Monday, 30 June 2008
The great thing about being the only workshop attendee sometimes is the conversation is further ranging than usual. I'd asked Terry about which shows he attends (pretty much all of them, sometimes 3 in one week) and they're a major sourse of his income - either at the show itself or from the subsequent mail orders received. Most of his sales are in the months of May through July, with order fulfilment mainly from September through to March. So if attendance is down at any of the shows, there'll be a direct knock on effect. He also tells me the number of the RHS shows in London over the Autumn to Spring period will be less, thus reducing the size of one of his main 'shop windows'. Conversely, the extension of Chelsea to Saturday has also affected some nurseries as they haven't been able to afford the increased exhibitor fees. Apparently at least 10 of Carol Klein's favourite nurseries have ceased to exhibit there.
Terry is also awaiting the potential impact of the change in London's Lord Mayor. The day's business congestion charge is due to rise to £25, but on top of that a daily £200 emission tax was due to be introduced under Ken Livingstone's stewardship. He's now unsure whether this will go ahead. I initially thought both were good ideas, but Terry's take on it has made me think again - the large businesses will be able to afford these increases or buy the more fuel efficient vehicles that won't incur the emissions charge. However, changing vehicles is a major chunk of expenditure for smaller businesses, so many are unlikely to do that and may cease coming to London.
We also talked about the latest RHS campaign to reduce VAT on plants and seeds. Again, I initially thought this was a good idea - as Patient Gardener explained so well a couple of days ago. However this campaign if successful, will have little impact on the smaller nurseries who aren't VAT registered and therefore don't pass on this expense to their customers anyway. I'm not sure now if I want to sign up to a petition that mainly benefits garden centres and the very big nurseries.
In spite of this doom and gloom, Terry continues to be upbeat about his business. He believes these challenges are an opportunity to shake things up a little, make it more efficient and explore untried sales channels. He's already worked out a way to continue exhibiting in London which minimises the use of a commercial vehicle and he's also poised to start web based sales in September. So I shall continue to support my own local specialist nursery the best way I can - by buying some more plants!
Having lived next door to each other for 9 years, we've reached the point where visiting each other is more like going to part of our extended family and we'll happily chat away whilst whoever's hosting goes about their daily chores. However, yesterday's nice weather meant we could just sit outside and catch up, especially with 2 daughters just back from University. Their youngest's very proud of his cooking prowess, though I'm unclear how much he actually did, bearing in mind the amount of teasing he was getting from his sisters. Whatever, lunch was superb and we finished up with one of the family's favourite puds, Eton Mess. You're right, it does look a mess but the result is absolutely delicious. Sadly, assembling the pud had been started before I arrived, so my gift of allotment strawberries wasn't included, but I'm sure they'll come in handy later!
For the Mess to serve 6 you'll need:
1lb (450g) summer soft fruit (must be strawberries at least - yesterday's also had cherries)
Sugar to taste (will depend on ripeness and type of fruit used)
1 pint (570ml) double cream
12 meringue nests
Puree half the strawberries and set aside.
Whip the double cream until thickened.
Destone any fruit that needs it and chop all the non-pureed fruit into smaller pieces.
Pulverise the meringues into smaller pieces using a food processor.
Assemble all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well and taste for sweetness
Add sugar to taste if needed.
Serve immediately and enjoy!
A friend emailed to ask which varieties I grow following my Strawberry Delight post earlier in the month and I thought you might be interested too. I have Christine and Mae (early fruiting varieties - May to June) in one bed, plus Hapil, Honoeye and Aromel (the last one's an 'everbearer' or perpetual fruiter, the others crop from June to late July) on the other side of the plot. I've completely ignored the advice re spacing and just allow the runners to intermingle with each other and whip out any that don't look happy. I cut the dead leaves back in February/March and 'tickle in' some well rotted manure around the roots. I mulch with next door's discarded guinea pig/hamster bedding in May - they use straw/wood shavings, but it includes pet poo and I let it rot down a little in a separate compost bin over the winter, so it's not nitrogen demanding when applied to the strawbs. So far I've ignored the advice re replacing plants every 3 years and everything is still cropping well (from May/June through to October usually owing to the varieties selected!) - I suspect that's the result of the manuring and also having a clay soil.
Click here for the 'pukka' advice re strawberry growing if you don't want to follow my method!
Sunday, 29 June 2008
4. Wall top detail 5. House brick colours 6. Edging detail
7. Central steps up to patio 8. Wall top & edging detail
9. Central steps entrance pillar detail + accessories
I thought I'd share with you some of the thought processes that went into the final product. We moved here in 1999 to a complete blank canvas as the house was newly built. All we had was a 15 metre (approx 50 feet) square garden, newly turfed except for a line of paviors across the back next to the house and some steps set into a steep bank about a third of the way in. The garden's on a slope (about 1 in 10), so initially we weren't quite sure where to start, but knew that the slope gave us the potential to put together a good design with a 'wow factor'
So we sat just looking at it and scratching our heads for a year, often sitting on the steps to get the feel of being in the middle of it all. The builders had made a large flat area next to the house cut diagonally across the garden. That helped us to make our first couple of decisions - to keep most of the flat area as the patio and to retain its diagonal line. We also knew we'd need to retain the steps to get us to the next level of the garden - in fact we ended up with 3 sets of steps from the patio, so we could have 'a journey' round the garden. Step sitting's still one of my favourite places (especially at dusk when the bats are out), in spite of the many inviting places we have on the patio itself now. With those ideas in mind, I put together many rough sketches (back of fag packet more like) to discuss with NAH. Finally we were both happy with one of them, but knew the amount of construction work involved needed us to GAMI (get a man in) - I'll cover how we chose him in another post.
The drawing we got back from our chosen GAMI, not only took our design, but improved it. It was his idea to put the S curve into the patio's shape. Next we had to think about materials - our house is mainly red brick with yellow brick details, so we thought it would be good to reverse those colours for the patio. We chose a pavior that's close in colour to both the yellow brickwork and the big chunks of local stone we keep finding in our soil, with a small red 'cobble' plus a red brick for contrast. As the patio is so large (Across the whole width of the garden and 27 feet at its widest point, tapering to a mere 6 and a half feet at the other end), I thought we needed to break up the expanse a little using a several pavior sizes set randomly throughout the area and I also liked the idea of an inset circle in the widest part. We also decided to have a low dividing wall between the patio and the next part of the garden - the terrace bedding either side of the central steps. It was GAMI's idea to add the pillars at each side. Finally, we added just one small planting area (GAMI had suggested several initially) at the eastern end, to enable me to grow strawberries and herbs (this was pre allotment days) plus some climbers up the wall of next door's garage. 8 years on we're still happy with the final result of this and the garden's overall design. I now feel very differently about the planting though and having put this post together I think I need to clean the patio!
Apologies for the continued centralised formatting - this is my first photo composition blogged from Picasa and I haven't been able to override the formatting to get it to the left for the text.
Today is the end of National Insect Week, which has been marked particularly well already by posts from Simon and Louise over on their respective blogs. However, I've chosen today to tell you about it as a couple of important surveys are continuing well past this special week for insects.
Firstly Butterfly Conservation are interested in any sightings of Painted Lady butterflies or Humming-bird Hawk-moths in your garden as they would like to build a picture of their annual migration from Africa and the continent respectively into our gardens. The second is a garden moth count of species which are good pollinators/food sources for birds and bats to see how their populations may be changing. You don't need to be an expert to take part in either survey - the above links have plenty of guidance to help you.
Saturday, 28 June 2008
Strange happenings have also been unfolding chez VP's plot lately. As previously reported, one of my nettle beds was treated with weedkiller. Since then, I've found a number of surprising things I didn't know I've had for the past four years. One of these is 20 bags of soot which I've now moved to round my compost bins as a temporary weed suppressing membrane to counteract the effects of the nettles growing there - composting in shorts has been a little tingly lately. Presumably these are the previous gifts supplied to my plot predecessor by 'the man from Sutton Benger' who delivers bags of soot to our site for us (but not me) to help ourselves to from time to time.
I'm tempted to go up there this afternoon and stick a price tag on 'em in case Monica gets wind there's soot around and heads up to my plot sharpish to help herself. Or perhaps she's my mystery nettle destroyer in the first place?
Well, we've had Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on the 15th as usual, but as a counterpoint Emma from the aptly titled 'A Nice Green Leaf' has gathered a bunch of us together this month to present the 'The Big Green Leaf Day'. It's been great to focus on leaves for a change and to have a good look at just how many forms and colours there are in my garden just from the foliage alone. It's given me a greater understanding of the importance of green in the garden, even when June is considered to be the high time for flowers. I've included some vegetables as usual, but these are from my patio instead of the allotment this time around.
Friday, 27 June 2008
As it's been broadcast on Friday, you have until early Monday to have a listen to us if you'd like to. You need to forward until 1 hour and 5 minutes through the show. You'll have a quick trip down memory lane with Steppenwolf until we're on at 01:08:30. It's on for just 4 minutes and features Let's Go and Free Yourself. Chris Samuel, our regular choirmaster features in both the interview and singing sections.
To listen you will need to have a programme called RealPlayer installed on your computer. Download it for FREE from the BBC's audio help page if you need to - http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/help/install/
In the end we didn't get our film fix, but I thought another trip on the train to have a gander at Harlech would be a good thing for our holiday's last day. We'd gone for the train trip option because a) train trips are fun b) there's a long detour to get round the Mawddach estuary by car and c) we were facing a long car journey home the day after. Once aboard we discovered d) the trip is cheaper using the £6 day rover ticket option - allowing us go anywhere on the Cambrian Line between Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. Bargain!
To get to the above view takes a brisk 10 minutes up the 1 in 4 hill from the station. I'm proud to report I lasted longer than 'Mr super fit trains at least 4 times a week competitive swimmer' NAH before needing to demand a rest to admire the view of the way up. There must be something in Bunny Guinness' advocation for gardening as the new fitness regime after all. Once up there lunch was in order and it was a grand day for a picnic whilst looking at this view from outside the castle:
You can see that Snowdon wasn't wearing its usual cloud hat and coat for once. Post lunch was a bit dramatic as we suddenly found ourselves caught up in a wasp swarm and were forced to take shelter in The Castle Hotel whilst they angrily buzzed their way up the hill. After that we needed some further refreshment and comfort and found the local artisan ice cream maker (very friendly) was just the job. NAH went for Hokey Pokey (honeycomb) and I had Coconut. Luckily we went for the single cone option - a double one would have probably involved eating an entire tub of ice cream each. We also went for the dipped in chocolate option, so mine took on the distinct style of a very upmarket Bounty. I'm pleased to report the ice cream was on par with our Beddgelert discovery last October - and theirs was rated number 8 in the UK by The Independent. Hmm, perhaps we need to add an extensive ice cream survey to our current Bara Brith project?
The town is full of quaint little places and gardens to discover, so we had an extremely pleasant couple of hours 'just looking' before hurling ourselves back down the hill for the train back to Tywyn.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
S, one of my SUP buddies insisted we do lunch this week to have general fun and catch up on GW Live gossip, so we fixed up to meet yesterday. I suggested Lacock as they have a flower and garden festival, but I managed to get us there the day after it finished. We still had a great time though, it just meant we had to neb (i.e. be nosy) over the garden walls and gates instead of actually going in there for a good old root around.
But first things first - where to have lunch? There are a number of pubs and a tea rooms to choose from. Guess why this pub had the edge over the others.
I almost regretted the decision as the landlord tried to serve the businessman who came to the bar after us. However, the businessman was a gentleman (he may have also noticed my snort and dirty look) and insisted that I was served first. Afterwards I had a chat with the landlord, who visibly warmed to me when I admitted to having an allotment in a nearby town. His is in the Abbey's walled garden - a location I've already said I covet. However, it's apparently not all it's cracked up to be - any disease which creeps in such as blight tends to stick around for a whole lot longer as the air within the garden doesn't move around so freely as the windswept patch we have up at Hardenhuish.
Although the garden festival was over, the flowers at St Cyriac's Church (the festival's opening venue) still looked sparkling and fresh and there was still plenty to be seen out on the streets and over the aforementioned gates and walls - even if I did have to jump up into the air to see over some of them!
A couple of cottages were still having plant sales - with a refreshing 'honesty box' style approach to payment.
Local businesses joined in too - the above picture is at Quintessentially English - note the eco-friendly plant pot. Below is a good card/present idea for gardeners I spotted at the Bakery. I wonder if Richard Briers does the commentary in the style of Tom Good?
An artist group from Bristol were also placed strategically around the village. Two of them hadn't realised for a while they were below this house martin nest. Most of the birds had fledged and were darting in and out and making a fine old racket. This little chap was a little more timid.
Whilst recounting my GW Live experiences, I let slip there'd been no sign of Mr Darcy in spite of my trolling his book around the show in the hope of a signature. Sadly we'd missed him by one day - hey, there's a theme developing here with this post! So we had to make do with looking wistfully at this card instead at the National Trust shop before making our way home.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Ever since joining ABC Wednesday I'd always planned W to be something to do with Wiltshire as it's where I live. However, last week's last minute holiday to an even bigger W, put paid to all of that. We may have only travelled a couple of hundred miles, but Wales certainly feels like being in a different country. The fact that around 40% of the population are native Welsh speakers plays a major part and we were staying and travelling around stronghold Welsh speaking communities in North Wales so got to hear it most of the time. The radios playing in shops are tuned to Welsh speaking stations, TV's Channel 4 shows the Welsh version and the word on the street is in it. In fact I was so entranced by the sound I even followed (surreptitiously I hasten to add) a young father and his toddler girl around Woolworths in Porthmadog just to hear them, in spite of having absolutely no idea of what they were actually talking about - probably something along the lines of 'Mind that mad woman following us Myffanwy - choose your toy and let's go and find mummy'.
Welsh is a living Celtic language (this also includes Cornish, Manx, Scots Gaelic, Irish and Breton - some extinct, others living) and is the most widely spoken of its type today as well as being Britain's oldest language. Whilst it's been repressed in the past, usage is increasing now thanks to its inclusion in the National Curriculum for Welsh schools plus the use of bilingual signage such as that shown in the above picture. As you can see it's totally different to English. For a start it has 7 vowels, instead of 5 as W and Y are included - that would make Countdown a bit more difficult to play eh? Also a number of double letters are counted as a single consonant - ch, dd, ff, ng, ll, ph, rh and th. Remember these will be fitted into single squares when completing a Welsh crossword! To counteract this explosion of consonants, there's no k, q, v or z.
NAH and I have had a lot of fun with a simple Welsh dictionary on holiday - deciphering place names, everyday words etc. So we know Llanegryn where we were staying means 'Church of' (Llan) and possibly Egryn as a saint's name. Nearby Tywyn translates as a 'sandy plain near a seashore'. We've also been continuing our definitive guide to Bara Brith (= speckled/ mottled bread) whilst we've been away. This is a delicious, gooey tea bread and the station tearoom at Llanfair got the 'best of vote' this time around. NB this was not the famous Llanfair PG - Britain's longest place name (do click on the link to see the full name in its full mind blowing glory, you'll see why I didn't attempt to type it!), but a more modest community we passed through in mid Wales on the way home.
North Wales isn't the only Welsh speaking stronghold, parts of South Glamorgan in the south are too, particularly the former mining villages of the Rhondda. My uncle Sid was a miner from this area and I have clear memories of him teaching me to swear in Welsh when we used to visit him and aunty Violet for summer holidays on the Gower as a child. Unfortunately this skill hasn't followed me into adulthood.
For other W posts for today, see Mrs Nesbitt.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Coming home from holiday's always a bit flat don't you find? For me it's doubly so as I spent lots of time last week staring out of the bedroom window at the cottage (my favourite form of procrastination - this blog comes a close second though) watching the play of light across the Welsh hills. Wiltshire has a distinct lack of mountains, though it is beautiful in its own way. The pictured scene is just a few miles from where we stayed and is the shot I'm constantly replaying in my mind's eye this week. Unbelievably we'd always driven past this spot to/from the cottage on past holidays, but finally got round to staying there a while on our last evening. It's an idyllic place with a quiet pub conveniently to hand. In the lake shallows plentiful trout fry darted about with the occasional leaping out to catch a midge or two (thankfully the non biting kind). Swifts and swallows were constantly strafing the lake and it was a delight to see their antics when swooping down to take a drink - with perfect split second timing to prevent their glide turning into a swim.
So do forgive the relative lack of gardening related posts this week - my head's still on holiday.
Monday, 23 June 2008
Sunday, 22 June 2008
Naturally Artistsgarden has pipped me to the post - giving her eloquent account of our time together last Monday. I'm really touched by what she said and can only feebly say that I feel exactly the same. It's a constant source of amazement to me that when I meet a fellow gardening blogger, it's like continuing a conversation with a dear friend rather than meeting a total stranger.
NAH had gone to play at trains for the day on the Talyllyn Railway, so I had the perfect excuse to take up Karen's kind invitation to join her for lunch. It must have been meant for us to meet up - even the usual non-existent mobile signal at the cottage turned into one sufficient for me to contact her to arrange when and where to meet. 30 seconds later when I tried to send a text to another friend it was gone!
Nearly a week later my visit has almost a dreamlike quality to it - it was that perfect. However, I don't need to pinch myself to assure myself I really was there - I can just look at the shells we collected during our walk:
Friday, 20 June 2008
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
I believe our American cousins are more familiar for this term to describe those pesky self-sown seedlings and plants that crop up on our plots and gardens in unwanted places. At home its sycamore seedlings that are my bugbear, on my plot it's potatoes. Mind you, last year's volunteer spud crop was my best as they didn't suffer from blight. This year I appear to have a special climbing variety that's managed to find its way into one of my compost bins.
Bet you thought I was going to talk about the other kind of helpful volunteer ;)
For other ABC V posts, hop on over to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.
Monday, 16 June 2008
I'll post some shorter pieces whilst I'm away - ABC Wednesday will appear as usual, plus my magnetic poem for June on Friday. A few other surprises may appear depending on how much time I get on here in the lead up to our departure!
And Artistsgarden - see you soon :)
Sunday, 15 June 2008
Here the yellows of the spring have now truly given way to my summer scheme of mainly purple shot through with a little blue and pink. The alliums are in full flight now like fireworks in the border, particularly my A. schubertii and A. Christophii whilst the A. 'Globemaster' has tightly packed flower heads in my front garden. I also have a number of new Clematis to show you this month and I'm pleased to say that my garden obelisks 'planted' in the garden 3 years ago with 3 clematis left to clamber up each one are showing themselves this year just as they did in my mind's eye. On the allotment, most of the flowers are long gone, but the flowers of my first early potatoes have showed themselves for the first time this week. Not long until they're harvested!
Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Garden, who may have extended her May into June owing to the cold spring she's had this year perhaps?
Saturday, 14 June 2008
It's by Pauline Burbridge and reminds me of the reedbeds where I do my research out in Mallorca
The others weren't as keen as I was on this piece by Maggie Baxter. I thought it had an African/Asian batik feel. They were reminded of murdered body outlines at crime scenes!
So we each made our own little textile painting on calico. My companions made very tasteful pieces using a tracing of a William Morris tile and a flower stencil respectively. My piece comes more from the primary school approach to artwork. However, like the work of the artists above, I did combine several techniques (tracing/painting, paint crayon colouring and stencil/stippling), so I'm quite proud of my first attempt at anything like this.
Friday, 13 June 2008
By mid afternoon the weather outside had improved, so we headed out to have a look at the show gardens. These were quite plentiful - more than I'd expected and all judged to RHS standard, as were the smaller 'vignette' gardens in the indoor exhibition halls. Veggie lovers will be pleased to note that many of the gardens were devoted to vegetables, like the 3 Rs Garden shown above. Claire, the most enthusiastic designer of the garden proudly took us through all the materials she'd found for the garden, including used banknotes!
Checking the script with the production crew - the crew were relaxed, friendly, had a great sense of humour and gave us a round of applause (so did the presenters) at the end of filmingSomehow we managed to find ourselves caught up in the filming for tonight's Gardeners' World. I was quite happily looking at the Bradstone garden and noticed that the woman chatting away over the garden wall as if we were her neighbours was actually Rachel de Thame. I then noticed Joe Swift in the far corner of the garden rehearsing his lines. Like everyone else I took a few pictures and was about to move on when the TV crew came through to try and get the boom camera in the garden. It wouldn't fit through the gate, so much quick thinking was needed to hastily put together some shots that would work. A path was quickly cleared in front of us so Joe could move down the side of the garden to say his piece. Ah, but where was Carol Klein to go? Another path was cleared to the side and I suddenly found myself at the junction where Joe and Carol would meet up, then to be joined by Rachel over the wall - a prime spot! It took a few goes to get their piece done (including retakes because the weather wouldn't behave and the crew forgot to turn the camera on) and we weren't allowed to move off for the sake of continuity. So if you tune in to tonight's show on the telly, I'm the one that Joe Swift plonks himself in front of because my top matches Carol Klein's coat!
Er, how's this going to work then? I now have a much greater respect for the presenters - last minute changes, lines to check and deliver, plus many chats, autographs and photographs given willingly in-between.
Thursday, 12 June 2008
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
I haven't worn a uniform since leaving school (mumble mumble) years ago except for one brief period, when I volunteered at the Special Olympics in 2003 in Dublin. The company I worked for at the time was the main sponsor and pledged to provide 1,000 volunteers for the event from its own workforce i.e. 1 in 17. Here in the UK we'd been getting pretty fed up of hearing about all the marvellous things people were doing in Ireland without us having even a whiff of the action. So we were mightily pleased when it was announced just before Christmas 2002 that the company would fully sponsor 10 volunteers from the UK (1 per subsidiary company or section) to go and work for 10 days at the main event itself.
There was a scarily long form to fill in - a bit like the one for The Apprentice, so I submitted mine and thought nothing more of it. In the new year I got the special phonecall from HR to say I'd bagged the Central Operations place - whoopee! The other winners were announced shortly afterwards and we had a few months of excited e-mailing amongst ourselves, particularly to voice our concerns over the lack of speed re our police criminal records check. We actually missed the deadline for clearance by a few days, but luckily we still got to go.
One of the criteria for volunteering was to 'Wear the Special Olympics uniform with pride'. We were provided with hat, raincoat, polo shirt, t-shirt and bum bag and had to provide our own fawn trousers to complete the assemblage. My uniform was the green of the 'jobbing volunteer', so was the colour worn by the majority. I got such a reaction wherever I went - from both fellow volunteers and Dubliners, finding the pride to go with the uniform was no problem.
We were asked to provide a volunteer diary each day. In the end I was the only one to do so. I didn't have access to a computer or e-mail, but luckily my host from the bank was the Managing Director's PA, so could take my hastily written scribblings and send them back to Bristol to go on the company's intranet. I suppose that was my first experience of blogging! We've been having a massive clearout at home lately and I came across my volunteer diary and various other materials from that time and had a lovely few hours reminiscing. As a result I've decided to start an occasional blog, to properly record this and other special experiences, travel diaries etc. My volunteer diary's there right now waiting for you to take a peek.
I still have the hat and the raincoat. However, the words TEAM 2003 emblazoned on the back of the coat in enormous white letters doesn't really make it suitable for everyday wear. So I keep it in my shed up at the allotment for rainy emergencies. It brings a smile to my face every time I have to use it, in spite of the rain.
ABC Wednesday is bought to you courtesy of Mrs Nesbitt and the letter U.