Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Pruning Rage!

Like Plant Mad Nige, I'm feeling a bit peeved at the moment. No, not at farmers like he is, but my local council. It would appear it's our estate's turn to have its public planting tidied up. Don't get me wrong, I usually would approve heartily, but WHY did it have to include all the lovely red berried Guelder-rose providing food for the birds AND all the dogwood and Salix stems that are meant to provide our open spaces around here with some winter interest?

Surely the work plan this time around could have included just a quick tidy up of the dead or dangerous deciduous wood, plus all the evergreen trimming, followed by a visit in late winter (prior to nesting time and after the berries have been eaten) to complete the rest? They've made a good job of the evergreen stuff, even cloud pruning some of the nameless bushes we have - a nice touch above the ordinary don't you think? BUT we do have mass plantings of gold, green and red stems, which a couple of days ago were lighting up the gloom at three to four foot high, but now stand at a very battered and bruised one foot instead. I think someone somewhere's missed the point of what the planting's meant to be doing. If I'm missing the point on what the council's doing, please let me know.

I do understand our hard-pressed council have to look after Chippenham's open spaces on a rota basis, but surely it won't cost much more to schedule two visits? After all, there must be another part of Chippenham that's not getting its evergreens cut back at the optimum time of year.

Excuse me whilst I go and pop a more constructive version of this rant in the post...

Saturday, 29 November 2008

VPGGB * #4 - RHS Membership?

Dahlias at the RHS Inner Temple Show - September 2008

There's been quite a lot of debate recently in the blogosphere about the RHS, where it's headed and the value of membership to its members. James has a particularly thoughtful article plus comments over at his award winning Blackpitts blog if you're interested in what's been said so far. It's been a timely discussion for me as my membership is due for renewal in January. NAH purchased it for me 2 years ago as a welcome Christmas gift. Last year I renewed it without a thought, but this year every purchase has to count, so here goes.

Membership cost £41 this year and my benefits according to the RHS are:
  • A monthly magazine (The Garden) rrp @ £4.25 - however, I believe the net value to me is nearer £10, (not RHS' £51) when compared with other subscription bargains like Gardens Illustrated, who discount theirs and give away a free book. I'd also like to know how many non-membership sales there are of this magazine
  • Free admission to the four RHS Gardens - I'll be an infrequent visitor as they are so far away, so no real benefit to me. I also feel the same about the RHS seed scheme - I could probably get the same seed cheaper elsewhere, though I do like the idea of growing something that may have come from Wisley!
  • Free admission to 147 affiliated gardens - 2 of these (Westonbirt and Corsham Court garden) are within 10 miles of here and I usually visit them once a year (I do visit Westonbirt more frequently, but at times when my membership doesn't give me free entry), so I saved £10.50
  • Discounted admission to RHS Shows - I've visited 5 this year, saving £15
  • Discounts on special events - my membership has given me free visits to Jekka McVicar's Herb Farm and my workshop attendance at The Botanic Nursery - a saving of £6
  • 2 other benefits are not exclusive to members, so I feel they don't really count - Garden Advice and Plant Selector information. In addition e-mail updates are optional and tend to be mainly of a marketing nature, so are of minimal benefit
So looking my total benefits (shown in blue above), they have a value of £41.50, just a tiny bit better than break even then when taking my cost of membership (£41) into account. Of course I could have accrued additional benefits by visiting more gardens, events and shows, but I would have needed to spend a lot more cash in order to do so as I would have attended the more expensive shows, events and gardens much further away. I think my level of activity this year is sustainable and has actually made better use of my membership than I did in my first year.
So far, I'm feeling rather neutral about my membership. Perhaps I need to look at this whole thing a different way and ask the question, What does my membership give the RHS?
  • From the latest Annual Report available online, I see I'm one of 372,000 members providing just over half of the RHS' income (total income £20.9 million, membership income £11 million)
  • In effect membership could fund the four RHS gardens (£9.6 million) with a little left over OR fund Science & Learning, Governance and Editorial costs (£8 million) with slightly more left over (NB total expenditure for the year was £17.6 million)
So no membership at all would result in a much smaller organisation unable to meet its stated aims. Also, whilst membership income is substantial, I haven't found any evidence of the RHS using Gift Aid with membership fees (unbelievable!). If this is the case, then my membership money can be made to work so much harder than it does at the moment. In the current economic climate, this must be a priority as I suspect membership numbers may go down this year.

Although I'm unlikely to visit say, Wisley very often, I do like the idea of it being there and I'm sure I'm indirectly benefitting from the RHS trained horticulturalists who look after some of the gardens I do visit. I'm also hoping to gain my RHS Certificate (at least), so I'll be trained to RHS standard myself at some point. I also value the Award of Garden Merit scheme, and I enjoyed being able to contribute in a small way earlier this year by taking part in the radish trial. I also love the Lindley Library and a lot of RHS publications have made their way into my own gardening reference hoard. I make extensive use of the RHS website, in spite of its many drawbacks **. So whilst I could benefit from all of these things as a non-member, I do value them highly enough to feel supporting them via my membership is worthwhile.

However, that doesn't make me a blind follower. This whole debate reminds me of what the National Trust found last year when they surveyed their members. Most of them didn't think of the National Trust as theirs at all, feeling quite removed from their fee and what the Trust does. As a result there's a major project underway to reconnect the membership to Trust relationship. Perhaps the RHS is in a similar position? When I worked at Earthwatch (an environmental charity supporting scientific research) 10 years ago, there was a similar disconnection and it took an awful lot of work to put it right. There needs to better information available on the good work the RHS does - I feel it's poorly communicated at the moment. This needs to be done at both member and non-member levels. Might I suggest a campaign called something like Membership Matters, starting with space for it on the website and in The Garden?

Conclusion: Membership for me is a bargain (but you may feel differently), however the RHS needs to work extremely hard for it to remain that way.

* = VP's Guide to Gardening Bargains
** = Yes, the website has improved visibly over the past few weeks, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. I would dearly love to sit down with the website people for a few hours and make them see how it looks and feels from a real user's viewpoint. I also understand the website is relatively underfunded, perhaps there's an opportunity for the RHS to mobilise the IT savvy part of its membership and provide some web development volunteer opportunities?

Update 15/4/2015: I'm revisiting this post today as Gwenfar has written a similar, very good piece on her reasons why she isn't renewing her membership. They're good and well argued reasons, particularly her remarks on peat and public transport policies. I've looked again at my reasons for staying with the RHS and they still apply.

Since I wrote this post I lobbied the RHS hard about its stance on Gift Aid and it's now available. Membership has gone up, not down and there have been quite a few changes to the magazine and website. There isn't a Membership Matters section, but there is a lot more information on what the RHS does for gardeners nowadays.

It's the second National Gardens Week this week and on Friday there's the first Free Gardens Day. It's not perfect, but I can see evidence of change which answers some of my above criticisms. Now, I must go and find out what happened to the RHS's research into native/non-native plants and pollinators...

Friday, 28 November 2008

Why Do I Garden?

Stuart of Blotanical fame has set a 160 character challenge this month: to provide an answer to the question Why Do I Garden? Here's my response.


Inspiring & Creative


Doing not Vegetating
Environmentally sound

Sadly it looks like Blotanical is no more, so I can't take you there via a link to discover hundreds of fellow gardening bloggers :(

Thursday, 27 November 2008

How About A Time Machine For Your Garden?

Dr Who garden complete with TARDIS - RHS Show Cardiff, April 2008

How's this for the ultimate in garden sheds? A local landscaping firm is auctioning off their replica 10 foot tall TARDIS to raise money for the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Appeal. It was built for a Doctor Who themed float shown at Devizes and Pewsey's carnivals (note to self: must write about the local Autumn carnival season next year). One of the firm's owners was quoted in this week's Gazette & Herald: It would be a good Christmas present. We've had suggestions it could be used as an allotment shed, portable loo or a children's playhouse.

The shed can be viewed and delivery is also promised - though to Joy's place in Canada might be stretching their goodwill a bit far. The reserve price is £80 (around $120 USD) and in view of the success of the TARDIS category in Shed of The Year, I'm sure it'll raise far more than that. Sealed bids should be sent to: Elm Tree Fencing & Landscaping, Broadway, Market Lavington, Devizes, SN10 5RH by December 12th.

Imagine if it was a real time machine though - there'd never be a problem in completing all those gardening jobs ever again!

PS Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers. You may like to have a look at the post I wrote last year especially for you ;)

Update 24/12: The winning bid was £250 - I don't think that's a bad price for what you get!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

ABC Wednesday - S is for...


I have to admit sprouts aren't my favourite vegetable, in fact I agree with an ex-colleague who described them as spawn of the devil at an office Christmas lunch a few years ago. Nearly everyone else looks at me like I've gone mad when I say I don't like them. They ask What DO you eat on Christmas Day then? and look at me pityingly. Answer: roast parsnips plus leeks and carrots freshly picked from the allotment usually. No problem. You may have guessed the picture illustrating this post isn't from my allotment. You're right - it's from next door's.

I was most amused when Anna (thanks Anna - I'll link to you when your Blog's ready) contacted me a couple of weeks ago with the information there's an annual sprout festival held in Worcester. It appears a local chef there believes the sprout is a much maligned vegetable and is doing his best to redress the balance. Unfortunately I couldn't tell you more about it at the time, but it did get me thinking about the other unusual food, vegetable and gardening related events we have here in the UK. I've mentioned one of them already, the rhubarb festival held in Wakefield each February/March. There's loads more and it struck me that this is exactly the kind of valuable service You Ask, We Answer (YAWA) should be providing for its readers: a diary of the more unusual or eccentric events we have in Britain. So I've started to compile one - I already have the above two festivals, plus mistletoe, chilli, tomato, potato days, apple days, and the national giant vegetable championships on my list. I'm also trying to track down the national Mangold Wurzel throwing championships - I think that happens around here somewhere. The annual cheese rolling in Gloucestershire deserves a place and perhaps the woolsack race in Tetbury too? I'd also like your help in compiling the list - do let me know of any events you know about with any website links, if you have them, in the Comments below. I'm happy to include non-UK events too! As soon as I have the list, I'll issue it as a YAWA supplement on here with a link to everyone who's helped in its compilation.

In the meantime, here's a hilarious sprout game you may like to have a go at! NB I think it'll only work if you have Flash installed.

PS As you may have guessed, YAWA will be making further guest appearances on here from time to time ;) And I've just noticed this is my 500th post - yay!

Do move over Swiftly to the ABC Wednesday blog for more Stories from the letter S...

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Mushroom Magic

As well as being a vintage year for autumnal leaf colour, it's been a great season for fungi around here, especially at my allotment. The weather plus my mulched prunings and next door's used pet bedding seem to have provided ideal conditions for various toadstools to thrive. The above picture shows a fungus that's new to me which I found growing near my apple trees. I've narrowed it down to either Stropharia cyanea (Blue Roundhead) or Stropharia aeruginosa (Verdigris Agaric) using the extremely useful Rogers Mushrooms website. However, from the description and photos there (or anywhere else) I can't really narrow it down to the species level - not surprising since the description of S. cyanea says it's often mistaken for the other one. Either way, it's not edible. I don't think it looks that appetising anyway - what do you think? Can anyone confirm which one it is?

BTW Apologies for not replying to your Comments, messages and e-mails over the weekend, but we were up north visiting NAH's family and only got back late yesterday afternoon. I'm still in catch-up mode with my scheduled postings, but hope to get back to you soon. You've been particularly talkative whilst I've been gone - thank you :D

Monday, 24 November 2008

VP's Guide to Gardening Bargains #3

This post has a touch of the You Ask, We Answer about it as it's in response to Zoe's comment about the Friends of the NGS (National Gardens Scheme) being a shade on the expensive side in my first Bargains post. I'm happy to report I've now been sent details of the scheme for 2009 and can confirm it is a bargain:

Friends of the NGS 2009

Thank you for your interest in joining Friends of the NGS. We have made a few changes to Friends for 2009 and I am delighted to announce the details. For just £8.99 a year, Friends of the NGS will receive:

  • A copy of The Yellow Book in February 2009 which lists 3,500, mostly private gardens all over England & Wales which open to the public in 2009 and early 2010
  • Friends of the NGS Newsletter in Spring and Autumn
  • Discount and promotional offers for NGS events, including for 2009 an evening hosted by Alan Titchmarsh
  • 2 for 1 entry at selected attractions

If you would like to purchase a membership for yourself or as a gift please call 01483 213911, email or visit our website

Guess what's just gone on my Christmas pressie list...

Update: Helen (Patient Gardener) has pointed out the NGS link's instructions aren't very clear. If you want to buy a gift membership, then the above link takes straight to where you need to be. However, if you want to join, you have 2 choices - either buy the Yellow Book in February, fill out the form on the inside flap and send it to the NGS OR visit the above website, take the Friends link on the left hand sidebar, click on the link to the form under the Join Now heading and fill out the online application. Failing that you can phone them on the above number. The NGS will then send you your copy of the Yellow Book when it comes out in early February next year.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

How Much Is Your Blog Worth?

Since I re-designed my blog a few weeks ago, you may have noticed I've replaced my regular quiz widget with Black Boxes (on the left). I found it on Suburbia's blog when I was leaving a comment and I decided to add it here for a while for a bit of fun. I love inserting my own either/or questions and also seeing whose blog I end up at. It's often the same one, but that's not happening so much now - I suspect more bloggers are playing.

It also means the frequency of strangers turning up in my site statistics has increased lately. It's always worthwhile having a look at these sites, especially as you never know what bells and whistles they're using on their blogs which are a bit of fun or potentially useful. A few days ago I ended up at The Cow-Herd Speaketh!!!!, a blogger based in Bangalore, India. In addition to a very interesting article on Hinglish (the mixing of Hindi and English in India), the blog had a most intriguing widget - How Much Is Your Blog Worth? The value's based on the number of links and index listings a blog has, so older blogs and/or those containing more articles have a greater chance of showing a higher value.

This evaluation's from the more business oriented side of blogging and I suppose the sub-text is: the higher the blog's worth, the more potentially interesting it is to advertisers, the more chance the blogger has of making an income from blogging etc. etc. And of course it's just one of many ways of measuring a blog's "success", should you wish to do so. However, I do think it's a fun thing to have a look at and it does have a message for us all, even 'fun' bloggers like me: post frequently and with interesting content, and your blog becomes an increasingly useful resource, not only to yourself, but to other people too. Whether that can be measured wholly in dollars and cents is a different question. What do you think? How much is your blog worth using this metric (no need to say if you don't want to) - do you think that's a fair reflection of the amount of time and effort you spend on it?

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Magnetic Poetry - November

Ever since I started my Magnetic Poetry strand back in January (the majority of posts on my Bad Poetry label), I've been debating fiercely with myself whether I would actually post today's entry. For the vast majority of my life I've been a most optimistic and happy soul and that's what usually gets portrayed here too. However, it wasn't that way on the 2nd November 2003. The signs were already there in my poems for September and October, but on that fateful day, I got absolutely no sleep at all - none for the rest of the week in fact. I was so full of adrenaline from stress at work, it was like I was completely wired open. I was shaking, my heart went haywire, it felt like I had fur being stroked on top of my head. It also felt like I was communicating with everyone from the other side of a misted glass partition. Naturally I couldn't have gone to work like that, so I called in sick. In time I recovered, slowly. But I never worked full time ever again.

I'd given my boss plenty of warning that the workload was too much. A well-liked colleague joined the team as a result over the summer. The workload doubled because the business area we supported was rapidly expanding. We examined the roles that were needed for the team. There were twelve (not necessarily full time, but each one very different) - I was doing eleven of them. We got in a project manager to lighten the load - he was no good so was asked to leave after a month. We had someone on loan from our call centre to help with the administration - he needed more supervision than was needed to do the work. In the end three consultants joined the team on the same day and I was expected to induct them all and still do my own work (which had also increased again). That was on the first of November. Then on the second things went really pear-shaped...

That's all I'm going to say on the situation, except I now think of the whole experience in a positive light: something that was actually worthwhile living through. I know a lot more about myself and I've learnt to say no. I was able to be honest at work about what was going on which I think is enlightened for a mental health situation and I found a most wonderful set of colleagues as a support network on my return to work. It also made me re-evaluate my life. Being a successful business analyst, the one who copes really well in a crisis and exceeding everyone's expectations year on year is no longer where I want to be. It's here, at home, exploring what else life has to offer that's most important. I'm happy and so very lucky.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Plot Views - Even More Clearing Needed

Now most of the leaves are down, it's time to sweep them off the path and onto the borders to make a natural mulch. I've also asked NAH to do the final mow of the lawn for the year, so the sticky mass of leaves on there will be shredded into the grass clippings to make a good mulch for one of the beds up at the allotment. Apart from that, I'll probably take everyone's advice from last month - leave things as they are and say I've created the ideal wildlife habitat!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A Study in Raindrops

Click to enlarge image if needed. Clockwise from top left: Spirea 'Goldflame', Berberis, Clematis, unknown alpine, fence & wire support, Cyclamen, Euphorbia myrsinites, Festuca glauca, cobweb detail

Guess what? I've been distracted by the garden again! Drizzly rain leaves the finest of raindrops everywhere. Magical - even on a dull day.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

ABC Wednesday - R is for...

...RHS Seed Scheme

What a timely R this has turned out to be! I've just had my reminder from the RHS that now's the time to get my seed order in to them. Each year, RHS members are offered a choice of seed saved from the various RHS gardens. This year's catalogue runs to 23 pages, so there's quite a variety of seed on offer. It's not just choice specimens, there's plenty of the kind of plants everyone wants to grow in their gardens, so this is a good way to obtain or try new varieties, but from a prestigious source. Up to 20 packets can be ordered for a fee of £10 - which covers collecting, drying and administration costs.

You may remember the arrival of my previous order earlier this year and my consternation that most of it was from the 'challenging to grow spectrum' as most of them either take a long time to germinate or need particular treatment such as cold stratification, or both. This year, I'm going to sit down with a large cup of coffee, last year's seed sowing instructions, my seed collecting book plus my garden wants list and make sure I order seeds where I'll see the results next summer!

Further information on the RHS seed scheme can be found here - however, do note this is only available to RHS members.

For more Really good Reading on the theme of R, do have a look at the ABC Wednesday anthology blog.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Grand Designs Revisited

The story so far...

Romantic visionary VP has found the house of her dreams - a large, isolated stone-built cottage with over 2 acres of land. It's affordable (just) assuming the auction doesn't go that far above the guide price. However, it's a 'project' (i.e. lots of work) and NAH isn't fully aware of how badly VP would like to live there. Can she persuade NAH the cottage is his dream too?

Now read on...

We've been to see the house! Just on the outside and in the pouring rain. To my eyes it's even lovelier in the flesh than it is looking at the catalogue or on-line. There's so much potential and it's just about liveable in. All sorts of possibilities are going round my head re the land. Most of it is southerly facing and in a long rectangle - lots of garden rooms, possibly a small holding, all the apple trees I could shake a stick at. I make encouraging noises to NAH like 'you could have that workshop you've always wanted dear' and 'remember when we were in Cromford and you said you'd like to convert that barn?', but so far he's being Mr Practical, as usual. 'How will we finance it?', 'we can't sell our house just like that, not in the current climate' are his replies. And bah, he's right - I'm used to us not having a mortgage and it's taking a rather special place to make me contemplate having one again.

So I'm going to use a little psychology in the next round. I reckon if I show him a 'project' that's loads more work than the house we've just looked at, it'll make the one I like seem a viable prospect. So I'm going to show him this:

It makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Monday, 17 November 2008

More of Autumn

Click on the picture to enlarge if needed. Clockwise from top left: Blueberry on Ash leaves, side garden carpet, Berberis, Field Maple

Do you ever find you get distracted on the simplest of your tasks? I went into the garden late yesterday afternoon to quickly gather some herbs for the casserole I was making, and once again my garden made me stray from what I was doing! In spite of the drizzly rain, I just had to rush indoors, grab my camera and take some more shots of the autumn leaves in and around my garden. I've spoken before about the burnt oranges and reds we're having this year. However, they're the mere highlights. Most of our autumnal colour's bright yellow. It's mainly due the abundant birch, field maple and dogwoods we have around here that make it so. The yellow's tended to be the last colour to fall so lots of it's still on the trees. But as you can see we now have a thick, bright yellow carpet too - shining out despite the rain.

BTW we've been clearing out our garage lately, where NAH found some homemade wine I made over twenty years ago. It's surprisingly drinkable and the remains of the bottle of sloe wine also found its way into the casserole alongside the herbs. Once I'd finished taking my photos of course.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A Whirl of Colour

My head's an explosion of colour at the moment, following Thurday evening's trip to Toppings (a lovely independent bookshop) in Bath with Threadspider and my SUP buddies to see Kaffe Fassett. Regular readers may recall we met him earlier in the year at Bath's Blue and White exhibition - that was so enjoyable, we were determined not to let a second opportunity pass us by in less than a year.

The evening's objective was the launch of his new book, Country Garden Quilts. I'd been intrigued when I heard of this as the quilts are not only all on a theme that's close to my heart, but they were also photographed at Great Dixter, a garden on my must-see list. I'd wondered whether the strong colours and luxuriant foliage of Great Dixter's borders might clash with the vibrancy of Kaffe Fassett's work. On the whole I needn't have worried.

Prior to the book signing (and after a brief introduction from another of my needlepoint heroines, Candace Bahouth), we were treated to an hour long talk and slideshow, where Kaffe Fassett took us on a whirlwind tour of the world, showing us pictures from his wide-reaching travels. These had inspired subsequent knitwear design, needlepoint, quilts and fabrics. It was a jaw dropping explosion of colour which made me itching to get started on my first quilt and to pick up my needlepoint again. Kaffe Fassett first came to the UK in the 1960's and spent much of his time in and around Bath, so he had plenty of anecdotes to share with us, from both locally and world-wide. He also revealed that he started painting white-on-white in his early painting career, which was most surprising. His easy, relaxed style was inspiring, amusing and thought provoking. An absolutely fabulous evening and of course I left with another book and treasured signature!

You may be wondering where the above photograph fits in. The first pig is called Primavera Pig and was designed by Kaffe Fassett using the flowers from his Primavera fabric design. It gives you an inkling of the whirl of colour we were treated to last week. I took the photo at the Farewell to the Pigs event I told you about last month, where the pictured pigs were in a secured area as they were considered to be the most valuable. On Thursday we were told that Primavera Pig had raised over £5,000 at the subsequent charity auction. No wonder it was under guard!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

GBBD - Hanging On

By the A4 between Chippenham & Corsham 12/11/2008

Yes I know it's Blooms Day, but I couldn't resist showing you another autumnal picture. I spotted this one on the way to my creative writing class on Wednesday morning and I just had to stop afterwards and take its photo. Luckily I'd taken my camera as I'd wanted to photograph the new specially commissioned gate at the Pound Arts Centre. Aren't both of them beautiful? I can't really remember our autumns having so many trees sporting burnt orange colours like we've had this year. And whilst autumn came a little earlier than it has for the past few, the trees do seem to be hanging onto their leaves to make a real glow of things during the mainly gloomy days we've had recently.

So, onto my garden's blooms. I'd say the majority of my remaining flowers are hanging on rather than blooming. I've also left some flowers to sport their dried heads in the garden. For the moment they're looking attractive and of course provide food and shelter for wildlife, but I'll cut them back as soon as they become dreary. I've just one new flower to show you this month. My Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles' is budding in profusion and a few of them are fully in flower as of a couple of days ago. They are a welcome sight, even if the blooms start at eye level and work their way upwards. I've been really surprised by my potted Cyclamen. They're still here and increasing in flower. I was expecting to use their pots for my tulip bulbs by now. These will have to wait! Another surprise is the self-sown Lobelia by my stone bench on the patio. I was expecting them to have gone by now, but their proximity to the patio and the stone bench must have given them enough protection from the frosts that cut down the rest of their annual cousins. Finally I couldn't resist a tiny touch of autumn in my new sidebar slideshow: the Cotoneaster has been such a rich red leaf this year - it's almost impossible to see the berries amongst the leaves!

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens. Do go over and see how our English November differs to our American cousins. Remember, October's slideshow is still available over at my Open Garden. So much has changed in the garden since last month.

Friday, 14 November 2008

You Ask, We Answer

My Dear American Cousins,

Afraid you've missed the latest gardening gossip from England?

Are you dying to know who is the 'Lord of Cord' and why?

Concerned your English friend uses her butt too often?

Want to find the best garden itinerary for your upcoming tour?

Do you find quaint terms like 'flowering their socks off' confusing?

Worried you'll fail your University Diploma?

Then we have just the publication for you! Yes, You Ask, We Answer is the part work which solves the mystery of your English gardening buddies' eccentricity. Issued over an infinitesimal number of weeks (or until funding runs out), each edition builds to form the best, most complete library of English gardening knowledge, entertainment, heritage and terminology. We have gathered the creme de la creme of gardening expertise to answer your every enquiry, no matter how small. Our current panelist rollcall may be found here *. No finer depth (or maybe dearth - Ed.) of expertise has been assembled since last week's edition of Gardeners' Question Time.

You won't find You Ask, We Answer at your local newsstand or store, but you can secure your very own copy by calling 0800-YAWA-SUBS, where our carefully trained operatives** are on standby 24/7 to take your call and explain the subscription options available to you. Already a subscriber, but still have a question unanswered? Then we have just introduced two additional premium rate options especially for you. For a paltry $5.99 per month, 0845-YAWA-QUIZ ensures your question is extensively answered in the next edition with space available. Can't wait that long? Then, a minimum fee of $99.99 per month and dialling 0845-YAWA-RICH will secure you a mind-meld with the horticultural expert of your choice. ***

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English and feeling left out? Then rest assured our YAWA online American Perennial Edition went into beta test earlier this week. Watch this space for more exciting details!

Not sure You Ask, We Answer is for you? Then click the no-obligation response link below, where our most Venerable Panellist is waiting to take your trial question.

Remember You Ask, We Answer is only available to you in the comfort of your own home, bought to you courtesy of VP Exclusive Enterprises. Don't delay, sign up today!

* = some names may have been changed to protect the innocent.
** = calls may be recorded for training purposes. Terms & Conditions apply.
*** = rates and expert will vary depending upon availability, selected question complexity and our cashflow status.
**** = originals available to view on request, on payment of a small fee, preferably a jar of honey.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Putting the Boot In

EmmaT's been most lovely and organised and done her Christmas shopping for all her blogging buddies at B&Q's garden goodies sale. She's generously earmarked a car boot organiser for me; I can't for the life of me think why I need one, can you? :0

The picture shows my car boot yesterday. As you can see it's poised for every allotment eventuality I may care to throw at it. I don't keep this stuff up there in case it gets stolen. It looks this way in spite of a GNO earlier on in the year in Bristol, where I returned from our meal to find I had a flat tyre. Luckily there was someone (painting railings in the dark at 10 o'clock at night - why?) at the car park to help me change it and a similar view to the one above greeted us as I fished through it all for the spare tyre. The incident wasn't sufficiently embarrassing for me to tidy up and put everything away, hmmm.

Mind you, I'm a bit worried about when I get my pressie. If I do get my car boot organised, it means I'll be able to get 10 times as many plants in there. I'm already considering opening up my garden's nursery area for business - it's seriously rivalling our local garden centre for stock at the moment. At least with a car boot the way it is, it keeps a natural rein on my plant buying tendencies.

What do you keep in your car boot (aka trunk, dear American readers)? Is it all absolutely essential, just like that pair of ear defenders are in mine? ;)

PS If any of my family happen to be reading this (unlikely, but you never know), I quite fancy the Bill and Ben Emma's earmarked for Arabella. They're so awful, they're great!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

ABC Wednesday - Q is for...

... Quince

It's only in the past few years I've got to know our edible Quince tree, Cydonia oblonga. Until then, I'd only really been familiar with the ornamental or Japanese Quince, Chaenomeles japonica. I grew the latter in my previous garden to give some late winter colour and it's a regular sight on my walk to the railway station as several of the Victorian properties on my route use this shrub for hedging. Sadly, most of the specimens I see are rather uncared for and a mass of tangled, thorny branches. It's a shame as the shrub's blossom is a welcome sight in late winter/early spring and its fruit are adequately edible as a preserve.

The quince tree as seen above at Lytes Cary Manor is a different kettle of fish. A nicely rambling, not too tall an affair with lovely spring blossom and large, tactile, knobbly and heavenly smelling fruit which ripen during September and October. A few centuries ago, the fruit were used medicinally for treating lung complaints, particularly asthma. Today one of the tree's main uses is as a dwarfing rootstock, particularly for pear trees like the ones I'm training as epalliers on my allotment.

The word marmalade is derived from the Portuguese marmelo, or quince preserve. I'm a lover of the Spanish version called membrillo, a heavily scented, sliceable conserve that's utterly delicious with slices of salty Manchego cheese. Just writing that has taken me back to the project in Mallorca I work on, where we'd be sitting under the white poplars taking our daily lunch of chorizo, cheeses and fresh bread. If you can remember those boxes of Meltis New Berry Fruits which used to be given as presents at Christmas, you'll have some idea of membrillo's texture, but sadly not its taste.

The next time I visit Lytes Cary Manor in the autumn, I'll see if I can scrounge some of the fruit to make The Cottage Smallholder's version of membrillo. I particularly like the look of this recipe because it uses less sugar, yet recreates my remembered preserve's texture and deep, rich colour. Perhaps R. Pete Free will let me have some fruit if I donate my surplus jars of preserve for the Manor's shop?

For more views on the letter Q, do have a look at the ABC Wednesday anthology blog.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


This year's Remembrance commemorative stamps

The space on today's post isn't a mistake or formatting error. It's the space I've left for reflection this morning at 11 am. Ninety years to the date and time since the end of WWI. I'll be thinking how lucky I am to live in more peaceful times.

I've also been reading this amazing blog during the past year - it tells the tale of one ordinary English soldier using photos, letters and postcards to/from his family plus materials found in his regiment's archive about that first global conflict. I'm glad I've only had to try and imagine how horrific it was rather than having to live through those kind of times.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Grand Designs

When I was off sick from work a few years ago, I got addicted to the programme Homes Under the Hammer - daytime TV's like that when you're ill, I always knew I was well enough to go back to work when it ceased to be interesting. It wasn't the auction room tension or the 'yes you too can become a property developer and get rich quick' message which attracted me to the programme, in fact I always cheered when the property was actually bought to become someone's home. I preferred looking at the more unusual and interesting (sometimes unsellable) properties that tend to go down the auction route rather than via the more familiar estate agent sales.

I love auctions - some of my unusual planters and indeed plants and trees in my garden have been bought this way. You can find bargains too, as long as you do your research first and don't get carried away by the thrill of bidding. I've seen many examples of the latter both at the auctions I've attended locally and on the programme.

I peruse our local paper each week to see what's coming up in the next auction round. That way I spotted my dream garden a while ago, even if it was totally impractical seeing it was thirty miles away and had no living accommodation attached. Like a lot of people, I secretly hanker after a stone-built cottage, but of course being on the edge of the Cotswolds here, that means they're prime property and cost a small fortune. An addiction to Grand Designs hasn't helped either and I'm also a sucker for anything involving enormous chunks of solid English oak.

So the only way to fulfill my dream is via the auction route and to buy a 'project' - for that read requiring a lot of work. Naturally it's also got to have a decent slice of land to go with it, so I can design and build my dream garden cum veggie plot cum orchard. I think I've found just the thing this week - an isolated cottage not far from here, complete with garage, stables and just over 2 acres of land. Now how do I persuade NAH it's his dream too?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Book Giveaway and Scarf Update

Logo courtesy of: WaterAid

It's Sunday morning, so it's time to see who's the winner from last week's book giveaway - Gardeners' World Top Tips - A Treasury of Garden Wisdom. Sadly there were no new names to add to the hat apart from the person from Portland, Maine who became my 25,000th visitor here last Tuesday evening. You were most welcome!

And the winner is... RB. Congratulations RB, I'll be in touch to arrange sending your new book to you. By the way those of you who gave me your seed selections last month as Open Garden donors, I'll be sending them to you shortly. Getting the seed information and sowing instructions together has taken me longer than I was expecting, so my apologies.

If you haven't made a donation already to my Open Garden, remember it's still here for you to take a stroll around. I also have some seeds left over to send out as a thank you for your donation.

Scarf Update: Kathryn is sending no less than 70 scarves to Pakistan, including my small contribution :D Her lovely update on what's happening can be found here. You'll see the scarves have quite a dramatic journey to make before they reach the girls and boys of Askole village. Helen's summed up my feelings about mine and Kathryn's projects very well in her post here today.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

A Gift From a Stranger

Checking my site statistics late last night, I came across this delightful blog I'd never seen in there before. Nothing surprising in that you may be thinking, but Glanbrydan had linked to me because I've kindly been given the Kreativ Blogger award. That's quite a creative bit of lurking, I'm sure you'll agree :)

The rules with this award are; nominate six blogs that you believe deserve this award and also list six things that you like. I'll come to the nominations a little later on.

In trying to shortlist the myriad things I like, I decided to think about our five senses, provide one like for each and then end with my catch-all 'sixth sense' - something that fills all of my senses. Here's what I came up with - I can't guarantee I'd come up with the same first five another day, but the sixth one's a constant.
  1. Hear - the birds in and around my garden. I'm particularly enjoying the hooting of tawny owls most evenings at the moment when I'm sitting here tending to my blog. We also seem to be the new territory for a green woodpecker.
  2. See - the sea. I may be living inland, but I have an urge from time to time to get my seaside fix. The wilder and stormier the better.
  3. Smell - freshly baked bread. I've rediscovered my bread making skills this year and I'm loving the results.
  4. Taste - chocolate. Especially Whole Nut, or chocolate covered brazils. And preferably plain if it doesn't have nuts in. Of course plain chocolate with nuts is double plus good.
  5. Touch - cat fur. So snuggly and warm. And very special when I'm not feeling very well. Skimble and Jess know when this is so and are the best of nurses.
  6. My sixth sense is my companion for life - NAH. He's the only person who makes me laugh so much, infuriates, surprises, delights. The whole shooting match - even after 25 years of being together. Yes, I can even think of the negative emotions in a positive way, because they're only negative because we care so much. I believe indifference to be the killer in a relationship. Our life together's been quite a roller coaster ride, but I know we don't want to get off. Sorry if I'm sounding very sickly and mawkish, but that's the way it is.
Now to the nominations. This is very tricky because I was tempted to break the rules and give it to everyone I read and comment on regularly, but that would be dozens. So I've decided to break the rules anyway and award it to just two. I've done that because they're doing things with blogging I've not seen anywhere else yet, so that's truly creative in my view. Do step forward and take a bow please:
  • Artist's Garden - for her comics. This week's was the best yet.
  • Arabella Sock for her Scents and Sustainability series. You'll never watch Gardeners' World in the same way ever again. Arabella's in Oz at the moment, so this will be a nice welcome home present for her in a month's time
So Karen and Arabella, it's up to you if you want to play and whether or not you stick to the rules. Remember the first rule of blogging is there are no rules! Thanks Glanbrydan - I'm looking forward to getting to know your blog better.

Have you ever received a gift from a stranger? If so, what was it?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Sweets for my Sweet

NAH came home from evening class on Tuesday with this lovely jar of liquid gold. He'd done a good turn to one of his fellow students, who just happens to keep bees and this was his reward. We have a dilemma - scoff it all up now, or wait until after Christmas when supplies in the shops are projected to run out. What would you do in our shoes?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

ABC Wednesday - P is for...

... Profile Picture

From time to time I get asked, 'What's your profile picture?' or, 'Where is it?'. Until now my answer's been lost amongst the comments, but I thought today's ABC Wednesday's P was a perfect time to put up a more prominent post about it.

Like many cities in the UK over the past 15 years or so, the centre of Bristol has undergone a complete transformation. When we moved down here in 1984, the historic docks area was mainly derelict and run-down, with the odd attraction and bright spot, such as Brunel's SS Great Britain. Today the docks are almost totally transformed (with a couple of sites still awaiting their makeover) - the cosy dockland pubs are still there, but trendy bars and restaurants have joined them. Expensive apartments line the waterways which in turn, are alive with ferryboats and a host of other watery attractions and craft. There's the headquarters of one of our major banks (Bristol is a major financial centre), a vibrant media centre and several museums.

Bristol has had a hands-on science centre for a long time. Initially called The Exploratory, it was originally sited next to Temple Meads railway station (the latter until recently was the inward destination of my daily commute). It was a great place to get children interested in science, or as a place to take them on a rainy day, or even both. But the site was relatively small, so in the 1990s it moved to a new, much larger modern building in the revamped docklands and re branded as @ Bristol. As part of that move, the open space outside was turned into a place for public art based on the twin themes of reflection and exploration. On hot days, the Aquarena water sculpture becomes impromptu paddling pools and a vast play area. Dominating this part of the site is the giant reflective globe of my picture.

You may remember I had a picture of me on here in my blog's early days. It was also taken in the same area on the same day. But after some discussion with NAH concerning the potential perils of the internet, I decided to take it down. Besides, I didn't want to scare you away. However, if you look very carefully in the centre of the picture, you'll see I'm still on here, albeit as the tiniest of reflections. On the Allotments 4 All forum I've added the subtitle Get me out of here! to this picture ;)

Some time ago, Mr. McGregor's Daughter likened Bristol's 'globe' to Chicago's 'The Bean'. I wonder how many other similar structures there are scattered across the world?

For more perfect P's, do have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog. As it's Bonfire Night here in the UK today, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a few pyrotechnics on there!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Re Cycling

I've got my Sherlock Holmes cap on this morning following a report in our local paper last week. Lacock Abbey's Head Gardener had her trusty ancient bicycle stolen at the Apple Day event on 19th October. Alibis have been checked over at R. Pete Free's place and I'm happy to report an innocent party in this instance. My attention's now turning to recent cycling injuries seen around Chippenham and its environs - the stolen bicycle has neither gears nor brakes.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Dahlia Duvet

Monica from Garden Faerie's Musings asked me last week if I lifted my Dahlias for the winter, so I thought I'd show you today what I've been up to over the weekend. The usual garden advice for the UK is to lift them, trim off the top foliage and any rotting tubers, and store them in sand or peat (or an alternative, more eco-friendly compost) in a frost-free garage or shed for the winter.

Being a gardener of the lazier sort and fortunate enough to live in the south west of England (I reckon it's about zone 8, for those of you reading this over the pond), I've decided to leave my Dahlias in the ground to overwinter, just like I've done for the past few years. They're in the terraced part of the garden, so this is a warmer, more sheltered spot for them anyway. In order to ensure their survival until the spring, I give them a thick snuggly duvet like the one shown in the picture. I've cut off the blackened foliage and stems from last week and then covered the plants with a few inches of thick mulch - the used pet bedding from next door's pet guinea pigs and hamster in this case. The wood shavings and straw are ideal and will rot down sufficiently over winter, so the emerging plants in the spring won't suffer a nitrogen deficit. I reckon the rotted pets' poo will also give them a boost.

Of course with this method, eternal vigilance is needed come April/May next year to ensure the emerging foliage is not attacked by pesky slugs and snails. I reckon it's worth it though, otherwise I'd have to tidy up my shed so I can fit them in somewhere for the winter.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A Blogday and a Giveaway

It's my blog's first birthday today! Hurrah - let's break out the balloons, wobbly jelly, orange squash, squishy cake and have ourselves a celebration! Many thanks to those of you who've visited and commented this past year - almost 25,000. A number of you I count amongst my friends now, which is marvellous. And to think I almost didn't make it past the first week, never mind the first year.

I've already given my blog some presents - a tweaked new layout, a new header and a few shiny badges to wear. I'd love your feedback on the new layout - I've tested it out in a few browsers (Internet Explorer, AOL and Firefox), but don't have access to them all. If you have any problems or even plaudits, do let me know. You'll see that one of the badges to the left is for something called NaBloPoMo. I came across this via Flighty and I've signed up to their challenge to write a post a day for the whole of November. I know some of you are thinking that's not much of a stretch for me, so I'm additionally having a go at Your Messages - a 30 or 300 word response to a daily theme posed here. The Garden Monkey sent me the link last night. It's extremely good timing as I've just started on a creative writing course where I'm well outside my comfort zone - that's putting it mildly. Hopefully these daily challenges will help me overcome my panic.

I also have a pressie for someone. Victoria's sent me her review copy of the pictured book and she suggested I could use it as prize for my Open Garden fundraiser. You may know I've extended its opening until February with a revised goal of raising £1,300, so a new prize is most welcome. I'm not setting a quiz or having a random draw this time. Instead you have up to three chances to win:
  • If you've visited my open garden, made a donation, but not won a prize yet - your name's in the hat already
  • If you visit my open garden between now and before 8am GMT next Sunday morning (9th November) and make a donation (new or additional) - your name will also go into the hat
  • If you're my 25,000th visitor on here, I'll add your name too. It should happen within the next few days, so keep watching!

If you've visited my garden already, you may not have seen the additional content I've been putting on there over the past couple of months. I've added some illustrated plant lists for each of the flower beds, plus I've archived all my monthly slideshow contributions to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. So there should be plenty for new or returning visitors alike.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

GBMD - Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost - New Hampshire 1923.

The poem's about spring's fleeting moments, and that's what I'm dreaming of today. The autumn gold in my garden will also fade away soon enough. Except for my pictured Yew tree of course.

Have you noticed how the trees seem to glow at dusk at the moment? Threadspider and I were discussing it the other day - it's just like all the year's captured sunlight is being used to light up our autumn evenings. Utterly magnificent.

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day - poetry on the 1st of the month, hosted by Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home & Garden Chicago.
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