Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

ABC Wednesday - X is for...


... Ex High Street names

On January 2nd this national institution will close its doors in Chippenham after 70 years of trading in the town. I joined the vultures crowds there yesterday to have a look round for the last time. The front of the shop still looks pretty full, but a quick walk to the back reveals lots of empty shelves. Even these fixtures and fittings are up for sale: 4 drawer filing cabinets are £25 and the store's safe (how ironic) is £150 - all arranged on one display stand (£20) as black and white photographs with the legend See the store manager for further details accompanying them. I bought a small book for gardening notes - the kind of thing I've always bought from there. The assistant at the till served me politely and with a smile, though it didn't reach her eyes.

A quick walk down the High Street revealed several more national names with the same demise. The estate agent arm of the Halifax bank closed in September and Roseby's (curtains) and The Officers Club (menswear) are in the process of doing so. Still the town centre continues to bustle, but will it do so in the New Year once the January sales are finished? 2009's destined to be a different place as far as Chippenham's concerned that's for sure.

As well as being my (contrived X!) offering for ABC Wednesday, this piece forms one of my own intermittent Changing Chippenham series. The previous post can be found here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

End of Year Surprises and Treats


Gardeners' World hits the magazine stands today, so a big welcome to those of you who've hopped over here from page 22 to have a look at what Veg Plotting's all about. It was a lovely surprise to be mentioned amongst the great and the good of the garden blogging world :) My Open Garden blog will give you a general introduction to my 'normal garden and allotment' - click on the picture in the sidebar if you'd like to go there. Or do have a look at some of the key articles listed in my New Reader section on the right to help get you orientated here. In particular Where am I Veg Plotting? is a general introduction to Chippenham and Why do I Garden? is a quick summary of what motivates me. The 2008 review shows you some of my gardening highs and lows with links to the posts I wrote about them at the time. One note of caution - 2008's allotment plan turned out to be a complete work of fiction as usual: I'll be posting 2009's very soon ;) Otherwise, do dive in right here for all those hints and surprises you've been promised!

January's Gardens Illustrated magazine has Dan Pearson as guest editor. He's come up with the gardening equivalent of an enormous box of chocolates to devour in front of a crackling fire. There's a sneak overview of his own garden, due out in book form next year, plus a selection of his must-have plants and nurseries to supply them. We also get an insight into some of Pearson's key influences - his landscape sized project in Japan is fascinating, especially the subtle changes made to shape and form to entice visitors to explore. The work of landscape architect Teresa Moller is also featured, which I suspect (and hope) will generate some debate on the value of showing pure hardscaping amongst natural landforms in a gardening magazine. There's also an article on prairie planting, turned on its head by highlighting a conservation scheme in Illinois instead of the usual 'get the look' feature. It's the first time Gardens Illustrated has had a guest editor and I for one, am looking forward to the next after this edition's treat.

This post was going to be my final end of year review today, but I see that The Garden Monkey has pretty well summed up my own take on blogging already. The only thing I'd like to add is a big thank you to everyone who's visited this year, especially to those of you who've left a comment or decided to Follow this blog. Here's hoping for a great 2009 for all of us, especially in the garden.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

ABC Wednesday - W is For...


... Wishing you a Wonderful Christmas

Peace to you all is my wish for this holiday time. We're off visiting family up north, but I'll be back in time for the next ABC Wednesday, if not before. In the meantime, just like our magazines and papers, I thought I'd leave you with some holiday puzzles and conundrums just in case you get bored.

Firstly some conundrums:

  • Why are What's Today's Date and How Long is a Week amongst Veg Plotting's most popular Search hits? And how come the searchers expected to find out the answer from my blog? ;)
  • A great puzzle for our times - Why does all the washing end up inside the duvet cover when you come to take it out of the machine?
I thought you'd like a few puzzles too:
  • Plants Are The Strangest People had a crossword on his blog a while ago. You might like to have a go, or use the link to compile your own. Here's the solution for later
  • FreeRice has lots of educational puzzles and you earn rice for humanitarian aid simply by taking part. I've set it to the vocabulary one, but you can select a maths, geography, art or chemistry subject if you prefer

Perhaps this quiz is more up your street? In my case there's shurely shome mishtake? (Ed.).

You Are a Seasonal Latte
You Are a Seasonal Latte


Your holiday personality is energetic.

The holidays give you a bit of a natural buzz, and you tend to get a lot done.

You are an expert on the holidays, and people often rely on you for support.

You know the best places to shop - and the best seasonal lattes to drink.


Or have a play with Dreamlines or Wordle. For Dreamlines enter your name, your Blog's title or whatever you fancy and see what pictures this site conjures up for you. Sometimes abstract, sometimes a familiar shape or impressionistic picture from your blog, it's totally fascinating. For Wordle see what your word clouds your blog's content gives you - similar to but much prettier and flexible than tag clouds!

It's also the season of goodwill so how about:

  • Use your click button to raise money for breast cancer screening. Once you've taken the link and used your click button, you'll see there are plenty more options to raise money for good causes over there just by exercising your mouse finger a little bit more.
  • Visiting Zoe's Christmas Greetings blog. A donation here helps a major cancer charity.
  • OR visit my Open Garden blog. As well as a return to a summery garden plus a view of some of the changes to my garden during the seasons, I'm still accepting donations for WaterAid. Take a trip to my blog to find out more. If you've been before, I've got some fresh content in there for you too.
Happy Holidays everyone and see you soon :D

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Review of the Year - Garden & Allotment


Allotment panorama - August 2008

It's time to review what was hot and not at VP Gardens in 2008. Last year I looked at the garden and allotment separately: I'm amalgamating them this time around.

What was hot
Not our weather that's for sure! However, there was still lots to celebrate:
  • Regular cogitations with Threadspider - gardening's fun, but even more fun with a friend
  • NAH actually helping with the digging - well what do you expect when there's a power tool involved?
  • Some of the richest autumnal colours I can remember, which I showed you here and here
  • Solving my Clematis mystery and discovering I have not one, but two sports in my garden
  • The first major apple harvest from my plot - I've just had a light cropping before, but now the cordons and arch-trained trees are close to full production
  • Discovering I have plants with escapologist tendencies
  • Entering produce shows for the first time and finding the judges like my raspberries as much as my fellow plot holders do
  • My Open Garden raised over £1,000 for WaterAid. There's still time for a visit and donation if you haven't already done so

Garden panorama - August 2008

What was not

  • The great British weather! But some of its effects were quite magical
  • Getting a warning letter about my plot. Possible eviction was soon averted, thank goodness
  • Weeds, slugs and snails - these were rampant owing to the weather. However, I did find a use for one to help with the other
  • The curse of Gardeners' Question Time finally caught up with our conifer trees
  • Tomato blight - again. However, I did notice something different about this year's infestation
  • My favourite Acer tree went from this to this - I'm still awaiting compensation and for the men to complete the job they were actually employed to do
  • Badgers at the allotment - I've elected not to grow sweetcorn next year as they destroyed the entire crop

What were the highs and lows of your gardening year?

Monday, 22 December 2008

Plot Views - Year's End



These are the last two images for this year's Plot Views project, where I've posted pictures of my garden and plot every couple of weeks. I suspect these images are of more interest/value to me as I now have a full year's record available for perusal. The allotment in particular didn't really seem to change much, but then would I expect it to? As far as the garden is concerned, it's made me realise the bottom of it is too much of a shrubbery and so I'm planning significant changes to that border next year. I also did quite a bit of step sitting in the autumn (always a dangerous move as it's where I usually dream up the next gardening project) and I'm pondering just how much of the lawn we actually need. I know the type of camera I use distorts the size of our lawn, but I'm wondering whether an extra border at the bottom of the wall would be a good plan. NAH as usual will disagree...

Would you believe I started this and the Magnetic Poetry strands because I was afraid I'd run out of things to say this year? I thought having a couple of projects on the go would ensure at least 3 posts would happen each month! I don't know myself very well then do I? ;)

I won't be repeating the Plot Views project next year, but I will show you any changes I make chez VP Gardens.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas Cheer


Where would Christmas be without at least one comedy vegetable moment? And with the sad demise of That's Life! (a 1970s to 1990s Sunday night TV show where they were a key feature) it falls upon me to bring it to you this year, freshly picked from the allotment and in its prime ;)

And if that wasn't enough, today's the winter solstice so the days get lighter from now on - huzzah!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Magnetic Poetry - December

December's Magnetic Poetry, 2004

After last month's angst, December saw me return to something like my usual optimistic self, but with the least words left on the Magnetic Poetry calendar to express it in some way never mind in a poetic form. However, as some of you know already, all the words in the world probably wouldn't have improved matters that much. I'd still be a bad poet ;)

So ends my journey round my magnetic poems from 2004, which are on public view in our downstairs loo. It also means less bad poetry will be found in this blog from now on. Perhaps that's a welcome gift for a certain hatted one?

And if you really do want to see the rest of these poems, plus a few others slotted in for good measure, then my Bad Poetry label presents you with the entire anthology. Alternatively if you'd like something in much better taste, then the poems I've highlighted in contribution to Garden Bloggers' Muse Day can be found here.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Random Thoughts From Abroad


I was tagged ages ago by Gardening 4 Life (sorry it's taken so long to respond!) for the 6 random things meme. I've played before (here and here if you're interested, with a little variation on the theme), but decided to bring a little order to my usual chaotic ramblings and bring you six firsts this time around. They're the first ones I thought of, thus the randomness of this meme is preserved ;)
  1. First memory - being pushed in my pram by my mum. I was wearing a bright yellow romper suit at the time.
  2. First book - Grimms' Fairy Tales. These are the darker, more scary tales on the whole and I snuggled onto my mum's lap whilst she read them to me.
  3. First kiss (not family) - a boy I met at the local swimming baths when I was 10. Most of us had free swim passes as kids, so most of the holidays were spent down at the local pool. I probably looked like a prune at the time as I'd have been in the water for about 3 hours.
  4. First gardening memory - cutting down an enormous amount of grass to make a hay bed to sunbathe on in the back garden as a teenager. Gardening wasn't dad's strongest point back then, though all that changed after I left home.
  5. First home grown vegetable - potatoes as I was using them for their 'claybreaker' properties in the garden of our newly built house.
  6. First home grown fruit - strawberries, in the same plot as the potatoes.
At this point I should nominate 6 people to pass this meme onto. However, I reckon most people will be too busy thinking about Christmas to want to play. If you do want to play tag, just link back to me, say what your 6 random facts are and nominate 6 others to play. That's if you want to go by the rules of course, feel free to bend them just as I have done.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Review of the Year - Signs




If you'd like to see a larger image or skip the slideshow, do click on the View All Images button.

I've made a slideshow for your enjoyment today. Relax with a cuppa and see some of the things I've found whilst out and about this year. Signs of the times x 30!

If you like what you see here, I've made a couple of miscellany slideshows of photos not published on Veg Plotting this year. You'll find them on my occasional blog, Box of Delight and they're called Wiltshire Within and Wiltshire Without respectively.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

ABC Wednesday - V is For...

... Voices

Last night saw our choir's latest concert and we were in our Wiltshire Wailers guise again. That's when choirs from Bradford on Avon, Corsham (mine) and Hullavington get together to form a choir of over a hundred voices. We sang a very similar but expanded programme to last year and also had the same singing group as support.

The Wiltshire Music Centre is a magnificent venue, having great acoustics and thus makes our job a little easier to perform. We had a little bit of fun with While Shepherds Watched, as we sang it to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Bah Tat*, a traditional song from Yorkshire. Those of you who listen to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue** will be most familiar with the concept of One Song to the Tune of Another (I particularly recommend the Bank Analogy explanation in this link for our current economic times)!

Our choirmaster listened to the feedback from last year and included Silent Night, so the audience could join in. But being Chris he had to include a twist, so we sang the first verse in German. However, this is my preferred version as I always had to sing it that way at our annual carol concert at school.

Corsham choir's solo performance was California Dreamin' (with choreography - a first for us) and we all finished off with a simple song Let There Be Peace, to sing ourselves off the stage and surround the audience with voices. The audience joined in the latter song as Chris quickly taught them a separate part to the ones we've been singing in rehearsal, thus swelling the choir to over 400 voices. I'm sure you'll agree that was a lovely sentiment to end on and I hope we raised a substantial sum for WaterAid too.

Let there be peace all over the world
Let there be peace in every land
Let there be peace in every heart

* = On Ilkley Moor without a hat
** = which according to the show's email list will be coming back next year

Verrily I say unto you do Visit the ABC Wednesday blog for much more on the letter V!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

My Signature Plant Is...


My picture may look like a clue, but I've been having a bit of a think lately about what my signature plant actually is. It's all Tina's fault really, as she posted about hers a while ago and finally plumped for Acers. Hmm, that could be a strong contender for me too, after all one has followed me over several house moves in 24 years. However, builders recently damaged my tree, so it's not the magnificent specimen it was. Let's see, Patient Gardener decided it's annual Rudbeckia for her - sadly gone until next year. Well, I've yet to grow them (though I'm having a go at growing the perennial kind from seed next year), so they'll have to remain Helen's province for now. Mr McGregor's Daughter's undecided as she has so many candidates to choose from. Whilst I do grow many of the plants on her list, none of them chime that well with me, so I'll muse a bit more and see if you agree with my final choice.

As I have both a garden and allotment, I'm going to pick a signature plant for each. Aha, I hear you cry, the garden one's easy, surely it's Heuchera? After all, Emma mentioned you in her article on them in The Sunday Independent didn't she? Ah yes, but consider my Clematis mystery, kindly solved for me back in September by the expert Raymond Evison. He says I have not one, but two sports in my garden. As Karen said at the time I could name them for myself. Isn't that the ultimate signature plant? However, I haven't named them yet so perhaps that disqualifies Clematis - for now at least. And maybe there's further evidence in Heuchera's favour. Which plant did Patient Gardener give me when we met at Malvern? Heuchera. Which plant did a friend who reads this blog give me last week? Yes, it's the pictured Heuchera 'Blackbird', from the lovely Hestercombe Gardens to boot. That'll be 3-1 to Heuchera then.

So let's consider my allotment - should it be apples or 'Autumn Bliss' raspberries? The apples aren't really allowed on my allotment as the rules don't allow trees. Perhaps that disqualifies them? But they're being trained over arches and as cordons and do set my plot apart from the rest. We've just finished this year's crop and NAH said last week that the shop bought russets aren't a patch on mine. A spontaneous compliment must put them back into the reckoning. However, my raspberries are award winning and the only crop regularly asked about by my fellow allotmenteers. I even have a waiting list for next February's thinnings. So on balance, I think my 'Autumn Bliss' win by a short head.

Mind you my actual signature is changing - it got challenged recently when a PIN machine wasn't working and I had to sign for my credit card purchase the old fashioned way. So perhaps they're all my signature plants? What do you think - do you agree with my final choices?

Monday, 15 December 2008

GBBD - Surprised, Moi?

I'm most surprised this month as I was expecting to find very little in bloom today. I can in fact present you with almost exactly the same slideshow as last time, so I'm keeping it in my sidebar with a slightly amended title. I've also added this picture of Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) found poking through my Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'. It's a true winter plant, blooming profusely on wiry thin stems. Further good winter flowerers are waiting in the wings (next month's GBBD subjects perhaps?) - Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price', Viburnum davidii, Skimmia japonica and Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' have all stayed steadfastly in bud owing to the several days of hoar frost we've had lately. Looking at this picture of a frozen primrose flower below, I'm sure you'll understand why. Do click on either picture to enlarge if needed.


Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Review of the Year - Graffiti Art








Click on View All Images if you don't want the puzzle style effect and/or you would like to view a larger image.

It's that time of the year when our media starts their picks of the year and Veg Plotting isn't going to be the exception. Today's post is the start of several compilations to keep you entertained over the darkest days of winter. I thought it was also a good opportunity to have a play with another Slide option as it fits the subject matter so well. Besides, it covers up the fact there's only 10 pictures in the slideshow!

2008 was the first time graffiti appeared in Chippenham in its more 'artistic' guise, though of course whether it's art is still being hotly debated. Suffice to say Banksy, its most famous proponent, has seen some very lucrative sales of his work this year, plus the recent publication of a 'coffee table' style book. Sadly the stencil-style works appearing around Chippenham and Trowbridge aren't Banksy, though I do hope to show you some real examples from Bristol in the New Year.

I doubt anyone dislikes the examples I found in Bristol in September. These very colourful pictures decorate the hoardings outside the refurbishment of the dockside Industrial Museum. It was a project a group of graffiti artists held with local schoolchildren and portrays their views of what Bristol is all about. If you look carefully at the 3 pictures (new to Veg Plotting) in the slideshow you'll see a small metal grille in each of them. These provide a tiny window onto the building work going on behind.

Artistic developments have not been so dramatic in Chippenham since my previous posts on the subject, but several signature style examples have started to appear in the town. Apart from these, I'm not documenting the rest of the town's graffiti as it would take forever and isn't that interesting. Our newspaper this week suggests there will be a clampdown on this type of graffiti in the coming months, particularly where it is offensive (e.g. at St Andrew's Church).

I've been sent a timely article this week about Graffiti in the Garden, particularly the work done by a group of Brazilian artists at Kelburn Castle. Whilst I like the work used at Bristol docks to cover a temporary eyesore, I'm unsure about an entire building, particularly an historic one. Have a look here and see what you think. You'll also see there's a lively debate going on in the comments!

Previously on Veg Plotting:

Was it Banksy, Is it Art?
Chippenham's Banksy - Update
Graffiti Spread

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Round Robins - Good or Bad?

It's the time of year when not only Christmas cards flop onto our doormat, a lot of them contain this year's crop of Round Robin letters as well. These have had a bit of a bad press of late, particularly as The Guardian political sketch writer Simon Hoggart has developed a whole income stream for himself by writing several books containing the worst examples readers have sent to him.

Now, I don't mind Round Robins at all. I look forward to receiving long newsy letters with my cards, especially as a number of my friends live so far away. They always bring a smile to my face when I get them. Having handwritten my letters for a number of years, I also understand how difficult it is to continue in this vein. I succumbed to the charms of word processing when I reached an annual tally of 15 (each one took about 3 hours to complete), now it's significantly more than that. I haven't had any bad examples like Simon's, though my brother-in-law does get one that's full of name dropping and consequently is a bit of a bore. The ones I receive are chatty, fun and a delight to receive. I hope mine are thought of in the same way - I did omit them one year and received anxious enquiries from several people as a result, so I know at least some of my friends and family do enjoy my annual missive.

Looking back at the genre, I see we've gone from handwritten -> photocopied -> word processed -> newsletter with pictures over the past few years. I'm still at the word processed stage, having not made the leap to include pictures. Going from single sided to double sided printing is a major advance as far as I'm concerned! Having had a blog for a while, I wonder if blogging will kill the Round Robin eventually because isn't it a perpetual version with all sorts of (optional) bells and whistles tacked on? Personally I believe there's a place for both. I don't think anyone else in my circle has a blog, so currently it would be difficult for us to keep in touch that way. And I don't think a private blog for my friends and family would work very well either. I did advertise my blog in last year's newsletter, but haven't had any positive response yet - unless you're all lurking here of course! If you are, do stop by with a Comment sometime. However, I do like adding individual (handwritten) messages at the end of my letters and continuing our conversation in a more personal (and more private) fashion. Some of that would be lost if we kept in touch via blogging.

Of course a more regular contact would be lovely, but I do understand why it doesn't happen. So, I'm looking forward to the Round Robin season once more and having a good catch up with everyone's news as well as writing my own this weekend. What do you think? Do you send a Round Robin or do you have another favourite way of keeping in touch with friends and family?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Sign of the Times

The current news and talk is stuffed with how badly things are going at the moment, but it's often the tiny details of our lives which really bring home how well we're doing or not. Two weeks ago I was struck by the number of construction cranes* I could see in the yard of the hire firm by the M1 motorway in Sheffield. Surely a sign that times are hard in the building industry - in the north at least.

This week a foray into Chippenham's High Street revealed a number of similar details: the number of newly unoccupied shops (at least 8); a rush to snap up the cheap offers available at our stricken Woolworths; the lack of fresh Christmas trees on the outside of the shops - a simple, but lovely decoration in keeping with our small town that's become rather a tradition. However, for me the most telling detail is the closure of one of our charity shops.

The news tells us these are booming as shoppers turn from buying new items to make their hard-earned cash go further. But I suspect charities are getting less donations of quality used goods too as people make do and mend with what they already have, or put them for sale on eBay to try and earn some extra money. And in a stretch of shops where 3 out of 4 of them are charity outlets (plus Oxfam is just across the road), I suppose it's inevitable that at least one of them is no more in the current economic climate.

This is my latest Changing Chippenham post - the last one can be found here.

* = construction added to the text after several commenters said they thought I meant the bird. Sorry for the confusion folks!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Hoar Frost - You Ask We Answer

Crystallised Eryngium - 7th December 2008, in my garden

In my Comments on Monday Gail asked:

Is this the famous English hoarfrost we have all read about! PS Our high school song spoke of the hoary walls and we all laughed in teenage ignorance!

I was just going to give a quick answer in my comments, but what better topic is there for You Ask We Answer than the great British weather? So the YAWA staff here sprang into action immediately to find out.

The word hoar comes from the Middle English hor, which in turn comes from the Old English har. It's related to Old High German, which makes me wonder if there's a connection to the German word haar (hair), which we're singing about in Silent Night at choir at the moment. Hoar itself has two meanings: the first is ancient, such as a hoary beard, which means one whitened with age, just like NAH's! The second is white, thus giving us the descriptive white frost, sometimes used instead of hoar.

The BBC Weather Pages says hoar frost forms when the air cools so that water condenses out of the air onto garden surfaces such as grass, plants, or as my photos showed on Monday, sheds and fences. This is quite different to frozen dew which looks like frozen water droplets, whereas hoar frost has a delicate, ice crystal structure. According to WeatherOnline, the objects the water condenses onto must also be below freezing and the resultant hoar frost looks like needles, feathers and spines. It also suggests that the air must be supersaturated with water i.e. above 100% humidity for this effect to take place. Hoar frost shouldn't be confused with rime, which forms from freezing fog, or glaze which forms as a continuous sheet of ice. Unlike hoar frost, both aren't formed from individual frozen droplets.

The BBC website gives two further definitions: Air frost is when the air temperature reaches zero degrees centigrade (32 degrees Fahrenheit), though the ground can sometimes stay above freezing. This often happens in early autumn, as the soil still retains some of its summer heat. Ground frost is when the ground's surface temperature reaches zero. This can happen even though the air temperature may remain above, at say 3 or 4 degrees centigrade.

On very special days hoar frost gives us that 'winter wonderland' effect, which when combined with sunshine can be magical - as shown in this magnificent photograph. There's also an apple called Hoary Morning, originating from Somerset in 1819. Its skin has a deep bloom like hoar frost, hence the name.

So Gail, I suppose the short answer to your question is yes, my photos did show hoar frost, but I hope you've enjoyed my longer explanation and a further picture from Sunday. Now, how did your hoary high school song go? ;)

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

ABC Wednesday - U is For...

Gate detail - Pound Arts Centre, Corsham

... Undecided

The past few Wednesday mornings, I've been attending a Creative Writing course at our local Arts Centre. It's not been the most pleasant of experiences for me and on the whole the quality of my work there hasn't even been up to the standard of this blog. I wasn't sure if the course was the right one before I started, but it did say it covered non-fiction and as I haven't the first idea about writing (and I'm always keen to learn and improve), I decided to take the plunge.

Today's the last session and I've been trying to decide whether to return next term. Last week the tutor announced a radical revamp of the proposed course based on the needs of her students. A pity it didn't happen earlier. Whilst it sounds much better, I'm not sure the delivery will be executed. That'll be a no then. Creative writing wise, I got much more out of November's Your Messages project and the best piece I've written for the course itself was about having writer's block for the set homework! I've also been doing some snooping around the internet: I do envy Garden Wise Guy's attendance at the USA's Garden Writers Association symposium last September as it looked just the kind of thing I'm looking for. The closest I've found so far in the UK is the Arvon Foundation's Nature Writing course but the dates for next year aren't available yet. It's a bit pricey too, so I need to be sure I'd get a lot out of it.


So what to do next? I've discovered this year that I want to write and to write well, but I've got so much to learn. What you've seen so far is lots of quantity from a first-time writer who still hasn't a clue what it's all about and writes by instinct. I'm drawn to web content and garden writing, so perhaps I need to add some anthologies to my Christmas wish list so I can learn from the great and the good. A subscription to Hortus, some Ursula Buchan et al., and a re-read of all my Christopher Lloyd (the first garden writer I really started taking note of) are on the cards for the new year. But I'm worried my writing's not original or interesting enough for a wider audience, so today I'm all a dither and undecided about whether to continue at all. Perhaps I'll feel better once the course is over...


For further articles on the theme of U, do visit the ABC Wednesday Blog.


Update: Thanks very much for all your comments, I wasn't fishing for compliments, though of course they're much appreciated. This was just a way of ordering my thoughts from the past few weeks. That's the great thing about taking part in ABC Wednesday and grappling with the more 'difficult' letters, it allows you to try out new things and directions. Thanks too for all your suggestions, I'll be keeping them in mind. The other thing I've worked out at this morning's class is that I'm afraid of losing my 'voice' and will cease to be me if I try to 'learn' about writing. Your tips about never stopping from looking, lots of practice and writing from the heart should I hope, help to prevent that from happening.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Garden Wishes

It's the season of 'Lists and Yellow Bootfulness' * which means the practical work here at VP Gardens is grinding to a halt owing to a surfeit of sticky clay and the mad preparation that is Christmas. Not to mention the dreams of the best ever garden and plot next year, which in turn mean there's further lists to compile - of things to do, seeds to buy, possible plants to add to the groaning area next to the cold frames etc etc.

Then I awoke one morning last week with another list to add to the growing pile: the absolutely no holds barred one. Forget the ones containing the attainable and achievable, this list is the mother of them all and has the things I would love to have in my garden if money, time and space were no object:
  1. A swimming pool. I've always dreamed of having one - in fact it was top of the list of things I would have when I grew up. That's before practicalities like 'buy a house to live in' crept in.
  2. An ancient oak tree. One with all those 100's of insect species it can support and lots of birds perched in its branches, which are dripping with lichen because the air's so clean. It's also got one of those garden benches encircling it, so the tree forms your back rest.
  3. A greenhouse. Not just any greenhouse you understand. One of the really large old fashioned kind found in restored Victorian kitchen gardens. The garden is walled of course and there's also a row of matching cold frames outside the greenhouse for good measure.
  4. Some sculpture. I loved the work of Neil Wilkin when it was shown at the International Garden Festivals at Westonbirt and I'd like to commission a piece by him. A gate like the one at the Pound Arts Centre would be good too.
  5. A grand driveway complete with either pleached (aka 'hedge on stilts') or topiarised trees to sweep you towards the door. I suppose I'd need something like Lytes Cary Manor as well to do them justice (and house the oak tree too). Then I could have both pleached and topiarised trees, or is that being too greedy?
  6. An orchard - especially if I could have the entire Adam's Apples catalogue of 130 varieties with a few of his pears, peaches and a quince to add a little variety.
  7. At least 2 more acres of land, or perhaps Lucy's suggestion she left in my Comments last week - earth you could pull out of a packet. That way I could have an unlimited amount of land and always just the right amount for all the things I'd like to grow.
  8. An oak adirondack chair - this one's achievable, but I'd also like lots of time so I could admire my garden from it whilst sipping a cold, crisp glass of wine. Although I do find time to relax and enjoy my garden, it's always nice to have some more. And I suppose the presence of that glass of wine means the weather's got to be a whole lot better than our past couple of summers doesn't it?
  9. A hedgehog or two. We've had them in all our other gardens and I've seen them around our estate too, but at VP Gardens not one has appeared in ten years. We have heaps of other wildlife, but hedgie's always been my favourite.
If you could have your ultimate garden, what would be on your list? Do you think if I was very, very, very good, Santa might grant me at least one of my garden wishes?

* = with sincere apologies to Keats.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Frrrrrosty!

Click on picture to enlarge if needed. Clockwise from top left: 1. Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles' 2. Fence topper detail 3. Unknown alpine 4. Fence detail 5. Crocosmia 'Lucifer' 6. Pinus 7. Shed detail 8. Fern 9. Berberis

Thanks to PatientGardener's reminder yesterday, I managed to rush out to bring you today's sample of the glittery, frosty wonderland out in the garden just before it melted away. Of course the few flowers I have in the garden are looking a bit sorry for themselves at the moment. I wonder if they'll recover in time for Garden Bloggers Blooms Day?

NB Happy Mouffetard and Victoria also posted lovely frosted scenes yesterday, as did Gary and Karen last week :)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Oh Deer

Our newspaper had this story last week. Apparently our local agricultural college has saved a herd of deer from a zoo that's due to close, otherwise they would have been put down. The deer will be added to the college's wild animal studies where appropriate. Awwwww.

However, it seems the herd will also be used to produce venison. How ironic - it looks like the deer have jumped from the fire into the (eventual) frying pan don't you think? BTW if you think I'm against the deer's eventual demise, I'm not. If fate had dealt a slightly different hand nearly 30 years ago, it could have been me rescuing the deer: my first job interview after leaving university was at the Hill Farming Research Organisation (just outside Edinburgh, sadly gone now it seems) to join the deer farming research team.

I didn't get the job as the research funding was scrapped, so it's also ironic to be telling you about it today!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Plot Views - Brrrr it's Frosty!


Shhhh! The soot man's been up at the plot too and I have his address and the offer to go and help myself at any time!

Friday, 5 December 2008

VPGGB # 5 - It's Nicer to Share


Amongst the coffee quaffing and cake crumbs last week, Threadspider and I got down to the serious business of deciding which seeds we need for next year. As members of the Chippenham Garden & Allotment Society we're entitled to a whopping 40% off D.T. Brown seeds and 10% off anything else in their catalogue. We'd had to look sharpish as the deadline for the order was 1st December. There's plenty to choose from what I'd call the 'basics', plus a few more of the more exotic line thrown in for good measure. Though for more unusual seeds it's often better to go to the more specialist catalogues. What better excuse is there for a few weeks of browsing through masses of shiny booklets and dreaming of perfect plots and gardens whilst curled up in front of the fire?

Anyhoo back to more pressing matters, our order. As well as the bargain catalogue in front of us, we've decided to share the seeds between us wherever possible - pretty sensible when we're talking about 2,500 carrot seeds per packet. For some seeds we'd like we've had to order 2 packets which has immediately put us into the bulk discount category too. Can you see how this bargain just keeps on stacking up?

So the upshot is, I've ordered £37-ish of seeds for the knock down price of just over £23, with the prospect of a further coffee and cake session to relish with Threadspider in the spring when we get to sort out and divide the seeds.

Surprisingly we didn't order any sprouts (!), though we're both going to have a go at growing gherkins for the first time next year and I'm going to make a welcome return to Lemon Crystal cucumbers. I've also added a few packets of flower seeds for good measure - perennial Rudbeckia and multi-flowered sunflowers for me and a packet of Statice for you dear Threadspider! We've also plumped for a courgette that's 'good for growing up north' in view of this year's poor summer, so we're confidently predicting a hot and sunny summer for next year folks!

If you're not a member of your local garden society already, it could be worth seeing what's on offer in your area, particularly if you do (or want to) grow lots from seed. The company used will vary though. My membership's thrown in with my allotment fees, though I do believe you can belong without having an allotment, usually at a nominal cost. A lot of societies have talks, trips and social events, so are good value even if you don't use the discounted seed scheme. If you do use this kind of thing already, I'm interested in hearing about how it works for you.

Emmat - I did manage to get the seed order in on time in spite of your efforts to thwart me with your latest Slightly Homemade Christmas Pudding Gardeners' World last week. Chortletastic!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

During the Season of Goodwill...


Some of you are already aware of our own Zoe's (Garden Hopping) story about her battle with breast cancer. If not, I urge you to catch up with her moving Journey here. And there's more - she's already giving back something to the people who are helping her by preparing a beautiful advent miscellany for you to enjoy over at her Christmas Greetings blog . Why not visit now, settle down for a good read and then make a donation? If you do so, you could win a super prize!

There's even more - a couple of friends from where I used to work sent me this the other day:

A favour to ask, it only takes a minute.... Please tell ten friends to tell ten today! The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on 'donating a mammogram' for free (pink window in the middle). This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for advertising.

Simply using our click buttons to prevent others from undergoing the same ordeal just has to make sense:


I thought posting this was better than just telling 10 of my friends, but do pass it on to yours too...

Update: Frankie from Veg Plot added this most important information in my Comments, which deserves to be more prominent. Thanks Frankie.
... and please do contact www.breastcancerhaven.org.uk (where I work) - we offer support, info & complementary therapies to anyone affected by breast cancer. I've been there for 5 years and it really does makes a huge difference. There are Havens in London, Hereford & Leeds plus a support DVD due for release next month. The Breast Care Nurses at each Haven are great and you can book phone appointments and ask them about anything that might be concerning you. This also applies to family and friends who might be worried.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

ABC Wednesday - T is For...

...Tinsel

Having got over my bah humbug!* attitude to the season, I'm now embracing it like a child and getting far too excited about the Christmas decorations. Sometimes I think I'll never grow up - I'm still looking forward to my birthday despite my looming half century next year. Nothing demonstrates my childishness more than my love of bright, shiny tinsel. However, I don't go mad and strew it everywhere. The picture shows my entire collection, used for strategic highlighting - the gold used to go around my PC at work, this year it'll be one of my accessories for our carol concert. I'll be wearing it like a gaudy feather boa along with some gold aspen cone earrings I bought back from our Colorado holiday a few years ago. The silver is a tinsel headdress used for last year's concert, this year it'll replace the ubiquitous paper hat which usually falls over one eye when I'm out to various Christmas dinners. The purple always adorns the Hi-Fi cabinet NAH made before we met. It has tiny purple Christmas trees on it.

One of my fellow allotmenteers used tinsel on his runner bean frames last year as bird scarers. It wasn't a storming success and he's still picking little bits of it out of the soil, though it did look rather jolly at the time. It's not the first time I've seen tinsel used as an outdoor decoration either. Five years ago we went to Oz for Christmas and New Year. Everywhere we went we saw tinsel strewn hedges outside people's properties, each owner trying to outdo the other with the length and size of each frond. Being a sunny, summery country at this time of year, I think it must be their equivalent of our neighbourhood outdoor light competition. Talking of which, have you seen (or heard) the singing Christmas lights for sale this year? :0

* = I saw some brilliant Christmas lights at B&Q on Saturday, spelling out this very phrase. I'm considering buying NAH some for his study, the one room of the house where decorations are banned.

ABC Wednesday is bought to you this week by the letter T and the ABC Wednesday blog. I expect there'll be some T for Trees this week, Christmas or otherwise. I very nearly posted about them instead of tinsel as it's National Tree Week, but you can read all about it here instead. I'll be telling you much more about it another time as I used to take part in it by organising tree planting weekends in Wales when I was at Earthwatch.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Blogsworth - Comment Follow Up

Firstly a big thank you to all of you who've helped to make this my most successful post to date, especially to everyone who stopped by to Comment. There were so many good points raised, I feel the best way to answer and thank you all is to write a follow-up post today rather than just responding to you in there.

I always love it when someone picks up from where I left off and writes a post over at their place. For me that adds to the value of my blog, not in dollars and cents, but I think it adds to the respect, friendship and sense of community we have here. That's invaluable. So thank you Stuart for not only responding over at your place, but providing lots more information on further 'valuations' available within the blogosphere and for sharing your experiences when it came to the crunch of an offer being made for your blog. The fact there are several valuations out there, all coming up with very different answers shows it's hard to measure the worth of blogging in pure monetary terms. And of course, which calculation is the right one?

Another couple of metrics often used to value a blog are its traffic and subscriptions. Some of you already show things like your Feedburner subscriptions and Our Friend Ben came up with the astounding fact that something like 70,000 unique visitors a day (which would include subscriptions) is needed for advertisers to consider supporting a blog. If true, I suspect that's way out of reach for most bloggers, not just our gardening blogging community. Only the really popular topics (e.g. technology, sport, news) could support that kind of traffic perhaps? It would take a great deal of hard work, not only to write the kind of good content to constantly attract that amount of visitor numbers, but to also market it (as I suspect the creator of the metric I highlighted has done to accrue that kind of value, Tina). And imagine how much time it would take to respond to the comments - assuming you still were doing that! As Zoe said, would it change from a fun hobby into a chore?

Nancy and Frances made the observation that their blog in Blogger had a value, but their WordPress (WP) migrated blog was worth nothing. Now the metric I referred to is very much link based and I suspect whilst you migrated your content from old to new, the links themselves didn't. I did have a go at using WP for a while a couple of months ago and noticed this with my migrated content. It could be the links measurement may be biased towards the way they work on Blogger too? Also if I remember correctly WP is a bit more 'picky' about the use of links in posts, thus any link based metric will be biased against WP blogs. Can any WP bloggers confirm or expand my limited understanding of WP's offering? I also understand the metric I looked at was based on Technorati's data gathering, so if you've not registered your new blog (Frances, Nancy?) or existing one (James, Helen, Gail, Karen, Chaiselongue, Slice of Life, Blossom and Garden4Life?) that could be the reason why your valuation's a big fat zero. Remember, new blogs are also unlikely to a have value, simply because there's been insufficient time for a value to accrue, unless you've been posting lots of times a day with each post containing lots of links!

For those of you with blogs showing a monetary value (like Flighty, Constant Gardener, Mr. McGregor's Daughter and Happy Mouffetard) it's insufficient to make a living, assuming you want to and could realise its value. Cameron and Shirl's not for selling theirs anyway and Tyra's not going to go down the route of trying to monetize her blog by putting adverts on there. I wonder how many blogs actually make something substantial from their adverts anyway? If I see another advert for a flat stomach, I'm going to scream! Then of course there's all the other things that blogging gives us that are invaluable - fun (especially the quizzes eh Philip?), friendship across the world (Linn), frolics, freedom of expression and lots more besides. Deb recently told us about a marvellous example - a blog especially for members of her family. A great way for everyone to keep in touch and to share, especially if distance separates them. In hard business terms it has no value, but to Deb and her family it's priceless. I think it's just what blogging should be about.

BTW my blog's not up for sale - after all, I don't think any buyer would be up their allotment and finding stories to share keep on popping into their head. If they didn't it wouldn't be Veg Plotting any more. There's too much of me in here anyway. I'm not considering monetizing my blog either. Though if someone paid me to blog or write elsewhere, I might consider it depending on what's being offered! But enough about money and metrics, let's all get on with the priceless aspects of blogging shall we?

Monday, 1 December 2008

GBMD - The Field Mice's Carol


Villagers all this frosty tide
Let your doors be open wide
Though wind may follow, and snow beside
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet
Blowing fingers and stamping our feet
We come from far away you to greet
You by the fire and we in the street
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone
Sudden a star has led us on
Raining bliss and benison *
Bliss tomorrow and more anon
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow
Saw the star oe’r stable low
Mary she might not further go
Welcome thatch and litter below
Joy was hers in the morning!

And they heard the angels tell
Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell
In the stable where they did dwell
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!

Until today I've been a bit bah humbug! about Christmas. But it's the first of December, so I'm ready to get into the festive mood! It may be officially winter now according to our gardening calendar, but I don't mind. NAH's brought the decorations and lights down from the loft and I'll be spending an indulgent time putting them up. This has been 'my job' since childhood and NAH has been happy for me to continue with it ever since we got married.

It's our choir's rehearsal night tonight and I believe it'll be the first week when we'll try and sing all the carols and songs on our concert programme for this year. Of course being a gardening blog, I should have put up The Holly and the Ivy for Garden Bloggers' Muse Day, but I figured most of you will know that one anyway, so I make no apologies for sharing my favourite carol from our current repertoire instead. It's a poem from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

* = blessing (not venison, which as a subversive soprano I'm tempted to sing from time to time)

PS I'm listening (and singing along) to our choir's practice CD - there's some tricky bits I need to get right before tonight's rehearsal ;)
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