Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Thursday, 31 July 2008

GBDW - Gnomeless

Thanks to everyone who commented on my Garden Whimsy piece at the weekend. Happily you were positive so I needn't have worried about what I showed you but as Niels quite rightly said about Pig pig pig, to each his own and I think that certainly is the case with that most polemical item of garden whimsy, the garden gnome.

Some think they're an icon of England. You either love them or hate them. I fall into the latter category, but I had a colleague at work who not only collected them, she positively went out of her way to find new ones. I spent quite a few of our business meetings after her confession actively trying to erase this fact from my mind, otherwise our time together would not have been so productive. It was quite a distraction for a while.

I don't know whether garden gnomes are so prevalent in non-UK gardens, but here they can be prolific. Most people who buy them don't seem to stop at one. Often their first purchase will be the classic gnome with a fishing rod, which guess what, they then site next to their pond. After that, they then set about finding friends for him 'so he won't be lonely'. Gaudily coloured and often smiling through their long white beards like synchronised swimmers, the garden's population steadily increases. Or perhaps they multiply of their own accord?

In researching this piece, I was shocked to discover that the garden gnome is an introduced species - from Germany in the 18th Century. Unlike the modern gnome, pieces from this time are considered to be tasteful and command high prices at auction. There's even a Garden Gnome Museum containing some examples from this time. You'll see that the form and colouring of this garden species has hardly altered over time. However, any good taste credentials the museum may garner are far outweighed by The Gnome Reserve attraction on the same site, where visitors are actively encouraged to dress up in lifesize pointy red hats.

It's rumoured that the garden organisation of good taste, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has banned garden gnomes from its shows. However, in a rare moment of anarchy for rarified events such as these, I believe the Head Gardener of Tatton Park tries to smuggle one into the exhibition somewhere without the RHS finding out. This story if true, appeals to me a lot.

Gnomes are not exclusive to the UK and Germany. I see that gnomania has also found its way across the Atlantic to my American cousins, where of course the largest examples of the genre can be found. In New Zealand, they've been used as a cover for criminal activies - drug smuggling by a pensioner, no less. There's even been gnome rustling in France. However, my favourite gnome story can be found back home in the UK, where an ongoing dispute between two neighbours over some land resulted in an anti-harassment order being issued by the police over a solar powered gnome in 'an offensive position'. Do click on the link - the actual appearance of the gnome in question is very relevant to the story!

Being gnomeless myself you will have gathered that extensive fieldwork was required to bring you this article. My local garden centre was plundered for pictures, then I was surprised to find they'd also infiltrated the local steam rally I visited recently (see the top picture). However, I have to concede that the gnome for sale there was tasteful in comparison with the other garden ornaments the stall had on offer that day.

This is another post for the Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop, hosted by Gardening Gone Wild.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

ABC Wednesday - B is for...

...Bulbs

Not the bulbs of the gardening variety you may have been expecting me to show you, but another image from the fantastic steam fair I visited a couple of weeks ago, which also featured in last week's ABC Wednesday. Once again we're back at the Steam Yachts at sunset, so the showman had just lit all the lamps on the ride.

Do go to the new ABC Wednesday blog to see what inventive poetry, prose or photographs the other participants are showing on the theme of B, courtesy of Mrs Nesbitt.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Magnetic Poetry - July


A very short poem - I was feeling extremely stressed out in a new role at work and was desperately trying to keep smiling. I think that comes across here...

BTW this is from July 2004 - things are much more in proportion these days, thank goodness. Very early retirement has a lot going for it!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

To Show or Not to Show...

... that is the question. This little notice (click the picture to enlarge if needed) went up on our communal shed a couple of weeks ago. It's the 40th one after all, so it should be just that bit more special - complete with some new 40-related categories to celebrate. I must get hold of the RHS show book to see if my veggies might pass muster. Or there's the photography, jam making, baking... Ooh, so many categories to choose from!

However, I'm also working on an exciting blogging garden/allotment show and tell which is taking up quite a bit of time at the moment - watch this space for further details ;)

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The New Rebellion - Knitting

I just had to buy The Grauniad today after Bath Crafting Cranny's (thanks Jess!) tip-off about the free rebel knitter's guide give away. This turned out to be 12 knitting patterns by Marisa Turmaine, who hit the headlines recently following her freebie Dr Who monster knitting patterns on the internet were seen as a bad thing by the BBC.

I rather like the idea that something as innocuous as knitting seems to have taken a more edgy, subversive turn. In the guide I learnt that there are knitting guerillas from a group called Knitta, who adorn public artefacts such as signs and statues around the world with bits of knitting. This seems to be a more extreme form of the Innocent drinks' The Big Knit, where over 400,000 mini hats were sent in by knitters from all around the country last year to adorn Innocent drinks bottles, thus raising over £200,000 for Age Concern. I'm hoping that my SUP friends will be joining me in this year's campaign in the Autumn.

I'd heard about this pattern already and I must admit I was a bit skeptical, as being a previously daily banana toting commuter I'd been accident free for over 25 years - though I did nearly cause an international incident at Singapore airport a few years ago when their security thought the banana in my luggage was a hand gun. So I was prepared to pooh-pooh the rest of the patterns. However, I found myself thinking 'oh, I'll try that' (a re-usable hot drinks cup cover, plus a wristband to hold a doorkey and change - ideal for when my Moonwalk training for next year really gets going) and 'that's a good idea' (using plastic bags and cassette tape as yarn for e.g. placemats - and we need some new ones soon). There was even a more complicated (and nicer) version of the fingerless mitts I knitted last winter to avert a gardening disaster, with a design based on basil leaves - what more could a gardening friend want? So I'm a bit of a convert to the cause.

Now, a combination of guerilla gardening and knitting - wouldn't that be fun? How about publishing a pattern for your pink dahlia festooned balaclava to kick things off Arabella?

Friday, 25 July 2008

GBDW - Garden Whimsy

Maisy and Daisy amongst the Ash leaves - November 2007

My dictionary defines whimsy as self-conscious semi-humorous sentimentality. And I feel a little self-conscious today in presenting some of the more whimsical features of my garden. After all, what makes me laugh will probably be judged by some others as pointless tat, kitsch and in bad taste. See also my previous post on Garden Centre Kitsch for some examples - whilst these certainly amused me, I haven't added any of them to my collection.

It's this big!

A whim is defined as a sudden impulse or thought and all the whimsical features in my garden are testament to that. Unlike most of my garden's other features (excepting plants, and we all have impulse bought at least one for our garden haven't we?), no thought or plan went into the purchase of these objects. They simply made me stop and giggle (or think), then buy them. Here's a small selection of some of the objects that form the finishing touches in my garden.

Pig pig pig alternates between peering cheekily round our central steps and a bookcase in our hall. As you can see he's in an outdoor phase at the moment.

The Mexican is perched on our patio wall and forms a focal point leading into the garden from the garden's side entrance, where he is framed within a pergola. I'll be showing you the side garden and pergola next month as part of a very exciting blogging project I'm working on at the moment.

I love the sea and a lot of my pots are blue, so this starfish was a must have.


The garden is on a limestone bedrock and I often find fossilised corals in the brashy stone when digging. Therefore a replica ammonite was a natural addition to my finds from the garden.

I also have a number of wild animals, some of which also occur in the garden in their natural form, such as frogs. Most of these are hidden and my niece loves to find and count them all when she visits. Some are hidden so well, I couldn't find them when taking the photographs for this piece!

Not all of my objects are 'natural' garden ornaments. This is one of a pair of finials I picked up cheaply at an auction. Normally they would be fitted on a gatepost pillar, but I thought they'd make a different 'full stop' to the narrowing borders either side of the steps down to the lower patio.

Most of my garden whimsy serves absolutely no practical purpose at all, except to amuse me. However, the above decorative trellises are being used to add interest to the vast swathes of fencing we have bordering our property where there is no soil available to grow plants. These are down one of the sets of side steps off the patio. Below is another practical example used to protect some wooden posts from rotting and reminds me of the Arabian Nights.

Garden Bloggers Design Workshop is bought to you courtesy of Gardening Gone Wild. Click here for my patio design introduction last month.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Snail Smile

I never thought seeing a snail in my garden would make me smile, but this stripey number on my hosepipe yesterday did just that. Guess what happened next...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

ABC Wednesday - A is for...

...Austin

The sight of this fairground ride really made me smile on Sunday. The attention to detail is fantastic: the little cars, the petrol pumps, the cashiers area - it all just looks totally right. It also took me right back to my childhood as living in Northfield (if you click on the link, there's a couple of photos of the church where NAH I got married), we were in earshot of 'The Austin' factory in Longbridge. I always knew when it was five o'clock as we would hear the horn sounding the end of the afternoon shift. Whilst I believe this make of car was never made, it reminds me of the A40 - my next door neighbour had one and her black model is one of my earliest memories of cars.

My family has quite a few associations with 'The Austin' too - one of my uncles was an electrician at the factory and my dad worked at Triplex, the company supplying car windscreens. When I was little, my gran (mum's mum) lived in the Austin Village at Turves Green in one of the prefab houses built to house workers drafted in for the war effort. The link shows you the kind of house she lived in (these are preserved), but sadly hers was demolished as part of the vast swathe of city suburban redevelopment that swept Britain in the 60s/70s and she ended up on the 24th floor of a high rise tower block, ironically with a view of the street light that used to be outside her house. With the demise of the British car industry and final closure in 2005, it's now the turn of the factory itself to be demolished (you may be more familiar with it in its British Leyland brand) and it's now mostly an enormous 470 acre pile of rubble I pass just after turning off the M5 on the way to see my mum. However, the phoenix may still rise from the ashes...

Mrs Nesbitt has set up a new blog to show all ABC posts for Round 3 - so do hop over there and take a look!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

All the Fun of the Fair

Sitting outside in the garden over the weekend was a little surreal as I was in earshot of Carters Steam Fair which had hit town on its way for its summer season at Weston Super Mare. The swirling wind carried the sounds of the fair right here, mostly the plinkety plink of the various traditional fairground organs playing, overlaid by Elvis' In the Ghetto and other pop music from time to time - just like a giant mistuned radio. Naturally, I had to go and take a look. You couldn't avoid the posters over town all week and besides, it was only a five minute walk away.

It was a fabulous affair. Gloriously old fashioned - the kind of fair from my childhood. Everything sparkling and smart in matching paintwork and with meticulous attention to detail. The photograph is part of the steam yachts ride - yes, still powered by steam with one yacht sporting a giant Union Jack on its roof, the other with the Stars and Stripes.

I'll be showing you more fun of the fair over the next few weeks during ABC Wednesday.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Up On Solsbury Hill

Yes, I do mean the Solsbury Hill of Peter Gabriel fame. It's about 10 miles from where I live and is the site of an ancient fort. This is the view looking towards where a community orchard will be (where the lines of trees meet and it will be about 4 acres in size), the greener grass marks the public footpath. A lovely, peaceful typical English countryside scene right?

Here's the view looking the opposite way. Two of our choir members live on Solsbury Hill and they'd invited us to join them on their property to Sing Our Socks Off (shhh don't tell Kate, James or Aunt Debbi - else the Sock Wars et al. might start up all over again). There's a natural amphitheatre in the field, backed by their barn on one side and a wall at the top. Andrew wanted to see what the acoustics would be like when the site was filled with loads of singers and about 100 of us were keen enough to try.

The day started with walking for those who wanted to, followed by a leisurely picnic - that's where I came in. We started singing mid-afternoon with Chris our usual choirmaster, Ali from Sing for Water, plus Wendy and Dee who have choirs in Portishead and Bristol respectively. There were lots of new songs to learn, all themed around the outdoors and included a rousing version of Cliff Richard's In the Country. We also sang a beautiful South African song whose words when translated say 'May the days shorten until we meet again' - a lovely sentiment. After a short break, we then formed into scratch choirs to perform songs we'd learnt previously. Thus I joined a reformed Wiltshire Wailers to sing Lily of the Valley, Sing for Water's Let's Go and a random choir for anyone who knew Plovi Barko. As for the acoustics, they were tremendous - it's given Andrew ideas about making an amphitheatre.

An extremely chilled and relaxing afternoon was had by all. I think the sunny day, good company, the tremendous hospitality of our hosts Andrew and Annette - including the chilled bottled beer on tap from the ultimate dispenser pictured below, helped to make it so. Fingers crossed it becomes an annual event :D
Coming up next: Synchronised Singing - singing at Portishead's open air Lido!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Independent on Sunday

If you've hopped over from your Sunday newspaper or online reading, many thanks for joining me.

Click here for the leafy slideshow referred to in Emma's article, or you may want to orientate yourself by reading the New Reader articles in the sidebar on the right. Otherwise, do dive in and help yourself to a wide variety of topics including lashings of gardening, allotmenteering, and Chippenham life.

And yes, I do love Heucheras - I've even sneaked one into the flower Slideshow on the right!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Recycling Result :D

A while ago I wrote about how I'd found that Wiltshire was the only entire county in the country without any means to recycle Tetra Pak cartons. In shock at this finding, I wrote to both Tetra Pak and Wiltshire County Council at the time asking why this was the case. Today I'm pleased to report that the 10 Household Recycling Centres in the county are now taking these cartons. Just in time too - I was just about to post this little lot off to Tetra Pak. From now on I'll just need to put them in the specific bin for the purpose at the recycling centre when I take my other stuff up there :)

I hope my letters helped to make this difference. Next stop - getting them included in the house to house recycling collections like some of the more enlightened local authorities do.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Grafitti Spread

I've reported previously on the appearance of grafitti art in Chippenham and I see it's also arrived in Trowbridge now. This sight's been greeting us on the way to choir rehearsals over the past few weeks. I particularly like the cheeky play with words by the artist on the picture's subject matter and that very well known graffiti artist...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Gardeners'World.com

A big Veg Plotting and Chippenham welcome to those of you who've joined me from Gardeners' World.com! Do come in, settle down and have a good read. If you need a little orientation, my New Reader links in the sidebar should help you get started. Be prepared for my wittering on about any topic I find interesting, but rest assured there are large healthy helpings of gardening and allotmenteering to make you feel right at home.

Many thanks to James Alexander Sinclair for his piece on Gardening Blogs of the World posted on his blog at Gardeners'World.com and featuring Veg Plotting so prominently. There's plenty of other interesting blogs mentioned there for you to discover, if you haven't done so already. And do check out his other blog, Blogging from Blackpitts Garden for an object lesson in quality gardening writing, photography and unusual titles for articles.

Butter Bag

NAH came back from the supermarket at the weekend with this tub of butter. Am I just being devious or has anyone else spotted how easily you can ensure you're a winner? Assuming lots of people haven't done the same before you of course. Luckily NAH's random selection without looking approach also worked so I can keep a clear conscience.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

ABC Wednesday - Z is for...

...Zantedeschia

Otherwise known as Arum or Calla Lilies, these magnificent architectural specimens were flowering profusely on Doug and Hilary's allotment plot at the end of June. I loved the way the sun was shining through their leaves when I was up there that morning. It's the largest clump I've ever seen and I suspect never lifted, thus proving that the white form at least can be hardy - our site is pretty exposed and windy at the best of times. Their lovely, trumpet like blooms seem almost unreal don't they?

I was bought one of these as a gift a few years back. I kept it in a small pot whilst I was deciding where it was to go in the garden. Sadly it didn't survive the winter and all that was left was a sad soggy white mess in the pot when I came to look at it in the spring. Last Sunday I 'rescued' a couple of specimens from Homebase - reduced to £1.99 from £7.99, so I'm prepared to take the risk again and try to treat them a little better this time around. I need a moist spot in the sun - I'm quite tempted to convert one of my large pots on the patio into a 'bog' garden for them as my moister parts of the garden are more shaded.

That completes ABC Wednesday Round 2. Our host, Mrs Nesbitt has announced Round 3 will commence next week - hurray! In the meantime, there's plenty of other Z pictures over at her place for you to enjoy. Now I've gone right through from A to Z, I feel I can now claim my ABC Wednesday Round 2 badge:

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

GBBD - Summertime and the Living is...

I'm very excited this month. The above photo of my Agapanthus 'Blue Peter' may not look very much. In fact, it's not how it looks today - you'll need to have a look at today's new Slideshow in my sidebar for that. No, I'm excited because this is the first year I'll have more than one Agapanthus flower. I bought them 5 years ago - we'd just come back from a long trip to Australia where they'd been blooming profusely in everyone's gardens. It's one of my strongest memories of that time, so I decided I'd buy some to plant in a couple of pots I have at the side of the house as a souvenir. Each year since I've had lots of lush foliage, followed by a single gorgeous bloom for the past 2 years. When I took the photos for my submission to Emma's Big Green Leaf Day, I noticed that the foliage was even more lush this year. I didn't dare to hope, but at the beginning of this month I found not one, but 10 Agapanthus flower stems and today, the first full bloom. It's been worth the wait.

Elsewhere in my garden, two of my favourite flowers have come into bloom this month - Dahlias and Fuchsia. I loved Dahlias even when they were out of fashion. My dad was chairman of the Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society where he worked and some of my happiest childhood times were spent at their annual flower show. Firstly, there were the show tents bursting with colourful firework dinner plate blooms; then there was the display from the works' own fire brigade (in which my dad also featured) and I was their mascot; then there was the waste ground by the railway to explore - great for capturing grasshoppers and crickets with my handkerchief and taking them home in a matchbox my grandad gave me. Dahlias bring back those happy times, so I'm especially pleased to have them in my garden, especially the dark leaved forms like 'Moonfire'. In contrast, I love Fuchsias for the way their flowers remind me of some of the earrings I wear! A couple of Crocosmia have also started to explode out of the border - the usual 'Lucifer', plus an orangey 'Amberglow'. Thus my borders are well into their transition into their late summer clothing - still a thing of beauty, but tinged with a little regret for the shorter days to come.

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

Monday, 14 July 2008

Phytophthora - A Head's Up

Healthy Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' foliage - at least for now


It's not often that you have lunch with someone whose books you're using pretty much every day, but that's what happened to me today at the National Trust. Unfortunately I didn't know at the time (no-one told me - hrrrumph!), otherwise I'd have asked Tony Lord (no, not the one from Hawaii 5-0 he's Jack Lord, this one) lots of probing questions about the RHS Plant Finder and his Encyclopedia of Plant Combinations, both of which are very well thumbed here at VP Gardens.

Putting that to one side, the main conversation over lunch was the potential threat of Phytophthora to National Trust gardens. You may know it by its other name, Sudden Oak Death - this refers to the first known appearance of the disease in Tan Oaks in California in the 1990s, not our native oak species. This fungal-like disease first appeared in the UK in 2002, probably from plant material imported from the States. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) have worked extremely hard since then to try and eradicate the disease by a nursery inspection process and tough measures to combat any known outbreak. However, it now looks like they're changing their stance from disease eradication to control. They've also conducted research into the disease over the past 5 years and are now poised to start a 3 month public consultation process to be launched tomorrow (July 15th) at RHS Wisley.

The main plants affected so far have been Viburnum, Rhododendron, Magnolias and Camellias in gardens. More worryingly, it has also been found in our native Bilberry (Vaccinum) and the true heather, Calluna vulgaris. Outbreaks have been mainly confined to Cornwall, Devon and South Wales, but if the Trust's experience is anything to go by, it's slowly spreading - helped by the mild wet summers we've had recently. Outbreaks have often been associated with the nearby presence of the controversial, invasive garden escapee Rhododendron ponticum, which appears to act as a host for the disease.

There are 2 forms: P. ramorum and P. kernoviae. Symptoms of affected plants include blighted leaves, wilt and die-back of branches and 'weeping canker' (an oozing, black substance on the trunk). Once infection has been spotted and confirmed, the treatment regime is harsh and includes:

Nurseries and retail premises

  1. Destruction by burning or deep burial - infected plants plus susceptible plants within a 2 metre radius of infected plants and associated plant debris.
  2. Disinfection of surfaces and pots.
  3. Prohibition on movement of susceptible plants within a 10 metre radius of infected plants and remaining plants in the infected lot for at least 3 months.
  4. Prohibition on use of Phytophthora fungicides during the holding period (as these can mask the presence of the disease).
  5. Advise the cessation of overhead irrigation (as the disease can be water borne).
  6. Trace-back and trace-forward of related plant material (so source and subsequent material can be traced and destroyed as necessary).

Parks, gardens and uncultivated land

  1. Prohibition on movement of the infected plant and parts of the plant (e.g. must not be used for propagation purposes or foliage purposes).
  2. Destruction by burning or deep burial - infected plants, susceptible plants within an appropriate cordon sanitaire and associated plant debris.
  3. No planting of susceptible hosts within 4 metres for 3 years (as the disease can lie dormant for this amount of time).
  4. Prevention of regrowth (as this often has the disease).
  5. For infected trees, felling or pruning will be required depending on the part of the tree infected and the extent of infection.
  6. Measures must be taken to prevent re-infection at the site (e.g. prohibition on planting susceptible plants in contaminated soil, removal or sterilisation of contaminated soil).

The Trust have already prepared their response to Defra for release tomorrow - I've been reading their Press Release today, ahead of the game (how cool is that?). They're calling for:

  1. Research funding to be maintained, so a better understanding of the disease and its control may be found
  2. Provision of additional funding to eradicate Rhododendron ponticum, so that the creep of both forms of Phytophthora are minimised (with control of this invasive species an added benefit)
  3. Establishing a Heritage and Botanic Garden Action Group - to help co-ordinate effort across the gardening sector in tackling these diseases. This would also be the first time a body has been created dedicated to the care of botanic and historic collections in the UK

That's fine, but where does that leave you and me, the ordinary gardener? Firstly we need to be vigilant - ensuring that any demise of our own susceptible plants is quickly noted and dealt with. The Defra website has some good photographs of diseased plants for you to check, an information leaflet and a list of all the susceptible plant species found in the UK thus far. We also need to be more careful about how we buy our plants - steer clear of any nursery or garden centre etc. that doesn't source their plants from suppliers using the Plant Passport Scheme. Once purchased, place your plants in a quarantine area for 4 weeks before planting out. That's plenty of time for your plants to show any symptoms if they have the disease.

The Defra Plant Health website has lots more information for you to check out on Phytophthora and other serious pests and diseases - it does tend to make rather dry reading (though the Phytophthora leaflet is in plainer English), but forewarned is forearmed eh?

RHS Radish Trial

Radish 'Rudi' in the foreground with 'Mirabeau' at the back

For the past few weeks I've been taking part in the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Radish Trial. Each year, the RHS trials certain vegetables, fruits and flowers to see which ones should be awarded the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). This award recognises those cultivars which are the best performers for home gardening, based on the following criteria:
  1. It must be of outstanding excellence for ordinary garden decoration or use
  2. It must be available
  3. It must be of good constitution
  4. It must not require highly specialist growing conditions or care
  5. It must not be particularly susceptible to any pest or disease
  6. It must not be subject to an unreasonable degree of reversion in its vegetative or floral characteristics

Most of the trials are conducted at the trials grounds at Wisley. However, some are extended to include the results from volunteer growers all over the country. I think this is an excellent idea as it gives a better indication of the best performers over a wider area of the country. This year it's the turn of the humble radish and 300 growers have been involved. I trialled the varieties Rudi (round rooted) and Mirabeau (long rooted). Both have been awarded the AGM already, but this doesn't mean the award is permanent. Cultivars are constantly retested as their performance may change over time or may be superceded by new introductions.

As radishes are an easy crop to grow, the trials questionaire has been simple to complete and consisted of:

  1. Names of the two varieties grown (1 round and 1 long rooted variety)
  2. Date sown
  3. Where sown - ground or container (I used a container so I could control variables such as soil, water and pest attack more easily and I could keep a daily eye on progress)
  4. Germination percentage
  5. How many became useable radishes
  6. Taste test
  7. Favourite radish and why
  8. Other comments

Looking back at the above photo at the start of the trial, I'm surprised at the difference between the two varieties and how it changed over time. Mirabeau looked the better radish back then - it germinated more quickly and grew away strongly. However, Rudi had a slightly better germination rate (100% to 93%) and soon overtook Mirabeau in the growth stakes. Both varieties produced 100% useable radishes. Of course taste is subjective - they both tasted mild (not hot) to me with Rudi having a crisp texture and Mirabeau slightly chewy. I liked the taste of both, but preferred Rudi overall because of its crisper texture.

I've e-mailed my assessment now. A trials website was also set up, including a forum for volunteers (not used much - I suspect because the trial was so straightforward) to post questions and comments about the trial. It's been fun to take part in something I strongly believe in. There has been some criticism recently about the relevance of trials conducted at Wisley for gardeners in some parts of the country e.g. Scotland where growing conditions can differ greatly to those in the south. Indeed, a separate Scottish award has been suggested in some quarters. If gardeners from around the country can become more involved in the RHS trials, then I think this should strengthen the award - as long as the scientific rigour of the trial isn't compromised.

For me, it also feels like things have come full circle a little. For my 'A' Level Biology project I investigated the effects of insecticides on plants. I needed a quick growing, repeatable crop that didn't take up much space in the school greenhouse for my experiments and so choose the humble radish - French Breakfast that time. I did find some significant effects too - at the cellular level. The insecticide treated crops had much larger, distorted cells, even though the size and weight of the crops were the same. Unfortunately I didn't have access to the kind of equipment needed to see if there were chemical differences. I wonder what results I'd get today?

The RHS has extensive details of its trials on their website, including their trials open days. I'm very tempted to go to one of these later this year, particularly the Dahlia one in September as Fergus Garrett will be giving a talk and the fee also includes entrance to Great Dixter, another of my 'must see' gardens.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Tagged and Playing With Words




Click on the word cloud to see a larger version in the Wordle Gallery. Thanks to Katie from GardenPunks for telling me about this wonderful new way of wasting absolute shedloads of time :)

Viooltje has tagged me (yay!) for another round of the Six Random Facts meme, so I thought some random words from my blog over the past few days was a great illustration to start my response. Alex - do note the prominent placing of the word 'shed' in the centre of the piece, Victoria - you're in there too ;)

So here are the facts pulled out randomly from my brain, squinting and blinking into the light this morning:
  1. I was a Footballer's WAG* for a while. However, I'm the person least like Posh Spice et al. and it was also in the days when being a WAG was not the glamourous and jet setting lifestyle it is today, especially if your footballing fiance played for Leyton Orient. I realised just in time I was in love with the idea of being married rather than in love with the person, so I escaped just before we seriously got down to the business of wedding arrangements. It's put me off football for life.
  2. My one talent if I have any at all, is for hoovering up and remembering vast swathes of totally useless facts without any effort. I blame it on reading Look & Learn as a child. If only this skill could have been applied for useful things like work, I would have been at the top of the career ladder by now. It does however, make me an extremely useful member of quiz teams.
  3. I haven't been able to have children, in spite of having loads of tests (inconclusive) and a couple of IVF attempts. I've finally got over the raging about the unfairness of it all and I'm now happy being child-free rather than child-less. After all, it's given me (and NAH) many exciting opportunities and different options at this stage of my life, so every cloud definitely has a silver lining.
  4. I had a reunion with some friends from Oz in Salisbury yesterday, whom NAH and I hadn't seen for 5 years - eventually. We thought Salisbury Cathedral entrance would be a good place as it's a very prominent feature of the city. Little did we know the cathedral's celebrating it's 750th birthday this year and yesterday had hundreds of pilgrims and cleric dignatories descending upon it for a celebration at the precise spot and time we were due to meet our friends!
  5. From the age of seven I desperately wanted to be a Doctor. This ambition burned until the night before my Physics 'O' Level exam (at the age of 16), when I realised I was going to struggle to pass the exam at that level, never mind at Advanced. I've never fully recovered from the realisation and I'm still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up.
  6. I have a licence to go electric fishing. This is a remnant from my Master's degree in the 1990's when I spent a very happy summer looking at trout and salmon populations in Welsh and Gloucestershire rivers. It's literally putting a pulsing electrical current in water to temporarily stun the fish so they can be captured and measured before being popped back in the water again to swim away happily. Being me, I kept on forgetting the water was electrified and insisted on putting my hand in there to capture the fish instead of using the net I was carrying. I soon learnt the error of my ways after receiving a few electrical 'pulls' on my arm. It's quite invigorating really.

Right, so now I need to tag 6 people - I hope you will enjoy playing this game:

  1. Slice of Life
  2. Mr. MacGregor's Daughter
  3. Sue Swift - The Balcony Garden
  4. Zoe - Garden Hopping
  5. Monica - The Gardenfairie
  6. Kate - The Manic Gardener

Here's the guidelines for those of you I've tagged - remember I always give you full permission to totally ignore this meme or bend these rules as you see fit. This is a fun thank you from me for joining in on my blog, it's not meant to get you all stressed about it. There's no time limit either - save it for a rainy day if you want.

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I've played this enjoyable game before - do have a look here and here for my previous posts for this meme.

* = Wife and Girlfriend

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Arte y Pico Award

Victoria of Victoria's Backyard has awarded me the Arte y Pico award for services to singing. I'm chuffed and chuckling - it sounds like I've won an OBE or something. Thank you so much Victoria, I don't know what I've done to deserve this, but I'm very happy to accept your accolade, especially when I saw who else you've nominated - I'm in very illustrious company. It's also been a great way to refresh my Spanish a little!

Here's the 5 rules bit for this award:

1. Choose 5 blogs you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of the language.

2. Each award should have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each award winner should show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award.

4. The award winner and the one who has given the award should show the Arte y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award. Translated, it means "the peak of art."

5. Show these rules - done!

Now who to nominate - ahhh yes, of course!
  1. Emma at A Nice Green Leaf. She's had a great debate going on at her blog this week over The Porsche Garden at The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. Coupled with introducing The Big Green Leaf day at the end of June, makes her well deserving of this award. I'm not sure how this awards thang fits with Indyblogs, so she may have to display it on her other blog Baklava Shed Coalition, but that's OK - she deserves it for creating the Slightly Homemade Gardeners' World on there anyway.
  2. Happymouffetard and Somebeans of The Inelegant Gardener for a lovely combination of humour, photography and - dare I say it - elegance
  3. Karen at Artistsgarden - for wonderful hospitality, her inventive garden comics and her unique way of thanking all her Commenters this week.
  4. Helen, the ever Patientgardener for her lovely blog, writing a post especially for me and finally stirring me into writing my Hard Times for Nurserymen? piece in partial response to her post on the RHS' campaign to reduce VAT on plants and seeds.
  5. Denise at Mrs Nesbitt's Place for creating ABC Wednesday. We've just one letter to go before we're through with this round of the alphabet. I've thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of finding suitable images for each letter that vaguely fit in with the things I blog about on a regular basis.

So there's my 5 - I'm sure at least one of you has had the award before, but the rules don't say anything about you having it just once! As ever you can deal with your award as you see fit - I've given it freely and without obligation.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Shed's Up

What better way to mark National Shed Week than to have a new shed appear on the allotment? As I suspected in Monday's post, the 'shed in bits' is now complete. George (the proud owner who didn't want to appear on here) was round the back when I took this photo this morning, painting his shed a natty shade of Lincoln Green. In the best of allotment traditions, the inside is already full of stuff. The shed went up on Tuesday and was a prime example of allotmenteers helping each other out. Russell turned up complete with the tools to complete the job and it was lovely to hear their team work and banter going on all morning. There was a tricky moment however, they'd got the base down and three sides up, only to realise the fourth side was too small. A quick visit to the DIY store and George returned with a classic 'two for the price of one'. The remaining right sized sides were both broken, so they had to make one good side out of the two before being able to complete the job. Just in time too - it poured with rain on Wednesday!

I must also congratulate Simon - his pallet shed's runner-up in the Shed of the Year competition. I still think his is the best one - it took a 'pub shed' to beat him to the title. Simon's not deterred (in fact he seems pretty chuffed) and is already thinking about next year...

All Steamed Up

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Last Sunday, NAH and I braved the rain to go to the Heddington & Stockley Steam Rally and Country Fair. It was a welcome return as it's been cancelled the past couple of years. It's a real local event - held in some fields behind the most idyllic thatched country pub. I was hoping to report on the lawn mower racing as a possible new feature for a Top Gear style revamped Gardeners' World, but sadly they weren't doing it this year. They did have tractor pulling though - souped up tractors pulling an ever increasing resistance the further the tractor goes. The commentator described the course as a 'tractor breaker' owing to the rain. It has a real following in the farming community as evidenced by the audience. It's a bit like Formula One with mud.

NAH always gets a bit misty eyed when looking at a steam lorry like the one in the collage as his grandad had a similar vehicle in Poole. Other engines included ploughing and threshing engines and a demonstration timber sawing area. Unfortunately the weather meant they couldn't do their parade in the show ring as there was a bit of Glastonbury style mud around! The weather cleared for the falconry display by Hawksdrift and I had the pleasure of flying a magnificent Harris Hawk round the ring. New events this year were medieval jousting from The Knights of the Damned and the Over the Top motorcycle display team - the latter having 3 generations of stuntmen including 4 year old Billy Duke.

NAH and I have a running joke with the stationary engine displays. These emit alarming 'pht!' sounds from time to time, so we play a game of trying to surprise each other by imitating them. They're always set to one side of the field, in a neat row with their owners sitting behind them in front of a camper van or tent, usually with a few beers to hand. Some owners try and show what the engines were used for and run a set of lights or a water pump off them. If it's the latter the water is often a flourescent green and runs into a vat of some sort complete with rubber ducks.

The rally also has a number of vehicle classes such as classic cars, military vehicles, tractors and motorcycles. At some point during the day these will parade into the ring accompanied by a commentary from someone who knows each vehicle inside out. Heddington always has a heavy horse display as a variation and the horses were particularly well turned out this year.

In spite of the rain we had a great time. Attendance on Sunday was poor, so I hope there were sufficient people there on Saturday to ensure the event runs next year as it's one of our favourites.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Singing For Water - For Real

Our weeks of hard work paid off on Tuesday night and we gave our all for the performance. I had an absolute blast and it seems to have gone down well, judging by the audience's reaction and the piece on yesterday's radio. You'll need to fast forward to 1 hour and 25 minutes into the programme. We're on for 8 minutes this time - mainly because they played a whole song - Let's Go. The whole concert will be broadcast at some point - I'll let you know when that happens. Hopefully it'll include the set from our support act The Chausettes - one third of the group I told you about here and including Chris and Ali, two of our choirmasters. Their finale Hit Me Baby One More Time had me in fits of giggles, especially when Chris was a Bass version of Britney Spears!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/noscript.shtml?/radio/aod/wiltshire_aod.shtml?wiltshire/ollydearden_wilt_wed

The link will work until around midday next Wednesday. Like all good fundraising concerts we also had a very moving film about Wateraid's work and the following extract from Chris' e-mail to us all yesterday sums up what we've achieved so far:

You have every right to feel extremely proud of yourselves for last night. I knew it was going to be OK after our run through, but the performance exceeded all my expectations. You sounded fabulous, looked gorgeous and also seemed to have a good time too (the audience always pick up on that).

We also collected nearly £600 on the door and will almost certainly make £1,500 with the ticket receipts. Add this to the Bristol profits and we're looking at over £4,000 from the two concerts. If we hit the average minimum target of £50 a singer in sponsorship (and many of you have already raised more than that), we can add £10,000 to the money we've raised.

You can see from the film last night that that will have a significant impact.

You have made a difference.

Thank you.

Chris, Candy and Ali


Now for the concert in London on the 14th September!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

ABC Wednesday - Y is for...

...Yellow

We need cheering up on this very rainy day in southern England and I think these Helianthus are perfect candidates for the job. They're the perennial version of the usual annual sunflowers we grow and bear the name Helianthus decapetalus 'Monarch' - golden sunshine in anyone's book. These have started flowering in my garden only this week, thus marking the transition from the mauves and blues of my early summer garden into the golden and fiery reds of late summer/early autumn. Whilst they grow to around 3-4 foot high in my garden, they're perfectly well behaved, don't need any staking and are very easy to look after. They're also attractive to insects, especially bees. They just thread themselves through the back of my lower terrace bed and look good whatever the weather.

Do pop over to Mrs Nesbitt's Place for more ABC pictures to cheer you up.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Shed Seven

It's the start of National Shed Week over at We Heart Sheds (or should that be love?) today, so to mark the seventh day of the seventh month I couldn't resist bringing you pictures of seven very different sheds taken up at the allotment this morning (dodging between showers) in celebration.

Of course I couldn't leave out my own shed - inherited with the plot 4 years ago and unaltered since. Mr & Mrs Robin + family have now quit their home - I hope to bring you a picture of their small but perfect residence above the door later this week.

Unfortunately not all sheds have such lovely residents as Mr & Mrs Robin. This pesky pigeon's on next door's shed, eyeing up his brassicas.

Our latest arrival, next door but one has yet to put this rather swanky looking shed up, but I'm sure it won't be long before he does bearing in mind how hard he's worked to clear his plot and fill it with crops.

Work in progress - a triumph from Freecycle.

Why have one shed when you can have two? This plot's actually got three, but I couldn't fit them all into one shot. The shed on the left was going to go until they realised what it was made of and it couldn't be shifted. The shed on the right was made from materials found on the plot when it was cleared.

Our site's grandest shed, complete with porch.

A fine advertisement for reusing materials. Sadly not plumbed in for the ultimate in recycling.

Finally I must congratulate two of my blogging pals - Simon over at The Plot Thickens and Esther from Esther in the Garden have both reached the finals of Shed of the Year. Simon's shed painstakingly constructed from pallets complete with a rather jolly stove is the finalist from the Hut category, and Esther's drawing joins him from the Other category. These and the rest of the finalists will now be scrutinised by the judges - Alex of Shedworking (who will have a daily shed poll on his website plus other goodies to celebrate National Shed Week), Sarah Beeny and Trevor Bayliss. Happily I voted for both sheds in the preliminaries, so all I have to do now is shout 'Good luck Simon and Esther'!
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