apple boughs have just burst into leaf and my herb bed tells me there'll be mint for our potatoes this Sunday.

My small urban garden is full of microclimates; demonstrated admirably today by my potted St George's tulips. Those …

Postcard from Austria

Big birthdays and anniversaries demand big holidays, and so NAH and I found ourselves touring the delights of Vienna, Bohemia and Prague for ten days recently.

The weather on the whole was more March lamb-like for us compared with you and Storm Gareth. However, packing was still a bit tricky as we knew the forecast held both snow and temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit for us. And surprisingly it all came true.

The above photo summarises that packing dilemma as it depicts the plentiful catkins we saw, along with chilly, snowy peaks in the distance. In the woods I was delighted to see wild cyclamen and hellebores in bloom; the latter are called 'Snow roses' in Austria.

Being Lent, we found many places decorate their homes and businesses with flowers and greenery in a similar way we do for Christmas. More of those delights to come, along with some unusual public planting and an international edition of The Great Green Wall Hunt...

Write Away: Add some zest to your writing

Write away is an occasional series on my writing experiences and what I've learned along the way. It's inspired from joining a WI writing group last year, who've gently taken me to all kinds of places and forms of writing I never thought I'd go.
In this post, I'm going to tell you a little more about the practical side to my recent Postcard from Fishguard, where I joined a workshop aimed at gaining an income from travel writing...

My previous experience of writing workshops isn't good; for me they usually result in writers' block, so I approached a whole weekend immersed in the world of writing with some trepidation. I needn't have worried - and once again I did have a (temporary) block - sympathetic and knowledgeable tutors, a great location (and weather!) with the company of 50 or so like minded people made the whole weekend an enjoyable one.

Our tutor Simon Whaley created a relaxed vibe for his class of just two ladies. He has a whole host of experie…

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Daffodil Haiku

A poem by moi, for once; I must show it to my Creative Writing group. This is what happens when you're trying desperately not to quote that poem for Muse Day 😉

Tempted by houseplants? Buyer beware

Houseplants are trendy. Houseplants are cool. And who wouldn't be tempted by this spectacular Alocasia x amazonica (aka Amazonian elephant's ear) when it's going for a song at their local supermarket? Not I for one.

Luckily I knew what I was getting as I lust after them whenever I see them at a show or in a heated glasshouse. Why lucky? Because there was no care label anywhere to be seen and most of the information out there rates these as Difficult. Later, I checked at several such outlets, then my local DIY store and found exactly the same situation: tons of attractive and tempting houseplants, succulents and cacti... all withzero information to tell the buyer what they are and what to do with them.

In this instance the amazonica in the name is the clue. This is a plant that likes plenty of humidity and warmth. It needs rainwater instead of my limy tapwater and requires misting every day. It's currently around 10 inches in height, so I need to prepare myself for sev…

Last call for winter pruning

We're now enjoying more than 10 hours daylight per day here in the south-west which combined with this week's warmer weather has brought the trees close to bud burst... or in the case of the elderberries full-blown leafage.

I've taken advantage of the sunny days to finish off my winter pruning this week. I reckon in another day or two it'll be too late, so if you have pruning tasks left to do, I'd get diddling this weekend! This is an example of nature showing you the way rather than the text books telling you when it should be done. I'll also leave one area of the garden well alone as I've seen birds flying in with nesting material.

The Rambling Rector has - once again - been tamed. As you can see, it rampaged everywhere last summer and whilst the results were spectacular, I know the trees on the public land next door are relieved I've disentangled them from the Rector's thorny embrace.

I've also pruned the apples* to help them form their next…

Postcard from Fishguard

I'm back from a weekend in Fishguard, where the place and weather provided the perfect winter pick me up. This is the view across the bay from the hotel.

It was clear that despite the stiff breeze, this corner of Pembrokeshire has had a relatively benign winter. I was greeted by a long ribbon of blackthorn trees in full bloom as I crossed over the border from Carmarthenshire. Then in Fishguard itself a massed planting of purple crocus a few feet from the beach made a welcome feature. Along the breakwater gorse was in full bloom and masses of wild angelica were already sporting their flower heads.

It was a good spot for birding too. Owls hooted me to sleep each night and on my walks I spotted cormorant, oystercatchers, and curlew amongst the more usual sea birds. At the end of my walk I heard an incessant chattering in the pine trees on the shoreline and discovered a flock of 20-30 goldfinches having a loud conversation amongst themselves.

Dodgy wi-fi at the hotel meant it was tim…

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Snowdrop Dreams

We're almost at peak snowdrop here at VP Gardens and I'm pleased to see the ones I've guerrilla gardened on the side bank are beginning to bulk up nicely. I plan to help the smaller clumps in the above photo and beyond by burying their seed heads into the leaf litter in a week or two's time.

I love how the ones at the top of the side garden have begun to throw themselves over the boundary and join their cousins on the bank below. There's no helping hand needed from me here, but maybe I will.

Meanwhile in the back garden, the planned combinations are beginning to take shape. I gave the cyclamen a helping hand a couple of seasons ago and they're beginning to take off in their allotted space beneath the winter honeysuckle. It's made me appreciate how much hard work goes into the enormous spreads of cyclamen I've seen underneath the trees at Hodsock Priory, and more recently at Wakehurst.

This year I have another snowdrop dream... in the shape of a 'sn…

Things in Unusual Places #24: Cactus

Even on a dull, drizzly winter's day, this cactus brightens up this street scene in Bristol. It's made out of scaffolding covers and plastic tags and was constructed in November last year by artist Duncan McKellar.

It replaced a large pineapple on the site. I see a theme developing here...

... see that tiny shot of pink? Want a closer look?

Here you are 😘

Chock full of winter joy and surprises

I went on a fantastic road trip with my friend Naomi recently, where we found our mouthwatering itinerary was chock full of winter joy, sneak peeks and surprises...

First stop was Hortus Loci in Hampshire where we saw potting up was already in full swing to fill the huge polytunnels with the plants on order for Chelsea Flower Show. 

This year they're growing for IKEA's Gardening Will Save the World, which will be the first show garden in the Great Pavilion judged for a medal. It'll be on 2 levels and include lots of edibles; our guide Danny Green (Show Plant manager) confirmed it should include lingonberries, a signature berry of IKEA's fare whenever I go there. The other main show garden they're growing for is Welcome to Yorkshire which the lovely Mark Gregory is designing again this year. It promises to have a working lock gate as its centre piece - I can't wait to see it in action.

The team are also growing for Malvern Spring Festival - it should be a great sta…