Showing posts from January, 2008

Mulch Making

I shredded loads of prunings yesterday afternoon, plus most of next door's Christmas tree. The trunk made some nice logs for a wildlife wood pile. I'm always taking in the neighbours' woody material to make mulch. NAH thinks I'm mad, but with lots of paths to maintain between my allotment beds, I know it makes sense. This little lot only covered 1.5 paths, so there's still some way to go yet!

Snowdrop Census - Week 3

Back Garden - 181 Front Garden - 78 Side Garden - 243 Guerilla Garden - 198 GRAND TOTAL - 700 The deep purple Iris reticulata and purple Crocuses made their first appearance this week. The Tulips are pushing through and the Daffodils are well on their way.

How Advertising Works in Chippenham 2

1. Create advertisement
2. Decide to place it in Chippenham, where it's quicker to drive to Newquay than go by air
3. Wait for a Blogger with a camera to spot it at the local train station
4. Et voila!Click here for a further example ;)

ABC Wednesday - B is for...

Broccoli & Stilton SoupI always go a bit mad after Christmas and buy loads of half price Stilton. I then have a problem at the end of January as it nears its Use By date. I usually end up freezing most of it, but last week discovered a forgotten 1kg bag of frozen broccoli I'd won last year (yes, won - Sainsbury's was doing a 5 a day promotion). Aha the perfect solution to my problem - lots of yummy soup :)I started with chopping a large onion and browning it in some olive oil. I then added 1 litre of vegetable stock, the broccoli, a peeled and chopped medium sized potato, black pepper and mixed herbs to taste. This was simmered for 20 minutes and then whizzed into a smooth soup using a hand blender. At this point the recipe books tell you to cool the soup a little and stir in the Stilton. However, there was more than I wanted to serve at once, so this would give me a reheating problem later. So I put a thick slice of Stilton in the bottom of the bowl, topped up with the so…

The Glory of the Garden

My garden - August 2007
I spent some happy hours at the National Trust yesterday buried deep in the archive of Bateman's, the house Rudyard Kipling bought to escape the prying eyes of his adoring fans. In addition to copies of some delightful letters he wrote to his children, I found the following lovely poem inspired by the garden at Bateman's in 1911. Whilst it evokes a time now long gone, there's also plenty of relevance for today. Judith also has a wonderful personal tale from 1911 related to this poem that you simply must check out for yourself.

The Glory of the Garden Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.

For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You find the tool- and potting sheds which are the heart of all;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the ta…

Sales Stash

I came back from my stint at the National Trust yesterday with a most satisfying stash from their January sale. Much of it is aligned with my New Life Goal to reduce my carbon footprint. Firstly, I need to establish how big my footprint is. I know there's plenty of websites around to help me do this, but I decided the Carbon Counter slim volume is more likely to keep me in line as I can easily take it around with me. I'm trying to be a greener cleaner around the house, so the green cleaning guide and eco balls should be useful. The eco balls will replace both washing powder and fabric softener and will last me around 250 washes. I've yet to find out how effective they are and will keep you posted.
After all of that, what could be better than a Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down? I first came across Nicey and Wifey via Simon's blog and I've been hooked ever since. Anyone who can write the definitive guide to biscuits in such an amusing way should be recognised as a nation…

Playing with Food

I couldn't resist pointing you in the direction of this article from the BBC. Get ready to be amazed at how these pictures are put together. The results from my makeshift kitchen studio pale in comparison.Happy Monday!

Spot the Birdies

This a grab shot from my Garden Birdwatch yesterday, hence the misty effect (from shooting through a closed window) and the microscope needed to see the actual birds in the shot (clue - there are 2 of them)! Here's my results for this year: Greenfinch - 11 Chaffinch - 5 Great Tit - 2 Blue Tit - 2 Coal Tit - 1 Robin - 1 Blackbird - 2 Wood Pigeon 3 Magpie 1 Jackdaw - 1 House Sparrow - 2 Weather conditions were cool, dry and mainly dull - this may have accounted for the lower number of species this year. I usually also see Long-tailed Tits, Dunnock, Thrush and Collared Dove. However, this was the highest Greenfinch count I've ever had and I think their incessant fluttering and chattering may have put a number of birds off when they were around. I also had a squirrel visit the garden for a while which also quietened things down a bit. How did your Birdwatch go?

Magnetic Poetry - January 3

This was in honour of our first Daffodil flowering in January 2004. It was at this point I realised 3 poems in 1 month was a bit excessive if I was to complete my challenge of a year of poetry! The next posting on this theme will be mid-February.

Knowing my Onions

Little did I know when I posted my ABC picture 2 days ago, that I was ahead of the national news with my story of the anticipated onion shortage :o

The BBC reported on it yesterday, using the same source as I did - Riverford Organics. I've looked into this a bit further and can report there are conflicting views on when the shortage will happen. Riverford have already used up all their UK sourced onions and have switched to supplies from the continent. In fact they're suggesting their customers use other alliums, such as leeks instead. They might even need to use Southern Hemisphere sources as early as March. It doesn't sound good for our carbon footprint, but I can understand that Riverford need to react to their customers' demands - after all, how many of your savoury dishes don't contain at least one onion?

On the other hand, the British Onion Producers' Association (BOPA) doesn't anticipate problems until April/May. I suspect the difference between BOPA a…

RSPB Garden Birdwatch

I've told you about this before (twice), but the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is finally here :) So do follow the advice given in the pictured reminder I received from the RSPB and do your bit!

An Apple a Day...

...or for several years in the case of the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, where they have 2,300 varieties of apple alone - never mind the pears, plums, quinces, peaches, nectarines etc. etc. The collection was started initially by the RHS, but moved from Wisley to Brogdale in the 1950s. The site was originally a government research station and the land is still owned by DEFRA, but the collection is curated by Imperial College. However, this all looked to change last year, when DEFRA put the collection out to contract. Removal of the collection to another horticultural research site, East Malling in Kent (also famous for fruit and fruitstocks) seemed a strong contender and I also believe from a trusted source that removal to Garden Organic at Ryton was also considered. However, DEFRA have announced that the collection is to stay in situ, at least in the short term, though Reading University will take over responsibility for its curation. Reading between the lines, it seem…

Yesterday's Junk

It's not often that junk mail is hilarious, but yesterday's offering had me howling with laughter:

Claim your
FREE chest today,
Mrs VP!

No, it wasn't an offer from the local plastic surgeon, but from Spalding Bulbs who appear to be trying to be the Readers' Digest of the gardening world. I made the mistake of taking up a free offer from one of the gardening magazines last year, where they were the supplier. Since then I've been bombarded with offers of useless free goods and the possibility of winning wads of cash. The chest in question turned out to be 2 - a free tool chest, and a treasure chest containing up to 20,000 pounds! BTW - that's their exclamation mark, not mine.

The offer is so tacky, you even have to open a little yellow plastic tool box glued to the letter to find out the size of the chest you've won. Surprise, surprise, I'd won not 5, 10 or even 50 tools, but the mega 100 tool chest, the largest on offer. I didn't know there were that many…

Snowdrop census - week 2

Back Garden - 137 Front Garden - 50 Side Garden - 142 Guerilla Garden - 116 GRAND TOTAL - 445 As promised, I've posted a picture of the double snowdrops in the back garden. Even in last Sunday's rain they looked beautiful. The Pulmonarias are beginning to bloom and I now have several crocuses in flower. Why is it the yellow ones always show first?

Changing Chippenham

I've been taking a series of photos to show how this town is changing and an article on today's news prompted me to choose this picture as my first post on the subject. It's the front of the old Dairy Crest depot in the centre of town and symbolises the decline of home delivered milk over the past couple of decades. Now just 10% of milk is delivered to homes via 7,000 delivery rounds - 20 years ago it was 40% via 20,000. I feel sad about this state of affairs, but I'm just as much to blame as anyone else. After all, I buy my milk from the supermarket in plastic bottles, lured by its very cheap price - often 15p a pint less than what the milkman offers. There's much talk of supermarkets using milk as a 'loss leader' to lure us into their stores and forcing the prices they pay to farmers down in spite of increasing production costs. I don't know enough about that to say whether it's true, but I'd now like to change to the more eco-friendly home del…

ABC Wednesday - A is for...

Autumn planted onion sets This is my first effort for a project starting today. I came across it on Mrs Nesbitt's place. It's the first time I've planted this type of onion set. Usually my spring planted sets are enough for us, plus I choose types that store well like Setton and Red Baron. However, last year's crop was well down on its usual bounty. I was also concerned they might not store so well as it was very dificult to get the crop dried out. So I decided to grow some Electric, planted in November and which should be ready in June. You can see from the photo that the recent rain has 'capped' my clay soil. I'll be going around with a hoe to let some air in as soon as the plot's dried out a little. I'm pleased I'm trying these as there are reports of a possible onion shortage later this year, for the same reasons that led me to try my Autumn planted sets in the first place. See you next week at B...

Heelis Voice

I had a nice surprise when I turned up for my regular volunteer day at the National Trust yesterday (see picture - note how the building matched yesterday's weather). The latest edition of Heelis Voice, a quarterly newsletter for HQ volunteers, is out and I have an article published :) I was asked to write it just before Christmas with a day's deadline and then completely forgot I'd done it. The National Trust are starting to look at new ways of communicating with volunteers and were interested in hearing about my blogging experiences. I could have written lots more, but had a limit of about 300 words to play with: "I have a (not so) secret alter ego. She’s called VP and resides in cyberspace on the blog I started in November. She’s not so different to me, but I’ve emphasised my more positive, humorous attitudes. I’ve also thrown in some thoughtful insights for good measure. Here’s a further confession: my blog might not quite have the right name as it contains much mor…

A New Dawn

After all that rain, this was our reward from the back window this morning. I decided to take a long walk with my camera, some of the results you'll see in later posts. Lots of birds - too elusive for my puny camera and plenty of signs of spring. The cowslips and crocuses are coming out and there are fresh shoots everywhere. A good to be alive day :)

Blue Monday

Breakfast News reported that today's officially the gloomiest day of the year, so I make no apologies in posting another Winter Aconite picture (from yesterday) to cheer things up.

I'd like to know where the 'officially' tag comes from though - this article says that experts have come up with a complicated algorithm to work out that today's the answer. However, who these experts are hasn't been revealed. I recall that 2 weeks ago it was 'officially' the sickest day of the year (gloom was cited as one of the root causes of this too) and the day when most of us book our summer holidays - to cheer ourselves up was given as one of the reasons here. Confused? You bet I am.

How Advertising Works in Chippenham

Create advertisementPlace in an obscure place, e.g. on a water tap shut off for the winter, by an allotment gateWait for a Blogger with a camera on a breezy day to spot itEt voila!

Plot Views (Squelch!)


Celebrating Regionality - Birmingham

I had a quick trip to Birmingham on Thursday, which reminded me of my promise to post some articles about my experiences of places I've lived in over the years. I've kept it quiet until now, but have to confess that I'm originally from Birmingham. I'm not proud to be a Brummie and I'm glad to say I don't speak with much of an accent, unless asked to - not many people do! Of course whenever I mention Birmingham, everyone goes 'Ah you're a Brummie', or 'You're from Brum (or Brummagem) then'. It's usually accompanied by them trying (and failing) to talk with a Brummie accent - but more about that later. I confess that I'd no idea how Brum, Brummie or Brummagem originated. That's where the power of the internet comes in - I can now reveal it's definition from here:

"Brummagem" first appeared in the 17th century as an alteration of "Birmingham," the name of a city in England. At that time Birmingham was not…

In Stitches

I had a very cosy Sunday with SUP earlier on in the week - drinking mulled wine, eating crumpets and generally setting the world to rights. We did briefly touch on all things needling, including my completion of the pictured Nerys from my day at Jolly Red. This project took a wee bit longer to complete owing to my woolly headedness in leaving the chart in Somerset at the end of the workshop. Happily chart and owner were reunited in time for me to complete Nerys for showing off last Sunday.
SUP gets back into field work mode next month as we'll be visiting the Blue and White exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. This features the work of Kaffe Fassett, Candace Bahouth and Carol Waller and starts today, hence my saving this post until now.

Blight Insurance

Some of my seed spud order arrived 2 days ago, but I had to wait until today before I could set them out for chitting. I rescued an egg box from the recycling bag and set them out rose end upwards and then put the box on the dining room windowsill. This is the perfect spot as it's light, but cool owing to its northerly aspect. The spuds were quite small, so it was often difficult to tell where the rose end was. I suspect I may have to turn some of the spuds up the other way when they start sprouting!

These are a maincrop variety, so it'll be a while until they get planted out on the plot. The spuds were accompanied by a letter from the supplier. I've put an extract below to see if you think they're fobbing their customers off this year:

'...Unfortunately due to the adverse growing conditions experienced this summer, our crops of Sarpo varieties have not grown fully to the sizes expected. As a result and to ensure we are able to satisfy the huge demand for these varie…

Snowdrop census - week 1

Back Garden - 51
Front Garden - 33
Side Garden - 30
Guerilla Garden - 30


Last year's maximum - 1069, still some way to go then!

The double snowdrops in the back garden are beginning to show - I'll post a picture as soon as they're in bloom. I also found some strawberries in flower and daisies on the public land next to the house.

Some swans paddling like hell


Today at Lacock


Awash With Rain - Updated

As I said in Sunday's post, there was more rain to come. This picture was taken at 11 am today in town. There were some guys from the Environment Agency down there monitoring the situation. According to them, the river's at its highest since 1946. I suspect they may mean 1947 as this was when there was the big winter thaw. You may also like to check out what else is happening locally re flooding by looking at the Gazette & Herald website. I particularly like the article about Westonbirt Arboretum, as there is a quote from the aptly named John Weir

Magnetic Poetry - January 2

Sigh. We'd just come back from a month in Australia over Christmas and New Year - it was fantastic!

Solve It

Problem #1 - The allotment's a windy site, so the tarpaulin covering my muck heap keeps on blowing away
Problem #2 - I've run out of bricks to weigh the tarpaulin downSolution - reuse loads of my plastic bottles filled three quarters full of water as brick substitutesProblem solved :)

Holding Ourselves Back

This morning's atrocious weather cleared away sufficiently by 11am for Threadspider and I to have a throroughly enjoyable 'field trip' to our local garden centre. We started with a revitalising mug of coffee plus cake and then ventured outside for a plant and pot inspection in bright sunshine. Scented plant displays were a particularly strong feature as were the delightfully kitsch giant cup and saucer planters complete with spring flower arrangements. We had to stop ourselves from buying up the complete seed section though. Promises of seed swaps and returning later with our wish lists just about kept us in check. However, I did impulse buy an untried variety of red veined Sorrel for the plot, plus a gorgeous variety of black Violas. We also managed to liberate a number of free recipe cards masquerading as seed packets on one of the stands :0

Forcing the Issue

I've never tried the traditional method of forcing before, but have decided to try it this year, in an effort to increase the variety of produce from my plot over a longer harvesting season. The traditional forced crops include rhubarb, seakale and chicory and I have indeed just put a bucket over my rhubarb on the plot to stir the buds I can just see on the surface into life. However, I spotted in Grow Your Own magazine, that beetroot can also be forced, so I dug up some of my 'Bull's Blood' on Sunday and bought them home to give it try out on the patio. I cut off the tops and put 4 roots per pot yesterday. I then covered each pot with a large terracotta 'long tom' pot with a stone over the top to block out the light. If this is successful, I should be harvesting some nice salad leaves in a few weeks time. I'll let you know how I get on.

Bright Winter Aconites

The Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis)are also showing themselves in spite of all the rain we're having. Here's another picture from Saturday when they were shrugging off an overnight frost. These were another birthday present bought 'in the green' (i.e. lifted just after flowering) by NAH. I even planted them out on the big day itself.

Hurrah for Snowdrops

I'm delighted that the first snowdrops of the year are here. They actually bloomed fully for the first time last Thursday, but I was unable to take this picture until Saturday. Snowdrops are one of my favourite plants as they show themselves in January, just when the weather is usually at its coldest and gloomiest. They are such a sign of promise for the Spring to come.

NAH bought me loads of snowdrops 'in the green' for my birthday a few years ago. There were plenty for my front, back and side gardens. I also had to resort to a little guerilla gardening and planted some on the bank at the side of the house. I now do a weekly snowdrop count from when the first flowers appear just to see how they're multiplying each year. I'll be posting the results up of this year's census (plants in bud or flower only count, not those that have 'gone over') up on this site.

If you haven't planted snowdrops, then you might like to look here to find a garden near you …

Awash with rain

This is a picture of the river Avon in the centre of town today. The bits of tree you can see sticking out of the water are where the riverbank usually is. I was talking to a fellow photographer whilst taking this who told me he was sent home from work early for the first time in 10 years on Friday because of the inclement weather. I think this is the highest I've ever seen the river here in over 20 years and there's more to come.

Another Award!

I'm very pleased to have this award from Flighty today. It's great to have such encouragement from a regular contributor to this site. Thank you!


I only buy flowers from January through to March when I buy cheerful Cornish daffodils each week to brighten up the kitchen during the remains of winter. Yesterday's all too brief spell of sunshine highlighted my first bunch of the year.

On the way home from Devizes last night, we encountered 2 deer in the road. We stopped the car so as to not spook them too much and to enjoy their magnificence. They were just a few feet away, the closest I have ever been to deer. They looked at us for a while and then in a single leap over the hedgerow at the side of the road, were gone into the night. A magical end to the day.

Still Veg Plotting!

Yesterday's rainy weather gave me the ideal opportunity to finally plan where everything is to go this year. As you can see the more permanent features are in glorious technicolour and I then fit in the rest of the year's crops around these. As I produce a plan each year, I can make sure I keep a good crop rotation through the beds by referring back through the years. However, I don't necessarily stick to these plans, but it keeps me going in the right direction and I do update the plan as I go along. Landscape Juice has done a rather nice summary of various plot plans and musings if you'd like to see what other plot holders are up to.

The division into 4 main beds you can see was how the plot looked when I took it on in 2004. I then decided to sub divide these further into beds approximately 10 feet wide by 4 feet long - it makes the onerous tasks of digging/weeding etc seem much smaller when you're just doing a couple of small beds or so at a time! It also means t…

C'mon make my day!

I do love playing these games! Here I am blogging away into the ether, and I get such a personal response. Judith in her Spinningyarns guise has tagged me this time and has made my day in the process.

The rules for this award are to“Give the award to up to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel so happy about blogland! Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so that they can pass it on. Beware! You may get the award several times! ”

So, the people I'd like to thank for making my recent endevours so rewarding are as follows - Lisa for being the first to let me play tag, Flighty for allowing me to lounge away on the lawn, Louise for her positive comments on the blog, Mike for such inspirational posts, Gardenpunks for her journey into sustainable living and Julia because she needs cheering up with all that snow and frost around. I'd also like to cite a couple of relative allotment/blogging newbies who've stopped by here recently.…

Plot View

I'll also be posting views of the allotment this year, alternating between this view from the bottom of the plot and one from the top. This will be a companion to the Garden View and I'll probably post the 2 pictures together.

Garden View

This is the first of another set of regular posts for 2008. I'll take pictures from the 4 corners of the garden so we can see how it changes over the seasons.

Allotments in the News

Our local paper published a letter this week concerning the threat of development to an allotment site in Devizes. It's ironic as the allotments under threat were created when a previous site was developed for housing. Luckily the plans have been rejected - for now at least and I hope it remains that way.

It's a very timely topic as the Allotments4All forum has a current thread about a non-statutory allotment site under threat. The members have been very supportive and pointed out that The National Society of Allotments & Leisure Gardeners is a mine of useful advice and help, plus there is currently a petition on the government website about keeping allotments alive and well. If you are a UK resident or an ex-pat, I strongly urge you to follow this link and sign the petition. The deadline's March 27th 2008.

Magnetic Poetry - January

As promised in my earlier post, here's the first poem I created for January. It was inspired by the daffodils beginning to creep through during the dark days of winter - just like the ones I showed you for the Winter Solstice.

Garlic's Through

The garlic cloves planted last month are now showing some nice fat shoots. I think they must have responded well to the several days of frost we had just before Christmas. I've now managed to source some Cristo (my favourite variety) from Walkers Bulbs. I'm particularly pleased about this as I've subsequently found out that the Thermidrome pictured here isn't a good keeper. The Cristo bulbs are due to arrive here in February, so will form my late winter planting out on the allotment.


I see the Rocket harvest's doubled since the New Year's festivities. OK, OK - I promise not to use this joke again!

Veg Plotting!

One of the side effects of last week's great New Year Clearout was the use of this swanky new tin to arrange and store my seed stash for the year. It has a smaller brother which I'm using to store my green manure seeds. Up until now I've mistreated my potential veg harvest by using a garden trug to store their seeds on a shelf in my study. Hardly the airtight container recommended by every gardening book and magazine in the land :0

I was so delighted, I even made some month dividers using card and pictures from old magazines I'd put by for recycling. I then sorted through my seeds and put them in the month when they'll be sown. This means I can go straight to my tin and pull out the seeds I need each month. Any seeds used for successional sowing can be put back into the next month etc. I've even added some silica gel to the tin to keep them really dry. I'm so pleased with the result, I'm itching to get sowing straight away - hence the vegetable planner …

Bird Warming

In addition to feeding the birds, I've just put up this bird roosting pouch picked up at my local garden centre for a bargain 99p. I've added my scrap tapestry wool ends to make it really cosy and tempting for the birds to nestle into. I've put it high up in my Betula utilis var. jacquemontii (Himalyan birch), so it's out of reach of the cats. I've also put up some new bird feeders too - time will tell if these are squirrel proof, keep your fingers crossed!All this is in preparation for the RSPB Garden Birdwatch on 26-27 January, their annual mass survey of as many UK gardens as possible. It only takes an hour, so if you haven't done it before, why not give it a try? The RSPB website has much more information, plus a guide if you need some help with identification. If you're looking for more regular bird survey work (including gardens), then the British Trust for Ornithology has plenty for you to get stuck into.

Unusual Plants

Us gardeners are a hardy bunch as was proven this morning when I visited this nearby nursery for an inspirational 2 hour workshop on unusual plants for limy soils. Most of the time was spent in the pouring rain and wind whilst the owner Terry Baker, enthusiastically showed 5 of us round his stock beds cum garden. It may be January, but there was plenty of interest for us to see, helped along by the odd cutting or 2 plus lashings of hot coffee and chocolate biscuits. We also got a sneak preview in the greenhouse you can just see in the picture of the plants to be taken to the RHS Flower Show in the Horticultural Halls next month. The morning was a great supplement to my gardening course and also a good way to get some new ideas for my own garden. I came away with a delightful unnamed Viburnum that came from Savills via the great plant explorer Roy Lancaster, plus a cutting of Rosa banksiae. The workshop was the first of a series scheduled for the first Monday of each month, so of cours…

Quick Garden Tidy Up

Last night was very stormy, so I had a quick run around the garden this morning to right all the blown over pots and ornaments plus putting back this cover over the garden bench before the next spell of rainy weather due later today sets in. I think I got off lightly compared to Gardenpunks last week and the summer storms last year.

Twelfth Night

So Christmas is well and truly over as it's Twelfth Night. I've spent most of today taking down the tinsel and all the other decorations so we don't have bad luck for 2008. I always feel a bit flat afterwards as the house looks really bare and we still have the grey days of January to get through. To cheer things up a little, perhaps I need to revive the more celebratory side of the evening, or even go a-wassailing round my apple trees!

New Year Traditions

For the past few years, NAH and I have made a new family tradition - the big New Year Clearout. This involves tidying up, putting away and getting rid of anything that's surplus to requirements. As a result the first charity bag through the door in the New Year gets filled to the brim with clothes, books and anything else useful they might like to have.We've had a couple of variations on the theme this year. Firstly NAH would like to use part of the garage as a workshop, so he's sold some of its contents through the intranet at work to clear some space. Secondly, we've fitted in a trip to IKEA to fetch home Billy (see picture - aren't IKEA's product names amusing!) to store my vast booklog - now over 50 volumes. A miracle happened during our visit - everything we needed was in stock and I didn't get into a bad mood. I just find the whole IKEA experience very annoying and so we keep our visits to a bare minimum.We've still to complete our endeavours, but…