Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 29 August 2008

VP's Open Garden - Random Prize Draw #2


We're 2 weeks in to my open garden season, so it's time for another random prize draw. The total raised stands at a magnificent £618 - thanks to everyone who's contributed this week. We're pretty close to a significant milestone which I'm confident I'll be able to tell you about during the next few days. I've also been promised a couple of exciting new prizes - more on that later :)

As you may have guessed, I've pulled a prize from my magnificent book stash out of the hat today.

And the winner is...Louise. You've won The Bird Book - the link takes you to its entry on Amazon, so you can get a preview of what you'll be getting. I love the artwork, and I hope it'll add to the lovely posts on the birds you've seen in your garden over at This is My Patch. This book was donated by Jane Perrone (via The Garden Monkey), so my thanks must also go to her for making this possible. Louise - we have family coming down for the weekend, so I'll be in touch early next week to arrange getting your prize to you. Hope that's OK.

Tune in next week for another great giveaway for my garden donors - I may ring the changes with a wizard wheeze. In the meantime, hop on over to my garden and donate, if you haven't done so already!

PS - went to Jekka McVicar's open day at her Herb Farm today. I had a fab time, which Emmat has described so well over at Baklava Shed Coalition - complete with a sneaky mobile phone photo of my lower torso, the minx ;) It was lovely to meet Emma and we chatted away like mad. As you can see from the above photo, Jekka has happily donated a signed copy of her Complete Herb Book to the cause. She was delighted to meet the mysterious VP and to sign my newly bought copy of her book!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Ceremonial Tomato

A few days ago we had the ceremony of the first tomato. I lost all my tomato plants to blight last year, so it was a relief to have our first fruit no matter how small. However, it looks like our tomato season will be a short one, as blight has ripped through half of my plants this week. Fingers crossed I got to the rest of them in time with a last ditch spraying of Bordeaux mixture.

I know lots of you will have had lots of tomatoes already, but I only grow them outdoors. Therefore my season starts later anyway and this year's cool summer hasn't helped either. This little beauty was harvested pre-spraying and was delicious.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

ABC Wednesday - F is for...


... First and Fourth

NAH came back from swimming training yesterday morning and announced 'I think I'll bake a cake'. I almost choked on my breakfast - it shows he still has the power to surprise, even after nearly 25 years of marriage.

Me: Have you made a cake before?
NAH: I made three when I was a student (i.e. more than 30 years ago)
Me: So you'll be wanting a recipe - what kind of cake are you going to make?
NAH: A fruit cake
NAH: No, that'll be stealing your thunder
Me: It won't really - you'll be wanting a good basic recipe then

So I got my BeRo recipe book out and found the page with the basic fruit cake recipe on it. A family favourite my nan used to bake a lot.

Me: This is a good one - it uses the rubbing in method
NAH: What's that?
Me: Oh there's a few basic methods used for cake making - rubbed in, creamed, melted...
NAH: Does it tell me how to do them in your book?

We looked at the book together - no instructions, it assumed you already knew. I described the rubbing in method. NAH looked a little puzzled.

Me: I think you're meant to learn the basic methods at your mother's elbow
NAH: Could I learn them at my wife's elbow instead?

We then looked in the cupboards to find we only had the flour and sugar needed. No mixed fruit, eggs or margarine. NAH happily departed for the shops. I disappeared into the garden.

And a couple of hours later at lunch, I enjoyed my first slice of cake made by NAH and he enjoyed a slice from his fourth. All lovely and warm from the oven.

Not only that, he'd done all the washing up too :0

Do hop over to the ABC Wednesday3 blog for more stories and photos on the letter F.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Festival of the Tree

Spot the real conkers

I love Westonbirt Arboretum: there's space to breathe and lots of tip top trees of course, including over 100 Champion ones (i.e. tallest, oldest, most massive). One of my favourite times to visit is at the end of August for The Festival of the Tree. NAH and I first discovered it by accident a few years back when we visited the sadly now defunct Festival of the Garden. After looking around the show gardens, we realised there was something else going on worth exploring and we've been back every year since.

This was the first year we've not been on the Bank Holiday Monday, so for once we were able to see the chainsaw sculptors (aka Sculptree) in action. Using large chunks of wood from Westonbirt trees felled because of disease or age, the finished sculptures are surprisingly complex and intricate. These are auctioned off on the Monday in aid of Tree Aid and each sculpture raised over £1,000 yesterday. Smaller, more affordable scupltures and objects are also on show and I love imagining where my favourite one will go in my garden.

There were lots of stalls displaying all aspects of wood - willow weaving (sadly without the woman whose hair matches her product this year), hurdle and gate making, art objects, indoor and outdoor furniture. There were lots of woodturners showing off their creations and work in progress, plus masterclasses available. You can even buy your own few acres of woodland - strictly for amenity purposes. I would love to buy the one for sale a few miles from us just outside Bath. The Friends of Westonbirt were also very much in evidence - they have timber sales on the second Sunday each month and were frequently visited by other exhibitors looking to source timber for their next piece of work. This time ash and yew seemed to be the main timber available - it varies depending on which trees Westonbirt has had to fell or maintain at the time.

We can never resist buying something - I love these clocks, but feel their novelty would wear off after a while. In previous years we've really splashed out, such as three very striking chairs from Malcolm David Smith a couple of years ago, and a very fine two foot long cedar bowl last year. This year the purchase was more modest, but equally beautiful - this rather nice pear made from spalted ash, a product of a tree's natural defences trying to combat invading fungi. It results in a pigmentation such as that seen below and is much prized by wood carvers and turners. The wood carver who sold me this piece told me that ash is a unique wood as far as spalting is concerned. It results in both grain and cross-grain effects and it is the only wood were advanced stages of decay result in a yellow pigmentation instead of the usual black.

I'll be returning to Westonbirt to show you the magnificent Arboretum another time.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Curse of Gardeners' Question Time

2 matched conifers no longer matching :(

A few days ago Aunt Debbi did a great post on Murphy's Law for Gardeners. You know the kind of thing - there's never enough compost; if you water plants in the morning, it rains in the afternoon; it'll turn cold as soon as you plant out your more delicate specimens etc. etc. She asked for other observations to add to her list, so I contributed my one on Houdini Plants - i.e. a plant you mentally decide to get rid of because it's not thriving, makes a miraculous recovery.

Her post reminded me that I'd been planning a follow-up one to my Houdini Plants, on another irrefutable law as far as my garden is concerned: publicly voice your misgivings about a plant and it will surely die. A few years back, Chippenham Garden and Allotment Society hosted Gardeners' Question Time (GQT)* and I was invited not only to be a member of the audience, but also to provide some of the 'soundbites' aired as the scene setter at the start of the programme. The questions are provided by members of the audience, and NAH and I duly filled out our cards for consideration by the chairman (Eric Robson) and the panel that night (John Cushnie, Bob Flowerdew and Anne Swithinbank) before the recording started. Imagine our surprise when my name was called out as the first questioner and NAH's as the first reserve i.e. an extra question in case the edited programme fell short of its allotted broadcast time.

So we asked our questions - mine was how to train a wisteria as a standard 'tree' (a question NAH had said would never get accepted as the programme's question guidelines had said ones on wisteria flowering were a complete no-no - hah!); NAH's about the sentinel conifers either side of the middle patio steps. One of them had been damaged by an insect the year previously and was growing into a loose, 'flared' shape, whilst the other was retaining its tightknit form.

Our questions were answered to our satisfaction: John Cushnie describing me as too young to be contemplating a project that takes at least 20 years to complete, though the other two were much more encouraging. NAH and I also nearly fell off our chairs when we realised that the programme's microphone holder (and deputy producer) was a woman called Jo King. Her steely glare when she gave us her name, prevented us from actually laughing out loud though. So we went home happy after gaining an insight into how one of our radio's great institutions works and duly listened to the broadcast a few months later. NAH's question didn't make the cut.


So what happened next? Well, my 20-year long project never really happened as 2 years later my wisteria died. And this year (another 3 years on), the conifers are beginning to die back and will have to be removed. I reckon because my question was actually broadcast, the effects of the 'Curse of Gardeners' Question Time' was much more potent than it was for our conifers.

So remember this irrefutable law: mentally get rid of your plants and they will thrive; publicly voice your concerns about them and they will give up the ghost. Broadcast your concern on the radio and the potency of this law is increased 10-fold.

* = broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 every Sunday afternoon and one of our longest running radio programmes (since 1947). Most of the recordings are hosted by gardening clubs and the waiting list for a visit by the production team is several years long. NB if you click on the GQT link, it includes the opportunity to listen to the latest programme.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Going for Gold

The finalists limber up - following the preliminary round up at the plot

The Olympics may be nearing its final conclusion, but today I set off in my own quest for a gold medal. Following my raspberry entry at EmmaT's Emsworth Show, I decided to enter the one at my local garden centre today. I was up at the plot bright and early to pick my freshest, ripest, juiciest contenders along with some dew laden leaves with which to set them off.

It was the third show at Whitehall Garden Centre. Most of the classes are aimed at children and the it's meant to be fun. However, there were some serious looking contenders at set up time, their trolleys laden with produce, flowers and baking to set out in the show tent. Set up time was 10.30 am and we had to clear the area for judging by 10.45. Prize giving was at 4.45 pm, though the results were ready to view from midday.

I set my entry up in a similar fashion to my Emsworth entry and returned at 4.30 to see the verdict. It was good to see a nice red card for First Prize next to my entry!

The garden centre is run by 3 generations of the same family including Mrs Self, who at the ripe age of 100 handed out the prizes. Gold medals and garden gift vouchers were presented plus all entrants went home with a mug.

I thought I'd finish with a final image from the children's flower arrangement class. I feel JAS in particular will appreciate the inventive use of a cheese grater and crisp packet by the winning entrants.

Friday, 22 August 2008

VP's Open Garden - The First Random Prize Draw


As promised, I've just done the first random prize draw for those of you who've donated to my Open Garden Fundraiser this week. Thanks to all of you who've helped to raise £488 so far. This time the prize drawn out of the hat is Nerys, a tapestry piece I completed earlier this year.

And the winner is...

Maggi - Congratulations! So Maggi, do let me know if you'd like Nerys as she is or made up into a lavender bag or pin cushion.

Maggi is one of my fellow KLC students and I first met her at Gardeners' World Live in June. She deserves a very special mention as she has just signed up to volunteer with The Great Generation. She'll be off to Uganda for 2 weeks in November to help set up a model Community Garden in the slums of Kampala. This was an opportunity I also had a look at when KLC advertised it on the student forum so I'm pretty envious, but of course I wish her well. So, if any of you are interested in hearing more about what she'll be doing, you can have a look at her fundraising page here.

Tune in next week for another great giveaway - random or otherwise ;)

Logo courtesy of: WaterAid

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Desert Island Plants

Today's Gladiolus - an unknown variety because it was a freebie
JAS set a delightful, though very challenging poser a couple of days ago over at Blogging from Blackpitts:

I have a question for you. (Credit for this goes to my wife, Celestria)

Imagine, if you would, that one sunny morning you were suddenly plucked from your existing garden and plonked into a new one. The transfer was so unexpected (perhaps like
this) and so swift that you were only able to take six plants from your existing garden.

So. The question is which six plants would you choose ? Do you go for something big - a favourite cherry or a noble oak? maybe an evergreen to liven up your winter. A rose planted to commemorate an anniversary, a herb without which your cooking would be bland or maybe just a piece of herbaceous fluff which stirs the soul ? Remember these will be the only six plants that you are allowed: your new garden has no access to any nurseries or garden centres.

What will you choose ?
James of course has already supplied his answer. And so have quite a few others - very good ones, I urge you to take a look. I've provided my answer too - and like most of the others it's been a struggle to select just six. The list has changed many times and I've had a few arguments with myself. We had 20 people over for curry the other night and as I was showing them round the garden (yes, between the inevitable showers), I told them about James' post and they'd pick out a plant and say 'Well, you must include this one' (Fuchsia 'Garden News'), or 'That's lovely' (Dicksonia antarctica), until the list was as long as the garden's planting plan again.

So, what's my list? Well, the published version (for now and extended from my comment over at Blackpitts) is:

Snowdrops - because they give so much hope in the dark depths of winter. Plus they're the only plant I bother to count to make sure they're on the increase in mine and the guerilla garden next door. But then I haven't included sunshiny yellow daffodils, nor the alliums, such as A. schubertii, whose firework presence in my front garden makes me giggle every May/June. And what about the Dahlias...

My mystery Clematis - she's such a floosie and the only plant that's stayed on my list throughout. I'll post about her in more detail later.

Heuchera 'Licorice' - all year interest and contrasts wonderfully with the snowdrops. Ah, but have I picked the right one? But then there's my lovely new Brunnera 'Jack Frost' to consider.

Echinacea - bees love it and it's so well behaved. But what about the Monarda across the way, or the Helianthus, the Erysimum that flowers non-stop for 12 months, the ...???

Lavender 'Hidcote'- for the Echinacea to float over and because its oil is so precious: 'First Aid in a Bottle'. But then the Echinacea also floats over a nice planting of Sedum 'Autumn Joy', or if I'm going for something that's useful, what about any of the herbs I use for both culinary use and ornamental effect?

Golden Fastigate Yew - representing my 'future garden'. I feel like ripping out pretty much all of my plants at the moment - I consider the current planting to be my 'learning garden': the relatively easy plants I've used to begin to understand what planting and year round colour and interest is all about. Now I feel ready to try something a little more choice and unusual, so I bought my Yew last year to start the process. The rest (and the potential for a completely new list of six) is about to follow...

Now I have to say my other plants are in a bit of a sulk. My Acer's in particular's going 'Oi, I'm your oldest plant (bought 25 years ago) - I've followed you round all of your houses, of course you must pick me!' And then there's the topiary box balls I've trained myself (which I could also take cuttings from to make a lovely wavy hedge like James's); the Himalayan silver birch where I hang the bird feeders; my bay tree - I'd love to train one properly into one of those twisty trunk styles - aargghh, I can't cope!

And my Eryngiums (planted to remind me of the time I saw them in the wild in Greece, where their steely blue stems stopped me in my tracks) are so disgusted, they've invaded the lawn in protest. And I tend to fall in love with my plants all over again just as they come into their season - so my list would be different every single month. Well, about every six minutes at the moment.

Then there's a six from my allotment to consider (just as an added extra for my own fun) - but I think that's for another time.

What would your choice be? Tell me - and James!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

ABC Wednesday - E is For...

...Exceeding Expectations

A lot of the plants in my garden early on were grown from seed, including this Monarda 'Panorama Mixed', which scents the top terrace bed at this time from July onwards. It disappeared for a couple of years, but last year's wet summer revived it to make a reappearance, and it's a welcome sight for me and the bees again this year. So this lovely cottage garden flower has well exceeded my expectations.

And so have you. I have some further donations to report for my Open Garden fundraiser. Anna, one of my regular commenters has come up with a very thoughtful idea. I'll let her tell you what it is in her own words:

I would love to contribute something towards your fund raising activities. As I am not a crafty soul and you already have some books, I would like to donate a membership to The Cottage Garden Society for a year if you think that this would be appropriate. It is an organisation that has given me pleasure and inspiration over the years. I have especially enjoyed their seed distribution scheme. I imagine that you may well be familiar with the CGS but if not they have a website which gives information about the benefits of membership : http://cottage-garden.org.uk/

Also Patient Gardener has donated some choice seeds saved from her garden - a selection of: white foxgloves, Primula japonica (which incidentally makes her 'desert island' plant choice over at Blogging from Blackpitts), Carex elata 'Bowles Golden' and Mathiasella. I hadn't come across the latter plant before, so it's great to make its acquaintance.

Last but not least, there was so much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over R. Pete Free's winning of Matthew Wilson's book on Monday, that Matthew has kindly agreed to donate another signed copy. So dry your eyes everyone, especially EmmaT - the game's still on! Incidentally, Matthew and his garden should be making an appearance on Gardeners' World this Friday - should be well worth a look. Friday is also the day for my next prize giveaway, so get donating if you haven't already - you have to be in it to win it!



Do hop over to the ABC Wednesday blog for more pictures on the theme of E.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

An End to Chippenham's Conkers?

There's an autumnal look to a lot of Chippenham's most stately trees at the moment. They're not signalling an early end to our summer though, but are showing signs of damage by a pest that's marching across the country. Nearly all our Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastamum) trees are affected by leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella) now. I first noticed some minor damage to the trees by our house a couple of years ago. Now every tree on my walk home from the station and those bordering the allotment are showing severe infestation.

The leaf miner moth was first found on trees in Wimbledon in 2002 and has steadily spread across the country since then. The moth larvae burrow between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, resulting in the premature browning seen above. Premature leaf fall occurs during August, at least a month early and can affect 70-100% of the tree's leaves. According to Forest Research, it takes two to three years after first infestation for the damage to reach the levels I can see on the trees in Chippenham. Their distribution map for 2006 shows hardly any infestation in this area, but ackowledges now that damage appears to cover most of southern England and parts of south Wales.

Leaf miner damage to trees isn't new, but Forest Research are concerned that the horse chestnut leaf miner may be more troublesome than most. There's evidence of reduced vigour in young trees affected by the moth and the trees I've seen do seem to have far fewer conkers on them. I don't think there'll be many conker fights in Chippenham's school playgrounds this autumn. Forest Research are keeping a close watch on the spread of this moth across the country and have produced a very good leaflet describing the moth and the damage it causes. It also gives details of how you can help them by sending in samples of suspected leaf miner damage to their Entomology laboratory for analysis.

Monday, 18 August 2008

VP's Open Garden - The First Prize Giveaway

Moonfire with bee - yesterday in my garden

I've always intended there to be a prize giveaway if and when my fundraising target was reached. However, I thought it would be towards the end of proceedings, not the first weekend. I don't mind though as it means the potential for lots more going to WaterAid from the blogging community :)

So congratulations to R Pete Free who took the total to £250. The signed copy of Matthew Wilson's book is wending its way to you. It'll be interesting to see if its contents influence Lytes Cary Manor in any way. At the moment, the total raised stands at £365 and I'm thinking about a new target to aim for. How about hopping over to my Open Garden to see how things are going over there?

And don't worry, you'll see there's plenty left for you - look out for the next prize giveaway here later this week. Anyone making a donation (or has done so already) will be eligible for the prize.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

News Just In - Open Garden Fundraising's a Success!

Picture Courtesy of: WaterAid/Daniel O'Leary

I feel very humble today. When I came up with the idea of 'opening' my garden as a fundraiser, I initially felt very excited about it. However, the doubts soon crept in - would anyone visit? Never mind about making a donation. I wanted so much to make the experience worthwhile for everyone who came to visit, yet it was very much stepping off into the unknown.

Well, you 've exceeded my expectations. Not only have you visited, but the fundraising target's been exceeded on the very first weekend! And you've said there's so much content, it needs several visits to take it all in. Plus you think it's like visiting my garden for real. Then I find lots of you have put a piece on your own blogs and provided a link. Keep passing the message on - the more people who come to visit my garden the better :D

So today, I need to say a big thank you to all of you. I'll be visiting you soon and putting up a blogroll of honour. I need to work out the first couple of prize giveaways too. I've also got an exciting new donation for the prize giveaways to tell you about. Please bear with me, there's lots of comments, e-mails, links and donations to get through, so I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment.

But most importantly, the blogging community is making a difference - right here, right now.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

GBBD - Extra Extra, Read All About It

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Psssttt! You're all invited to come and join me in the garden - at any time from now until the 21st September. It's a new blog packed with articles showing you my garden like you've never seen it before. It's to raise funds for WaterAid and you may win a prize too! Grab a drink and I'll see you there...

The new blog also forms my entry for Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day this month, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. There's lots of flowers to see; you can take a trip around the whole of the garden and also get an overview of how we went about designing it eight years ago.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Plot Views - Introducing the Front Garden

Tomorrow's launch of the virtual open garden will concentrate on the back garden in a big way, so I thought I'd show you the front garden for a change. It's its debut - tough as old boots planting to avert football/basketball damage. Guess how many drain covers are in disguise on such a small plot.

BTW - it's also National Allotments Week.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

And The (Gardeners' World) Winner Is...

...Toby Buckland

I'm not surprised it's him in a way - but the scenario in my head was that if it couldn't be Matthew Wilson, then Carol Klein would get the main presenter role and someone like Toby would join as the junior member of the team. But that's been turned on its head and Toby's the main presenter.

So I'm sad it's not MW, but I had wondered how he'd fit the GW job with his new swanky RHS role. As for Toby, I feel neutral. I enjoy reading his articles in Kitchen Garden magazine, but feel he's too similar to Joe Swift in interests and style for GW to get the shaking up it deserves. However, I'm happy to be proved wrong, wish Toby well and tune in September to find out.

For more entertaining interpretations of today's announcement, The Garden Monkey is hard to beat, though the BBC Gardeners' World Message Board is trying very, very hard. Arabella Sock is in deep mourning with an amended self-portrait to prove it, but has fiendishly swapped sides and is peddling themed merchandise already. EmmaT has resorted to posting cute pictures - shame we didn't see it earlier Emma, it may have helped sway the decision. Victoria is in her best journalist mode and asking for everyone's reaction to the news. As for me? Just as well Esther didn't knit me a balaclava after all...

Update: JAS has commented in style, including a classic reference to Reggie Perrin

ABC Wednesday - D is for...


... Donation

One of the most lovely things about the blogging community is how everyone gets behind a project when they get to hear about it. Last week I told you about my fundraising blog and how Mrs Nesbitt got all crafty and made some cards to donate to the cause. Here are just a few more of the donations made recently by blogging buddies. I went for coffee with Threadspider as usual last week and she gave the pretty sign you see at the top right. Fluffius Muppetus has donated a cheerful mix of wildflower seeds. And ArtistsGarden has made this lovely necklace. All three will be part of the prize giveaways to those of you who make a donation to my virtual garden opening starting this Friday. And the fourth item? Well, meet Nerys - I made her earlier this year and she'll become either a pin cushion or scented bag - depending on what the eventual winner chooses.

Look out for your invitation on Friday. Rest assured there will be lashings of cake available for your visit - whether you make it to the first day on Friday, the last one on September 21st, or somewhere inbetween.

Hop on over here for lots of other ABC Wednesday posts on the theme of D.



Update
: Here's the answers to yesterday's fridge magnets post:
  • Paella dish - Mallorca (to remind me of Margalida's cooking from my wetland research project)
  • Mountain scenery - Colorado
  • Cog wheel - Pike's Peak Railway, Colorado
  • Whitewashed house - Finnikounda, Greece
  • Boomerang - Australia
  • Trolley car - San Francisco
  • City Sights - Boston
  • Sheep - Dublin (plays When Irish Eyes are Smiling. It was a Secret Santa pressie from work as I'd been going to Dublin a lot!)
  • Reindeer - Stockholm (10 days mapping glacial flows in gravel pits)
  • Harbour Bridge - Sydney (also reminds me of Newcastle where I lived for 6 years)
  • Clapperboard - Universal Studios, Florida
  • Flying Doctor Service clip - Cairns
  • Ancient Indian settlement - Mesa Verde National Park
  • Road sign - Australia
  • Taronga Zoo - Sydney (I worked on their Platypus reseach project for a while)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Happiness Is...

...a small, sparkly fridge magnet called Claude.

Yesterday saw me taking a little time out for a trip down to the seaside at Weymouth with my SUP friends to celebrate D's retirement. We went on the train, so there was plenty of time to gossip on the way down and have a quick snooze on the way back after a thoroughly good day out.

I have a number of fridge magnets to commemorate holidays and nice events. My rules are to find something tastefully tacky for less than a £1. Claude came in well under that at all of 50p. Since we moved here in 1999, I haven't been able to display my collection on the fridge as it's covered in a wooden door, so I've resorted to displaying them on a radiator instead. Here's a small selection - how many of these places do you recognise? How many have you been to as well?

We had a thoroughly good time - fish and chips eaten from the paper whilst perched on a wall by the harbour; ice cream from a delightful cafe at Nothe Fort park (with views to the sailing preparations for the 2012 Olympics), which strangely sold locally produced meat as well as the usual cafe fare. Sadly there was no room for the cake I'd wanted. Weymouth is a good old fashioned seaside resort with plenty to see and do. I find I have the need to go to the sea from time to time, so yesterday topped me up for a while.

Surprisingly there was quite a bit to interest the gardening enthusiast too. I found another use for snails right on the beach. And of course the seaside annual bedding schemes were out in full force. Here's a particularly eye catching (or frying) example. I'm not sure whether Ricinis communis (castor oil plant - better if you click the picture for an enlarged view) is the right choice for an architectural accent in a public display. What do you think?

Monday, 11 August 2008

Magnetic Poetry - August


My self-imposed rule of not re-using any of the words from the Magnetic Poetry calendar began to provide much more of a challenge from this month onwards in 2004. The poems are more like statements. Here I was thinking about taking my niece and nephew to the park in Wakefield one weekend when we were staying with my brother-in-law. They insisted on playing for what seemed like hours around the various animal sculptures and rocks. Finally my nephew conceded that it was quite hard for me to join in their game and could stop for a rest - 'Because you're a girl, aunty VP.'

No E, because you're full of unlimited energy.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Book Review: Jekka's Complete Book of Herbs

I believe Jekka McVicar is a national treasure. A herb guru and record breaking multi-gold medal winner at Chelsea, whose nursery is one of the few certified as organic in this country. I met her at one of the open days held at her Herb Farm last year - luckily for me it's not that far from where I live. It was a fascinating day out- it was just before Chelsea, so we got a sneak preview of the plants being grown for her exhibition stand, plus her new seed range 'Reds Under the Beds' to be launched at the show. It's a colourful mix of saladings which we also got to sniff and taste. I also met her lovely cat called Borage - as in the herb pictured above. She personally chose for me the lemongrass plant I have in the garden, as she thought the one I'd picked up wasn't up to standard. She then told me to try wrapping salmon in its leaves before baking in the oven - delicious. So I was already a fan.

Now The Garden Monkey has also persuaded her to donate a signed copy of her latest book, 'Jekka's Complete Herb Book', for my open garden fundraiser, so her status is now national treasure squared in my view. It's a gorgeous book and Jekka uses the term 'herb' in its widest sense, covering medicinal, culinary and other uses. So plants like Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and Betony (Stachys officinalis) have equal billing alongside the more familiar Mint and Thyme.

The bulk of the book is the A-Z of herbs (by botanic name, not common) and covers over 150 plants. You'll find plenty of history and folk-lore alongside the expected details on cultivation, harvesting and uses. There's recipes too - I've sneakily written down the one for lavender biscuits as I'm intrigued by it and also the instructions for pickling Nasturtium seeds as my plot is overrun with them this year. After the A-Z, there's a shorter, more general section covering propagation, planning a herb garden (including several designs), container growing, pests & diseases, harvesting, using herbs as natural dyes plus instructions for making herb oils, vinegars and preserves.

The text is clearly laid out whilst packing a lot of information into each page. The photographs are beautiful too. I think it's a perfect gift for a complete beginner or an expert and I think you'll be looking at a number of the plants in your garden with fresh eyes, OR finding somewhere to squeeze in 'just a few more herbs that'll come in handy' into your garden. As it's a book I'm going to find extremely hard to part with, I've decided you've got to make it worth my while. Therefore, it'll go to the person giving the highest donation in my fundraiser starting on Friday. In the event of a tie, I'll draw the name out of a hat.

And if any of you are in the Alveston area on the weekend of 29-31 August, I'd recommend popping in to Jekka's Herb Farm as it's the last open weekend for this year - if not, she does do mail order too. See you there!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Local News Just In

Just a quick post today as I'm working flat out on the new blog and I'm feeling a bit tired. However, a quick break this evening to catch up with our local newspaper revealed the following nuggets I'd like to share with you:
  1. A spokesman for a local company said he had 'no comment at this stage'. Can I have his job please? I think I might be able to cope with that.
  2. Someone who drove away after filling up at a local petrol station without paying at 11.50pm was described as 'wearing denim jeans with Calvin Klein underwear showing'. If they could spot that at that time of night, how come there's no detailed description of his facial appearance?
  3. A local crop circle spotting group camped out all night in field without finding anything. A rather spectacular, large and intricate six-sided star design was found in the same field an hour after they'd left.
  4. A promotion for a forthcoming advertisement feature asks the question 'Do you serve food to die for?' I do hope not.

Friday, 8 August 2008

It's Showtime!

The lovely EmmaT is putting on a traditional village show in association with my Open Garden event. Hers is pretty much up market, being modelled in the spirit of P.G. Wodehouse and Lord Emsworth - a rather apt name in view of the show's creator in my view. Show dates are 15th to 30th August, but entries are already pouring in like hot cakes (or hot scones for one particular category) and are on display at her sparkly new blog. There's all the categories you'd expect from a village show, plus a few extras to reflect the world of gardening, blogging and Emma's delightful sense of humour.

Now you may recall that I was dithering about whether to enter my own allotment society show. Well, I have decided to enter (it is the 40th one after all), but as it coincides with my Open Garden times, I suspect I'll be entering less categories than I would like to. Our local garden centre is also getting in on the act by having a show on the 23rd August, so I now appear to be entering three shows. As a show novice, I thought I'd better have a bit of a dress rehearsal. One of Emma's categories is Allotment Showoff: 3. Plate of Fruit. The only thing I ever get asked about up at the allotment is what variety of raspberry I'm growing, so if I'm going to show off anything, it's got to be my Autumn Bliss. I consulted the garden centre's show schedule for what should be displayed for the raspberry category. The above photo is my attempt to meet their schedule. However, I got a bit carried away after that...

I think this attempt is more aesthetically pleasing
And why not pile them all in instead?
A blatant attempt to sway the judges - this is what I had for breakfast this morning.
Oops - I appear to have eaten my entry! Yum :D

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Yep, It's Nostalgia Time Again

NAH and I had another trip down memory lane last week, this time in the form of Kemble Steam Fair. This event was similar to the one I reported on last month, but a lot bigger. It also had a number of unique features I'd not seen at other fairs. It's held on Kemble airfield, so if you get bored with all the usual vintage stuff, you can go and hang around some serious vintage airplanes instead, such as this Gnat jet trainer as formerly used by the RAF Red Arrows display team. Kemble used to be their base and they often return for a flying visit. Also from time time small aircraft take off as Kemble is one of the largest privately owned commercial airfields in England. Some of these planes then perform jaw dropping aerobatic displays seemingly just for the sheer hell of it.

Another feature was the unintentionally hilarious ferreting display by a young man who obviously loves his job and wants to tell everyone (a distant audience of 10 in this instance) in the minutest of detail. His rabbit warren was built in the best of Blue Peter styles - all plastic drain pipes and camouflage netting. After about 20 minutes of talk and no action he finally whipped out a ferret from a box and put it into the 'warren'. The ferret promptly escaped out into the field whilst he wasn't looking and the man's two sleepiest of dogs just carried on with their nice little nap and didn't alert him to the fact. Neither did we. In the meantime, he was using various stuffed toy rabbits dropped in strategic places around the field to demonstrate various capture techniques. It took him some time to realise what was actually going on!

I won't reprise the kind of photos like the ones I took at the last show, but I couldn't resist this fine example of the stationary engine displayman's art. It's the best I've seen yet.

I also came away with a couple of unexpected souvenirs from the day. There was an excellent plant stall with the healthiest of Dahlias and Chocolate Cosmos that took all my willpower to resist. However, I did succumb to this Agave for £3. I was also resisting this whimsical lamb quite well, but NAH saw my inner struggle and bought it for me instead.





Wednesday, 6 August 2008

ABC Wednesday C is for...

... Cards

Some of you will have already seen one of the exciting parcels I've received in the past week. Monday saw the very latest - from our own Mrs Nesbitt! Denise was very intrigued by one of my teaser remarks about my new blogging project and contacted me to find out more. It got her all creative and beavering away - shall we have a look at what she sent me?

Isn't she lovely and talented? But that wasn't all - Denise has also sent me a surprise. Yes, my very own card!


So why is Denise sending her good wishes? Well, on Friday August 15th, you're all invited to the opening of my garden for charity. It's in aid of Sing for Water, the subject of my recent choir activities, which fundraises for WaterAid. We're off to London on the 14th September to take part in the big concert, so I've set up a shiny, new blog packed full of stories about my garden and allotment to celebrate and fundraise. There's loads I haven't told you about already - a full tour of the garden, how the design was put together, some of my absolute favourite plants, a peek inside the sheds and plenty more. I'd love you to join me for a cup of tea and a slice of cake, so I've put the next best thing in there - some of my favourite recipes.

Logo courtesy of: WaterAid

Do join me on the 15th August - tell your friends and family too, everyone's welcome, I can comfortably accommodate you all! I've plenty of prizes to give away to those of you who give a donation, including Denise's cards. Watch this space for more details. Don't worry if you can't make the 15th, unlike non-virtual garden open days, mine will be open until Sunday, 21st September.

It's so good to have a positive blogging story to report after yesterday's nonsense. Thanks so much Denise!

Click here to visit more ABC Wednesday stories and photographs.

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